If you visit Saijo and you arrive at Iyosaijo JR railway station, you’d be well advised to pop next door to the Railway History Park (which is an indoor museum and not a park). Once you’ve enjoyed one of the most accessible attractions of Saijo, you might be interested to learn what else the city offers.
Just across the little plaza from the railway museum is the Saijo Tourism & Exchange Center (西条市観光交流センター). This facility is housed in a tastefully refurbished building dating from 1933. Quite what is meant by “exchange” isn’t clear because no exchange is conducted here, but if you want to see some exhibits about Saijo and get some information, this is a good place to start.
The first exhibit is a little rock with water bubbling out of it, which may not seem like a big deal. But Saijo has these dotted about the city, and they’re rather remarkable. Water from snowmelt on nearby Mt. Ishizuchi permeates down through various geological strata, and is pushed up in deliciously pure and refreshing fountains throughout Saijo. These are called uchinuke. Once you’ve seen the one here, you should hurry out into town and find some more. The Center also has some nice photos of Mt. Ishizuchi. However, the main focus of the exhibits is the Saijo Festival, featuring an example of one the danjiri or festival juggernauts, and photos and lanterns of all the various festival teams in the city.
For exploring Saijo, there’s a very good pamphlet and map in English called Strolling around Saijo, and this is available at the information counter. The staff are rather diffident, and I don’t think they speak English, but if you can ask in Japanese, they will open various drawers and provide you with a small pile of brochures about Saijo, and give good advice about what to do.
The Center also has beautifully clean and comfortable toilets, and if you fancy renting a bicycle, you can get one for the day for 200 yen. Even if you come by car, it makes sense to use the free parking at the Center and borrow a bicycle, because Saijo is fairly flat and you can cover a lot of ground on a bike.