15 Things to Do in Ehime
Ehime is the big fish in a small pond of prefectures. A lot of people forget about the fascinating island of Shikoku, tucked away below Japan’s main island of Honshu, it is home to four prefectures, all known for being more rural and traditional. Being disconnected from the main island of Japan has its advantages though, the island is packed full of authentically Japanese spots to visit. Ehime is the most recognizable of the Shikoku prefectures, with sights linking it to the famous studio Ghibli, and the Japanese royal family.
15. Eat Mikans
The most important thing to do in Ehime is to eat the mikans. These are tiny oranges with a deliciously sweet taste. They are the signature food of the prefecture, and inspiration for the cute prefectural mascot; Mikan the Dog. Even if you visit in the off season you can find a plethora of mikan flavoured sweets, drinks, and even perfumes.
14. Matsuyama Castle
Matsuyama was once the home of the ruling warlords, now it is the capital city where most of the prefecture's business occurs. The city offers wonderful shopping and dining, as well as fascinating history. At the top of Mt. Katsuyama, you will find one of the twelve remaining Japanese castles that survived to the modern day. All others have had to be reconstructed after being dismantled or destroyed. Not only is the castle beautifully regal, but it is surrounded by gorgeous castle grounds, and a view of the city that stretches out to the Seto Inland sea. During hanami season, the whole area becomes pink with 200 cherry trees that are planted up there.
There is also a gift shop that offers a unique experience. You can drink mikan juice straight from a tap. It’s delicious and only 200 yen. A must-try quirky activity for tourists.
13. Dogo Onsen
Without a doubt the most famous place in Ehime, and one of the top tourist spots in Japan. Dogo Onsen is a large bath house made in the emperor's honor. The hot springs have been used for generations, but in 1894 the impressive building was constructed around them and became notorious for it’s architecture. Visitors can bath, relax, and eat inside it, but the royal quarters are only accessible via tour. As if relaxing in the same water as the emperor wasn’t enough, the building was also the inspiration for the highly successful anime film, Spirited Away. Dogo Onsen was director Hayao Miyazaki’s model for the fantastical onsen that appears in the movie.
12. Dogo Haikara Dori Street (Dogo Shopping Street)
Dogo onsen is such an iconic attraction that the street up to it is able to capitalize on its fame by being chocked full of fun shops to visit. You have the expected souvenir shops, with treats showcasing Ehime, but there are also shops selling specialist food, such as the delicious traditional Japanese sweets. There is also a shop dedicated to Studio Ghibli merchandise, because of the many Spirited Away fans who come. You can buy items featuring all your favorite Ghibli characters, only available in official Ghibli stores. As well as all of these interesting shops there is also a bizarre, giant, cuckoo clock at the front of the arched shopping area. The impressive clock has a loud and complicated clock work performance that is definitely something to check out after you arrive.
11. Uwajima Castle
Another castle that escaped the Edo period’s purge of castles thanks to being off the beaten track. Uwajima Castle rests atop a hill at the centre of Uwajima. The castle may be small, but its historical importance is clear. This used to be where the Date family ruled over the surrounding lands, and was the key to power in the region. Visitors can explore the compact castle, as well as the ruins of the castle keep. Inside the castle acts as a museum, showcasing rickshaws, traditional tools, and festival paraphernalia from the Edo period.
10. Mt. Ishizuchi
This is the tallest mountain in western Japan, not just Shikoku. It has an altitude of 1982m, and is a popular destination for hikers. You can take a cable car half way up the mountain, or climb the whole thing from top to bottom. A lot of people climb rather than take the cable car in order to visit the sacred shrines along the mountain. Mt. Ishizuchi is considered sacred in Shintoism, and thus has four shrines dedicated to it. The Ishizuzhi Shrine sits at the base of the mountain, then Jouju Shrine, and Tsuchigoya Shrine are higher up, and finally there is another Ishizuchi Shrine at the very peak.
9. Towel Museum Ichihiro
A completely mad and fascinating experience, no other location is quite as passionate about towels. The museum is more of a shop, offering a wide variety of towels and clothing made by the locals. The site was created because of Imabari’s history of towel making. Imabari was the top towel seller in Japan, but things have changed due to cheap imports. In an attempt to reinvigorate the sale of towels the museum was created, and a partnership with the Moomin character franchise was forged. So now you can travel to Imabari and see where Japan’s favorite towels are made, and perhaps purchase a few Moomin towels whilst you are there.
