Get spirited away
Pilgrim paths and ancient baths; Ehime is as much about the journey as it is the destination.
Ehime Prefecture is made up of the north-west crescent of Shikoku and several islands, extending out towards Honshu and Kyushu. It’s the last stop on the Shimanami Kaido, a series of bridges connecting Honshu to Shikoku that offers a spectacularly scenic bike ride over the Seto Inland Sea. It also contains 26 of the 88 temples on the circular Shikoku Pilgrimage, as well as Japan’s oldest bathhouse, the highest peak in western Japan, and an island ruled by feral cats.
Matsuyama is the prefectural capital and Shikoku’s largest city. It’s home to Matsuyama Castle, one of Japan’s few castles to survive the Meiji Restoration. Originally built in 1603, the castle towers over Matsuyama City, and can be seen from nearly all directions. To reach it, visitors must either hike, take a chair lift, or ride on the Matsuyamajō Ropeway. It’s also not a bad place to view the sakura during the cherry blossom season.
Also in the city is Dogo Onsen, one of Japan’s oldest hot springs and an emblem of Ehime. For more than 1,000 years, it was famed for its healing waters and welcoming atmosphere. Anime aficionados will recognize its main attraction, Dogo Onsen Honkan, as the inspiration for the bathhouse featured in Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away.
Uchiko is an easy day trip from Matsuyama City. Once a prospering merchant town, you can still walk along Yokaichi street and enjoy the picturesque Meiji Period mansions. The town is well-known in the area for Uchiko-za, a large kabuki theater built in 1916. Uchiko-za unique architecture such as its boxed seating area its wooden, revolving stage.
An increasingly popular tourist spot is Aoshima. Also known as “Cat Island.” It’s home to thousands of feral felines that outnumber the local population by six to one. You can catch the ferry from Matsuyama City to the cat kingdom, which is an old fishing village. Bring food for the cats and gifts for the mostly elderly locals—Aoshima was never meant to be a tourist attraction.
Further along, near the border of Kochi Prefecture, lies sacred Mount Ishizuchi. It’s the highest mountain in western Japan and one of the country’s seven holy mountains, drawing hikers and climbers from spring to autumn and skiers in the winter. Its name, Ishizuchi, means “stone hammer,” which it’s peak is said to resemble. There are many shrines along the way to the top.
Plan your trip to Ehime with the locations below!