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!
A major attraction is the Kuma Kōgen Furusato Ryokō Mura, a ‘village’ of relocated but authentic thatched farmhouses, including a watermill. There’s also a planetarium disguised as a castle, and a public astronomical observatory which takes advantage of the high elevation and clear skies. Located at over 500 m elevation, the seasons move at a different pace from the lowlands of Ehime, so up here, there’s always something different to enjoy. The air is cooler in summer, and in autumn, the vivid red of the maple leaves is a dramatic sight.
One of the farmhouses of the village is home to Wagura Ichijoan Café, run by the welcoming and affable Wada-san, who speaks very good English. The farmhouse is thought to have been built around 250 years ago in the Edo period, and about 30 years ago it was moved to its present site from a neighbouring mountain. It’s rare to find a building of this age that you can enter freely and enjoy the atmosphere sitting on the tatami near the irori fireplace. Sometimes ducks from the millpond come to see Wada-san, and then the picture of rural perfection is complete. Children are also welcome, and there’s an attractive selection of traditional toys to keep them occupied.
The café serves a range of freshly ground coffees, tea, and various Japanese teas, including the powdered green variety. An English menu is available. The beverages are all served in beautiful cups and bowls that are made locally. There are also a variety of freshly baked cakes from the Petite Clef patisserie in Kuma to choose from.
A lunch is also served in a two-tiered lacquer box. Everything is made from produce available locally in Kuma, so naturally, the ingredients of the lunch vary according to the season. When I last visited in early autumn, the lunch included a whole grilled ayu—a mild tasting river fish—and a selection of daintily prepared seasonal vegetables. Healthy tofu and konyaku were also well represented. The lunch is 1,500 yen and includes a drink and serving of subtly sweet warabi-mochi for dessert. Please call two days in advance to reserve lunch.
The experience of sitting under the high thatched roof looking out into the greenery and the nearby mountains beyond is most relaxing. With the addition of carefully prepared lunch, coffee and cake, and warm hospitality, it becomes something truly special and an occasion worth traveling for.
Wagura Ichijoan Café is closed from mid-December to early May due to the icy winter conditions of Kuma Highland’s roads.
Name in Japanese 和蔵一畳庵 wagura ichijōan Wagura Ichijoan