The city of Saijo sits on a plain facing the Seto Inland Sea, with the imposing Mt. Ishizuchi behind it. Saijo is sandwiched between Imabari and Niihama along the coast of the Inland Sea. Like it’s neighbor Imabari, Saijo is basically an industrial city that has experienced hollowing out recently, and although there are some fine new buildings, others are in need of attention.
The main area of Saijo is known for its natural spring water, and indeed, the city declares itself to be the “Spring Water Capital of Japan”, for good reason. Water from the Kamo River permeates into the surrounding land and bubbles up in numerous places throughout the city at sites called uchinuki. Local people bottle this pure water for drinking and watering their plants. Coca Cola and Asahi Breweries both have factories in the city to make use of this abundant resource. In the central area of Saijo, there’s a beautiful watercourse filled with fish and water plants, with walks beside it and on raised walkways. From here you can see the mountains with their white peaks in winter, and it’s this snow that supplies the water. Incidentally, you can tour Coca Cola, and the Asahi Breweries plant, where you can partake of a free beer tasting and buffet.
Saijo is home to five of the temples that make up the 88 temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. They are No.60 Yokomineji, No.61 Koon-ji, No.62 Hoju-ji, No.63 Kichijo-ji, and No.64 Maegami-ji. Pilgrims can be seen wending their way through Saijo in their white garments and cone hats.
In the middle of October, one of the liveliest festivals in Shikoku is held in Saijo. Over 80 danjiri, a kind of festival juggernaut, are paraded through the city, gathering on the banks of, and in, the Kamo River. At dusk, with their myriad lanterns, the danjiri present a fantastic spectacle in the river.
Saijo is the starting point for the Ishizuchi Tozan Ropeway, a cable car that climbs Mount Ishizuchi, the tallest mountain in western Japan. Ishizuchi is one of the hundred famous mountains in Japan. At 1,982 meters (6,503 ft), it’s the tallest mountain in Western Japan.
Right next to Iyo-Saijo station on the JR Yosan Line is the Railway History Park, dedicated to Shinji Sozo, once Mayor of Saijo and father of the shinkansen or bullet train. The museum features a real shinkansen engine. You can sit in the driver’s seat and push the lever right up to 10 on the dial. I must say, I felt a certain amount of trepidation as I did so.
In Saijo, you can park free next to the tourist office and rent bicycles for 200 yen an hour.