Do you know where the novel “Botchan” by Natsume Sōseki is set?
Let’s talk about Matsuyama city!
What’s special Matsuyama?
Matsuyama is the biggest city of Shikoku, with its 500.000 inhabitants.
It takes place in the western part of the region and it is closely related to Honshū and Kyushū islands’ culture.
It is the set of the novel “Botchan” by Natsume Sōseki, one of the greatest literate of the 20th century in Japan: you can find several quotations from the novel scattered around.
The famous Dōgo Onsen, where the main character used to bath often, is here too.
The Dōgo Onsen area
The Dōgo Onsen is an old hot spring also present in the “Nihon Shoki”, the old script containing the origin and the early age of Japan.
Especially, the main hall is one of the most important in Japan and it is a huge wooden building.
It is said that also emperors Taishō e Shōwa bathed here.
This is such a unique building, externally and internally, that the production company Studio Gibli took inspiration from it to create “Spirited Away”.
Inside, we can find a big bath called “Kami-no-yu”, and another one called“Tama-no-yu” characterized by a quieter atmosphere.
Both the baths are decorated with stone and ceramic, giving them an elegant look.
Besides the baths, there are other rooms where to rest: according to the fee you pay, you can enjoy a “Botchan Dango” while relaxing in a three-stored tatami room.
Not far from the main hot spring building, the shopping street Dōgo Onsen takes place.
Due to the close position of Ryōkan and hotels, many shops stay open till late evening: it is a light, lively area.
Dōgo Onsen Station is also the last stop of the tramway, it faces on an old building complex which hosted the immigrants who moved here in the Meiji period: everything has a retro style.
Moreover, this is the only tramway of Japan where you can see a steam locomotive, so people call it “Botchan train”.
From 8:00 to 22:00, a character of Sōseki’s novel appears every hour, together with a cheerful melody.
Close to the station you can soak your feet in an “Ashi-yu”!
From the station you can walk to Isaniwa Shrine, famous for its vermillion pillars.
By stepping a bit forward we find one of the 88 temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage, the Ishite-ji.
This is the most important Buddhist temple of the city, hosting a three stored pagoda.
Also the cave heading to the Oku-no-in is a charming place. Dōgo Park is a hill famous for its cherry trees.
There is also a moat streaming nearby: doing “hanami” (cherry blossom watching) here in spring is very nice.
In the Dōgo area there are history and art museums. A remarkable one is the “Shiki Memorial”, of Shiki Masaoka.
He was a poet who lived in the Meiji period who wrote several Haiku and poems while struggling against tuberculosis.
To get here use the Iyo Tetsudō tramway.
It passes through both the main stations of the city (JR Shikoku Matsuyama and Iyo Tetsudō Matsuyama).
Matsuyama Castle area
In the center of Matsuyama city its castle takes place: it was built by the Heike Clan (or Taira) in the XVII century.
The main part of the structure is located on the top of a hill and it is surrounded by castle walls.
From the main tower you can enjoy a splendid view on the city, up to Seto Inner Sea. Inside there are many objects about Matsuyama’s history.
In spring this becomes a great spot where to behold the 200 cherry trees planted in the castle gardens.
There are three ways to reach Matsuyama Castle: the closest station is Ookaidō, on the Iyo Tetsu tramway: the ride takes ten minutes from Iyo Tetsudō Matsuyama Station, 5 from JR Shikoku Matsuyama Station.
The castle is easily reachable with no line transfers from Dōgo Onsen too!
By walking through the shopping street from Ookaidō Station for 5 minutes, you can see a ropeway: we suggest you to the chairlift!
You can take the normal ropeway anyway. It takes about 15 minutes to get to the top.
Beside the castle, you will find several history museums in the surrounding area.
Among those, the Saka-no-Ue-no-Kumo Museum is based on the homonymous novel by Shiba Ryōtarō, also known in English with the title “Clouds Above the Hill”. The building itself is worth to be visited.
The Renaissance-styled Bansuisō hall is an important cultural heritage. The exterior is gorgeous, but it’s the interior to be looking like the Palace of Versailles.
Moreover, the long shopping street which connects Ookaidō and Matsuyama stations is a perfect spot for shopping and eating!
It is divided in the aboveground part called “Gintengai”, and the underground one called “Matsu-chika TOWN”, not far from Matsuyama Station.
How to get to Matsuyama?
To learn how to reach Matsuyama, click here!
My impression of Matsuyama
We got to Matsuyama in April, on a tour-bus from the Sanyō route.
Therefore we could behold the Shimanami Shoreline and entered Ehime Prefecture from Hiroshima.
The Western Seto Highway is punctuated by suspended bridges.
During a break on an island we could feel the Seto Inner Sea’s atmosphere.
In spite of our expectations, Matsuyama modernity shocked us a bit.
But the area of the Ryōkan we stayed at, close to Dōgo Onsen, was quiet and calm.
The main hall of Dōgo Onsen is a wonderful wooden building, and here we took some pictures before proceeding towards the shopping street.
At Dōgo Onsen Station we found an interesting train car and after having explored the temple and the shrine, we took a rest soaking my feet in the “Ashi-yu”.
On the second day we went to Matsuyama Castle. Unfortunately, the blossom season had just passed, but the fresh spring green impressed us anyway.
It seemed that the large amount of castle walls had been protecteing the castle during wars.
After visiting the castle we walked through the “arcade” shopping streets of the station and Gintengai.
These streets are plenty with department stores, game rooms, restaurants and other entertainment places.
Ehime Prefecture is famous for its mikans (tangerine fruit), we tried some and we can assure you they are delicious.
Next time we would like to see the wonderful shores of the southern part of this prefecture.