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Matsuyama

A Land of Serene Climate and Rich History

With a population of 510,000, Matsuyama is the capital of Ehime prefecture and the largest city of Shikoku, an island in the southwest of the Japanese archipelago. A popular tourist destination with many prominent historical sites and hot springs, Matsuyama faces the peaceful Seto Inland Sea and enjoys a mild climate. Its relaxed atmosphere fosters a rich culture and has welcomed settlers throughout history.

Matsuyama Castle, a Symbol of the City

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Matsuyama Castle is the symbol of Matsuyama. From the castle keep you can see the city and the Seto Inland Sea (right).

In the center of Matsuyama atop the lush Mt. Katsuyama at an elevation of 132 meters proudly stands Matsuyama Castle. Visible from most of the surrounding area, the elegant three-tiered castle keep (tenshu-kaku) is a symbol of the city, which prospered over the years as a castle town. A military general named Kato Yoshiaki led the castle's construction over the course of 26 years in the early 17th century. The keep later burned down when it was struck by lightning, but it was restored in the middle of the 19th century. Although there are many castles throughout Japan, Matsuyama Castle is well worth seeing as it is one of the few that have completely retained its Edo period construction.

The Oldest Onsen in JapanOne of Matsuyama's main attractions is Dogo Onsen, located about 25 minutes by tram from Matsuyama Station. Referenced in the Nihon Shoki ("The Chronicles of Japan"), a work compiled in the 8th century, it is arguably the oldest hot springs in Japan.

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Dogo Onsen Honkan, a magnificent public bathhouse built in 1894. You can sense its history while bathing. (Right: the men's side of the Kami-no-yu bath.)

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While there are many bathhouses in the Dogo district, Dogo Onsen Honkan is by far the most popular—the one that onsen-loving people of Japan hope to visit at least once. Built in 1894, the bathhouse has on average about 2,000 visitors per day; its three-tier structure has been designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan. There are two baths, Kami-no-yu ("water of the gods") and Tama-no-yu ("water of the spirits"), which are both well suited for day travelers and even those who have come unprepared for a soak, as rental bathing robes (yukata) and towels are available.

Side Trips to Tobe and UchikoAbout 30 minutes south of Matsuyama by car lies Tobe, a pottery town famed for Tobe porcelain (Tobe-yaki). Thick and milky white in appearance, it is universally loved for its durability suitable for everyday use. Although traditional Tobe porcelain is designed with indigo-colored scrollwork patterns, younger artisans have incorporated newer designs in recent years. There are over a hundred of pottery studios (kamamoto) and stores in the area for browsing; at some places you can even try creating your own pattern for that extra special vacation memory.

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Left: Uchiko with its rows of historical buildings.
Right: Tobe-yaki porcelain sold in the pottery town of Tobe.

Uchiko is a town rich in history with rows of traditional houses and buildings. Located 25 minutes by express train from Matsuyama Station on the JR Yosan Line, the town prospered from the production of traditional Japanese paper and wax during the 18th and 19th century. A 750 meter sloped lane lined with traditional merchants, homes and storehouses now showcase the period's splendor and majesty. Visitors can experience a sense of slipping back in time as they stroll along the lane while taking in the spectacular beauty and intricate workmanship of traditional plaster walls and lattice doors.

Delicacies from the Seto Inland SeaThanks to the bounty of the Seto Inland Sea, a variety of delicacies can be enjoyed to one's content, starting with sea bream (tai) cuisine. Tai-men (sea bream noodles) is a tasty dish that is also a delight to the eyes. It is garnished with grilled young sea bream that "swim" in the "waves" of goshiki somen, a colorful noodle dish made from wheat flour dyed white, yellow, red, green and brown that dates back nearly 380 years. The noodles are dipped into sea bream broth before being eaten. Another exceptionally tasting dish is tai-meshi: sea bream sashimi served with steaming rice and a special soy sauce-based topping blended with egg yolk.

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Left: Tai-men, a signature dish made from the bounty of the Seto Inland Sea.
Right: Tai-meshi, sea bream sashimi served with rice and a soy sauce-based topping blended with egg yolk. (Cooperation: Goshiki)
 Jakoten made from minced small fish.
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Left: Iyokan, a sweet and sour-tasting citrus fruit (Photo: AFLO)
Right: Taruto, a Matsuyama dessert

Ehime's another specialty is jakoten, a fast food made of fried minced small fish, including the bones. It is a great snack to have while walking around sightseeing, and it also goes great with beer at the pub. Rich in calcium, jakoten is popular as it is healthy. Although iyokan, a citrus fruit for which Ehime is famous usually comes to mind when considering souvenirs, taruto, a sponge cake roll made with azuki bean paste, is also highly recommended. The dessert originated from a Matsuyama feudal lord in the 17th century.

When visiting Matsuyama, one can relax and forget about time in a place with a serene climate, rich history and bountiful cuisine from the Seto Inland Sea. (January 2012)

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