On an historical note, during World War II, POW camps were located in Isoura, Yamane and Tonaru areas of the city, housing Australian, Chinese and Dutch prisoners. There is nothing to remember the hardships suffered by these hundreds of men just 70 years ago.
My favourite aspect of Niihama is undoubtedly the magnificent hiking opportunities in the 1600 to 1700m high Besshi mountain range, located just to the south of the city. This is where the Besshi Copper Mine was located and was in operation for a staggering 287 years before its closure in the early 1970s. A recommended hiking trail is from Hiura Valley (access is from the south side of the mountain), up to Dozangoe (top of the copper mine), here you can go down the other (north) side to Tonaru (where an interesting history museum is located as is the famed `Machu Pichu` of Asia) or at Dozangoe, hang a right and continue up to the summit of Mt Nishi Akaishi. The `Besshi Yama Chiiki Bus` runs every morning from Niihama Station at 9:05am. (Most of the year, the return bus leaves the mountain at about 2pm so you may need to hitchhike home).
For those interested in the history of the Besshi Copper Mine, a tourist complex called `Minetopia Besshi` is well worth a visit. Here you can imagine what it would have been like for the thousands of workers and their families who lived up in the mountains. There is a short train ride on a replica of the trains used to transport copper from the mine to the port, you can soak in the spacious onsen, see various photo displays, have a bite at the the restaurant and pick up a memento at the souvenir shop. You can get there by public bus from Niihama Station.
Ehime Science Museum
Located in Ojoin area, this is an absolute must for history buffs and dinosaur fans. Although the displays are all in Japanese, a huge realistic (and moving) dinosaur display is the best of its kind I`ve seen! Next door at the planetarium you can see short films on the massive panoramic screen. Currently they are showing a 20 minute dinosaur documentary. A public bus runs from Niihama Station to the front door. Admission is ￥500 for the museum and ￥500 for the plantarium.
Saihei Hirose (1828ー1914) was a popular manager of the Besshi Copper Mine for many years and is the most well known historical figure in the city. He was widely commended for his broad thinking and was instrumental in extensively modernising the mine using western technology, such as building the mountainous railway line and importing a German built train. His former residence next to Hirose Park is a fine example of traditional Japanese-style architecture of the day. Strolling around inside gives one a fascinating glimpse into the lifestyle of the wealthy mining executive. From the residence, there are nice views of both his splendid garden and the city below. Admission is ￥500.
Restaurants and Shops
There is plenty of wonderful dining opportunities in Niihama. Pizza fans should check out Marubun near Niihama Station, where they have a genuine Italian pizza oven. We have three conveyor belt sushi shops - Sushi Suigun, Sushi Ro and Hamazushi, a huge selection of Japanese-style pubs, as well as Chinese and Indian restaurants. Aeon Mall is the second largest shopping mall in Ehime, and also offers a huge selection of dining choices. Also in the mall you can find Sports Authority, a huge Deo Deo, The Body Shop, Toho Cinemas and Starbucks to name a few.
If you`re lucky enough to be in the city from October 14 to 16, you shouldn`t miss the spectacular annual Taiko (Japanese drum) Festival. Each neighbourhood (about 50 in total) parades a massive wooden float called `taikodai`, carried by 150 men. The highlight of the three days is definitely the gathering of around 18 floats at Yamane Park (see photo), where they perform `kakikurabe` (the hoisting of floats up and down). Festivities can be found throughout the city and sometimes floats are deliberately charged into each other for added excitement, called `hachiawase`. Its always hard to predict where this is likely to happen but `kojomae` area is usually a safe bet.