The Japanese archipelago has four main islands. The smallest of these, Shikoku, is roughly rectangular in shape, and nestles between Kyushu in the south and the western part of the largest island, Honshu. Matsuyama is situated in the northwestern part of Shikoku. The city faces the calm inland sea and has a mild climate, and this advantageous location explains why the area has been settled since ancient times. Today, the city's population is about 470,000.
Matsuyama has developed its own culture, one of which the people are justifiably proud. You'll find three symbols of the city in tourist pamphlets and maps, and even on the name cards of municipal government employees"Ideyu to shiro to bungaku no machi," or "Hot spring, castle, and literature, all here in Matsuyama."
Matsuyama Castle rises gracefully above the city on a hill called Katsu-yama (elevation, 132 m). The hill is in the city center, and has trees and greenery that surround the castle. The castle can be seen from the busy commercial district below. It had a five-story main tower when it was first built at the beginning of the 1600s, but the tower was struck by lightning and lost to fire in the second half of the 18th century. The present tower was reconstructed in the middle of the 19th century, at the very end of the period of castle construction in Japan.
To get to the castle, you can take the trail that climbs the hill from east to west. The trail does not permit cars, and the almost 30-minute walk will give you a chance to enjoy the trees and the chirping of birds. Or you could take the ropeway. At the top of the hill, a large stone wall surrounds the castle's honmaru (main enclosure). Inside the wall, there's a large open space offering an excellent view of the elegant main tower. Walk into the tower and you'll come to a narrow, frightfully steep wooden staircase, which will lead you to a fairly large room on the top floor. The large windows more or less face the four points of the compass, and give you a panoramic view of the city below.
On the southern side of the castle is Ninomaru Historical Garden, where the original residence of the castle lord once stood. Nearby is the city center, with its government offices, banks, department stores and retail outlets. Dogo Hot Spring lies 2 km to the east, JR's Matsuyama Station 1 km to the west. The city, surrounding the castle, is home to many institutions and facilities serving the region, and these are easily accessible by a network of tramcars and buses.
Dogo Hot Spring is Japan's oldest spa. Legend has it that a white heron healed its wounded leg here. The main bath hall, which houses a public bath, is a splendid, 3-story wooden building constructed in 1894. It stands in the middle of the hot-spring district and quickly attracts the eye. Every morning at six o'clock, a large drum booms out a signal from the Shinrokaku Tower on the rooftop, announcing that the bath has opened for the day. At the sound of the drum, city dwellers and tourists staying in nearby hotels start arriving, keen for their morning dip. The spa keeps busy all day.
The municipal government runs the spa, so there's no exclusive atmosphere here. Anyone can rent a freshly washed kimono-like yukata and towel, have fun in the spa waters, then relax on tatami mats and be served tea and light refreshments. It's an ideal place for the Japanese, who like nothing better than a hot spring.