By Rod Walters
Kuma Highland—Kuma Kōgen in Japanese—is a large inhabited area at a high elevation in central Ehime bordering Kochi Prefecture. It encompasses an astonishing range of geological features, which makes it a fascinating area to visit. But be warned—once you’ve scratched the surface at Kuma, you’ll be drawn back again and again to explore further!
One major attraction is the Kuma Kogen Furusato Ryokō Mura, a largely self-contained tourist ‘village’ located in a picturesque but easily accessible part of the highland area.
The most obvious feature of the village is its thatched farmhouses, including a watermill. These were moved from the nearby mountains and rebuilt at their current site so that they could be both preserved and put to good use. Some of them date back to the Edo period, more than 250 years ago, and they’re incredibly attractive structures made entirely of natural materials. One of them, Wagura Ichijōan, is a café where you can sit on the tatami next to the irori fireplace and enjoy coffee, cake and fine views in the unique atmosphere of this ancient farmhouse. The millpond in the village is home to pretty ducks who are quite tame.
At the top of the village is a planetarium disguised as a castle. Shows cost 500 yen for adults, but you can go into the castle tower for free and enjoy the view from the top and displays of astronomical photography. There’s also a public astronomical observatory which takes advantage of the high elevation and clear skies. If you stay at the village, you can visit the observatory when it opens in the evening and do some stargazing. The pine woodland of the village is dotted with attractive cabins for rent, and there’s also a camping area. The site has a number of open spaces suitable for sports, and there are barbecue pits and a pizza oven. The staff will provide you with the wherewithal to make a delicious pizza, and show you how to do it if you’re not sure. There are several eateries within the village, and two onsen hot spring facilities are within a short drive.
This pleasant village is well worth visiting as part of a day trip, but it also makes a good base for a few days’ exploration of Kuma.
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I was born in Bristol, England, and I came to Japan in 1991 … which means I’ve lived half my life in this island nation on the other side of the world. The theme of my career in Japan has been communication. I started as an English teacher, and moved into translation as I learned Japanese. I worked at a well-known electronics manufacturer, facilitating their multinational communications before I became a freelance translator. As such, I translated a lot of tourism-related information. It was obvious to me that most of this isn’t sufficient to convey the excitement and wonder of Japan. In 2011, I established Knowledge Travel Partners, an inbound tourism consultancy. After living in several regions of Japan, I settled in Ehime where my wife is from. It’s on the southern island of Shikoku facing the beautiful Seto Inland Sea, Japan’s Mediterranean. The pace of life here is slow and peaceful, but we do like to throw a raucous festival now and again.