Matsuyama

The capital city of Ehime Prefecture

By Rod Walters, November 2011

Matsuyama is the capital city of Ehime Prefecture and the largest city in Shikoku. Its name means “pine mountain”. Matsuyama is a bustling city that has maintained its vitality despite the long recession in Japan that has hollowed out many other cities. Matsuyama has benefited from the leadership of two young mayors in succession, both of whom take a strong interest in tourism. The city has some excellent bars and restaurants, offering a choice of cuisines from around the world, in addition to regional specialities like boar and sea bream.

Matsuyama is home to Dogo Onsen, the oldest hot spring bath house in Japan. Dogo Onsen is featured in the Michelin Green Guide, and was the inspiration for the hugely popular animation Spirited Away. Another favorite sight is Matsuyama Castle which sits atop a significant-sized hill in the middle of the city. Eight of the eighty-eight temples in the Shikoku Pilgrimage are located in Matsuyama, and pilgrims are a common sight making their way to the temples. Famous and picturesque Buddhist temples in Matsuyama include Ishite-ji, Taisan-ji, and Jodo-ji, all dating back to the 8th century. Ishite-ji is a particularly weird place, which includes an amazing series of tunnels in the hill behind it. Famous shrines of the city include Isaniwa Jinja and Tsubaki Jinja.

In medieval times, Matsuyama was part of the Iyo-Matsuyama Domain, a fiefdom of Iyo Province consisting mainly of a castle town, with the village of Dogo Onsen to the east and a port to the west at Mitsuhama linking the region to the Japanese mainland and Kyushu.

The haiku poet Masaoka Shiki lived in Matsuyama. His house, now known as the Shiki-do, and a museum, the Shiki Memorial Museum, are popular attractions, and the reason for the city’s role as the center of the international haiku movement. The novel Botchan by Natsume Soseki is set in Matsuyama. Despite the fact that Soseki pokes fun at the provincialism of the city, anything of note in the city is now called the Botchan this or that.

Matsuyama also figures in several works by Shiba Ryotaro, particularly the 1969 novel, Saka no Ue no Kumo (Clouds Above the Hill). This was the focus of a major branding exercise undertaken by the previous major, which resulted in long-running NHK drama adaptation of the novel, and a museum designed by the renowned architect Tadao Ando. Another cultural site worthy of note is the Itami Juzo Museum dedicated to the famous film director.

Physically, Matsuyama is quite a compact city. The center of the city is served by a tram system with beautiful tram cars from the 50s and 60s, as well as a picturesque replica steam train, the Botchan Ressha. The city is surrounded by mountains and incorporates a number of hills, giving it a green, rural feeling. Within the city limits are a number of sandy beaches facing the translucent waters of the Seto Inland Sea. The city still has many old buildings dating back to the Meiji Period and earlier. There are several stylish buildings by the architect Shichiro Giko, including the flamboyant Bansuiso Villa.   

Matsuyama Airport has regular flights to Tokyo, Osaka, and other major Japanese cities, as well as selected Asian destinations, including Shanghai and Seoul. There are regular ferries to Hiroshima, including an express ferry that takes only an hour. Night ferries go to Kobe, Kokura, and Kitakyushu.

Written by Rod Walters
JapanTravel Member, Ehime

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