8. Oyamazumi Shrine
Omashima Island was once a great hub of activity. This was the resting point on journeys from Kyoto to the southern island of Kyushu. Samurai used to make the journey to battle clans on the other side. They would stop at this island and visit the sacred Oyamazumi Shrine, to pray for victory. The Shrine is dedicated to all Japanese warriors, and thus houses a treasure trove of weaponry. Hundreds of swords, axes, lances and other weapons are displayed here. All of them were used by real Samurai, some even have battle damage.
7. Kumanosan Ishite-ji Temple
Kumanosan Ishite-ji Temple is the most mysterious temple in Ehime. Not only can you visit the beautiful, traditional, Buddhist religious site, but the grounds hold a wealth of interesting buildings and areas to explore. The temple has a 3 story pagoda, along with a treasure hall, and two ancient tombs that you can go inside. This is said to have been the place were an uncanny pilgrim, Emon Saburo, was brought back to life so that he could tend to the temple. The grounds also house museums telling the history of the area, and a cave that leads to another, more exclusive temple. The whole area is jam packed full of statues and religious items that make a beautiful hodgepodge of a temple.
6. Ozu Castle
A rare type of castle, Ozu is just as beautiful as other Japanese castles, but it has a few twists that make it unique. First, its reconstruction was made using the original materials and building techniques. It was also constructed up from a mostly intact ruin, so it is one of the most authentic recreations. The castle is also unusual for having four floors. This is associated with death in Japanese folklore, and may be why the castle changed hands so many times, after many owners of the castle lost it in battle. It currently has no owner, and was abandoned until its restoration by the local government.
5. Minetopia Besshi
For those kids who love the idea of exploring the depths of the earth, there is Minetopia. Built on an old copper mine, Minetopia is a theme park made for children, but with attractions all the family can enjoy. Here kids can ride on miniature trains that use the old mining cart tracks, pan for gold in a touch pool, as well as interact with tiny train sets in the old tunnels. The park has adorable Tanuki mascots, and the remains of the ore processing buildings that are sometimes called the Machu Pichu of the orient.
4. Cycle Across Shiman Kaido
Long ago Shikoku was cut off from the rest of Japan, and people had to ride boats across from the main islands, fortunately there are now bridges. Three bridges connect the island to Honshu, but Shiman Kaido is the only one you can walk or cycle across. The bridge straddles six smaller islands in its 60 kilometre stride from Honshu to Shikoku. The bridge is sometimes also known as the Nishiseto express way, because you are cycling atop the Seto Inland sea.
3. Suiha Kogen
Ehime prefecture's perfect picnic spot. This spot is atop mountains that give you a picturesque view of both the Seto inland sea, and the landscape of Ehime. The local tourism board boasts “360° panoramic views” with beauty in ever direction. Suiha Kogen is especially popular in early spring, because of the bloom of the rapeseed flowers. The area is said to be at it’s most beautiful when both the rapeseed and cherry trees are in bloom.
2. Shikoku Karst
A karst is an area of land where water has eroded, or dissolved most of the rock long ago. Rocks like limestone are easily worn away, what you can find at Shikoku Karst is the rocks that survived the weathering process. These harder pieces of limestone have formed odd rock towers that protrude out of the ground, some are at waist hight, some are as high as two meters. The odd, almost alien landscape is full of the odd rock towers worming their way out of the ground. The Karst is a national park, and sits on the border of Ehime and it’s neighboring prefecture Kochi. Visitors often enjoy the odd scenery, and the cute cattle that roam the landscape.
1. Ride the Botchan Train
Made famous by a novel that is often read by Japanese people in high school, the Botchan Train is a small re-creation of a steam train. Matsuyama City has a wonderful tram system, the Botchan train rides around the city, along with the modern trams, creating a kind of fairy tale atmosphere. Of course it drops passengers off at Matsuyama’s main tourist attraction; Dogo Onsen, just in front of the Dogo Haikara Dori Street.
Ehime is a great place to visit if you are looking for a unique Japanese experience. It is full of under appreciated destinations, and pockets of wonder.