[From February Issue 2012]
Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture, is on a plain bounded to the west by Seto Inland Sea, and to the east by the Shikoku Mountains one of the highest mountain ranges in western Japan. Because of its unique geographic conditions, the city is rarely hit by typhoons or other natural disasters, and is blessed with a warm and mild climate. Matsuyama Castle is the symbol of the city and is located in its center. From the square at the top of the mountain 132 meters above sea level where the castle stands, you can enjoy views of the city, the mountains and the sea.
You can take a cable car or a lift to the top of the mountain. Matsuyama Castle is the largest castle in Shikoku. Although it was built before the Edo period, the castle has a keep (a central tower) and is one of only 12 such castles that remain in Japan today. The keep offers a 360-degree panoramic view. Within the castle you can try on a suit of armor, an attraction which is popular among tourists.
At the foot of Matsuyama Castle is “Saka no Ue no Kumo Museum.” The museum presents “Saka no Ue no Kumo,” a historical novel by SHIBA Ryotaro that depicts how Japan grew into modern nation during the Meiji period. As well as dealing with the Meiji period, the museum has exhibits that retrace the steps of the novel’s characters – AKIYAMA Yoshifuru, AKIYAMA Saneyuki and MASAOKA Shiki – in Matsuyama. In addition, it has interactive exhibits about the development of the town, giving visitors an opportunity to get a sense of the passage of time.
There are a number of sites in Matsuyama associated with the (aforementioned) three characters. They include “Akiyama Kyoudai Seitan-chi” – the birthplace of the Akiyama brothers, where Yoshifuru and Saneyuki used to live, and “Shiki-dou” (Shiki Hall), a reproduction of a house where Masaoka lived, which enable you to see how the three spent their childhood. What’s more, the streets around Matsuyama Castle are designed to match with the period that the novel “Saka no Ue no Kumo” is set in.
MASAOKA Shiki, was a great haiku poet, and brought baseball to Matsuyama. As he was an enthusiastic baseball player when the game was first introduced to Japan, Shiki used the pen name “No Ball,” which was derived from his childhood name “Noboru.”
A famous haiku by Shiki is, “Kaki kueba/ Kanega narunari/ Horyuji” (Eat a persimmon/ And the bell will toll/ At Horyuji). By producing a number of haiku related to baseball, such as, “Mari nagete/ Mitaki hiroba ya Haru no Kusa” (Throw a ball in an open space/ To see spring grass in the field), he contributed to popularizing baseball through literature. At a literary museum called Matsuyama City Shiki Memorial Museum, you can learn about Matsuyama’s traditional culture and literature through such anecdotes about Shiki.
Another famous figure in Matsuyama City – which is also known as the town of literature – besides Shiki is NATSUME Soseki. Shiki and Soseki were friends who discussed haiku together. The author of the novel “Wagahai wa Neko de Aru” (I Am a Cat), Soseki is considered to be such an influential figure, that his image was printed on 1,000 yen bills. His masterpiece “Botchan,” a story about a teacher who moves to Matsuyama from an urban area, introduces the city and is a work of deep profundity.
Operating in Matsuyama City is the “Botchan Train,” modeled on a small locomotive which appears in Botchan, and the “Madonna Bus,” a vintage bus with a front engine. The unusual sight of these classic vehicles driving about the modern city is refreshing and evocative of times gone by. Traveling around the city on these cute trains and buses allows you to enjoy their retro feel to your heart’s content.
Two kilometers northeast of Matsuyama Castle is Dogo Onsen, the largest tourist site in Matsuyama City, a spot which can be accessed by riding the Botchan Ressha. After arriving at the station, the train sits on display until its next departure, and is a popular spot for taking commemorative photos. The station building is designed to look like it did during the Meiji period, enabling you to take photographs in which it appears as if you had just traveled back in time.
Once you get off at Dogo Onsen Station, you enter the world of Botchan. At the square in front of the station, you are greeted by a huge red automaton clock called “Botchan Karakuri Dokei” (Botchan Automaton Clock). The automaton works once every hour (once every half hour during the tourist seasons), and the characters from Botchan make their appearance dancing merrily. Tour guides dressed as Botchan and Madonna are popular among tourists, as are rickshaws.
With a history spanning over 3,000 years, Dogo Onsen is said to be the oldest hot spring in Japan. Dogo Onsen Honkan (main building) is one of the buildings on which “Spirited Away” – an animation film directed by MIYAZAKI Hayao – was modeled. Twelve locations in the area, including inns, offer free footbaths, where visitors can easily take time out from sightseeing by enjoying Dogo’s hot spring waters. Taking a footbath is the best way to rest your legs after walking around Dogo.
When you have become tired and hungry from walking around, we recommend a pot of nabeyaki udon, a specialty of Matsuyama. Served in the pot in which it has been cooked, nabeyaki udon features a rather sweet soup peculiar to Matsuyama. Cooked in a pot for one person, the noodles absorb the flavor well. A little soft and without koshi (firmness or elasticity), these udon are also called “koshinuke udon” (koshi-less udon).
Matsuyama is a city in which the old, in the form of hot springs, a castle and classic literature, co-exists with the modern. Traditional crafts that have been passed down through the generations are still practiced today. These crafts include “Iyo-kasuri,” a method of dying cloth a natural indigo hue, and “Tobe-yaki” a kind of pottery which has its roots in Tobe-cho in the southern part of Matsuyama City. At Mingei Iyo-kasuri Kaikan and Tobe-yaki Kanko Center, you can experience these crafts and make an item that is the only one of its kind in the world.
The flight to Matsuyama from Haneda Airport in Tokyo takes about one and a half hours. If you take the Shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station and then a special express train, it takes about six hours and ten minutes. Matsuyama Castle and Dogo Onsen are ten to 20 minutes’ drive from the airport and the station. The Botchan Train is available for traveling between major tourist spots.
Text: HINATA Kunpei