Matsuyama (松山市, Matsuyama-shi?) meaning “pine mountain”, is the homely capital of Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku in Japan. Founded on December 15, 1889, this city of 515,000 is located in the Matsuyama Plain, a river basin formed by the flow of the Ishite and Shigenobu rivers, and nestled by the Ishizuchi mountain range to the south and Takanawa Mountains to the north. Home to exquisite citrus products, the climate is overall mild and temperate (avg. temp 15 Celsius), somewhat balmy in summer, with most rainfall occurring in late spring and almost no snow in winter.
Quite provincial yet hospitable to travelers, and a hub of business and shopping amongst the lazy calm of the countryside, Matsuyama has much to offer in the way of literary and curious cultural assets.
Matsuyama is perhaps best known for Dōgo Onsen (道後温泉), which attracts hot spring enthusiasts and newcomers alike to its steamy waters that emerge from faults in the east-west tectonic line. Dōgo Onsen was already famous in the Nara period, and Shotoku Taishi visited the spa in the year 596. It is also mentioned in passing in The Tale of Genji.
Famous Buddhist temples in Matsuyama include Ishite-ji (石手寺) and Taisanji (太山寺), both dating back to the 8th century, although the oldest surviving buildings are from the early 14th century. Famous shrines of the city include Isaniwa shrine, built in 1667.
Some places of interest while visiting Matsuyama:
Akiyama Brothers Birthplace (秋山兄弟生誕地)
2-3-6 Kachimachi, ☎ 089-943-2747, 10:00-17:00, closed Monday, 12/28-01/03.
Born to a lower class branch of the Matsuyama samurai clan, Akiyama Kyōdai Seitanchi pays tribute to two brothers who became modern military heroes of Japan. Yoshifuru, the eldest, is credited with being the father of the Japanese Cavalry, while Saneyuki excelled in naval tactics. Yoshifuru entered what would become the Imperial Japanese Army Academy, then the Army War College and later traveled to France to study cavalry techniques in 1887. After serving in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) he successfully established a cavalry division which debuted in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), thrusting him into the military spotlight. After holding numerous posts of prestige, he was promoted to General in 1916 and finally retired to become a junior high school principal in Matsuyama. A childhood friend of Masaoka Shiki, Saneyuki shared his love of the written word and the two studied literature at Tokyo University. However, at the behest of his brother, Saneyuki left school and joined the Naval Academy in Tsukiji, embarking on a much more interesting military career. Being exceptionally bright, he quickly became a Lieutenant Commander who served well in the Sino-Japanese War. He was sent to America to study naval tactics, highly inspired by the writings of Thayer Mahan, but encountered many obstacles in his quest for knowledge due to his nationality. Eventually, he gained on-the-job training during the Spanish-American War (1898), spent time in Europe as well before returning to Japan where he became the foremost strategist for the Russo-Japanese War, leading to a glorious victory on Tsushima. After going to Europe again to study World War I, he became Vice Admiral in 1917 and taught naval tactics at the Naval War College, stressing the importance of popular mobilization and modern technological warfare.
Dōgo Park & Yuzuki Castle Ruins (道後公園・湯築城),
Dōgo Park, ☎ 089-941-1480, . Dōgo Park: 24 hours, Yuzuki Castle Ruins: 09:00-17:00, Opens 12/29-01/03.
Entrance is free
From mid-March through the month of April, the typically peaceful Dōgo Park is overwhelmed by inebriated locals and hawking vendors who come to take part in the most ancient of activities, hanami, or viewing of sakura (cherry blossoms). An oval shaped patch of green in the overdeveloped Dōgo neighborhood, Dōgo Kōen is an important part of Matsuyama’s identity because it harbors the ruins of Yuzuki Castle. Yuzukijō was the residence of the Kōno Clan (河野) who ruled Iyo Province (伊予, now Ehime), defending it from Mongols and making Dōgo the center of culture and commerce for the region, from the 13th to the late 16th century when war lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉) sent an army to Shikoku to conquer and unify Japan. The excavation of the 30,000 square meter site took over 14 years, but the castle, gardens and lords’ houses were all recovered. Within the recreated homes, mannequins silently act out the daily lives of the elite during that time, drinking tea and writing renga (poems composed by a group). There is also a library and if reservations are made, a volunteer English-speaking guide can show visitors around.
3-3-7 Ichibanchō, ☎ 089-921-3711. 09:40-18:00, closed Monday, 12/29-01/05.
Entrance is free but tea is served for ¥300
“Stupid Buddha” was the name given to this quiet hermitage that Sōseki and Shiki shared for 52 days in the year 1895. Sōseki, who taught English at Matsuyama Junior High, lived upstairs while Shiki bravely fought tuberculosis in a room below. Those few days were a pivotal time for modern Japanese poetry; Shiki invited other haiku artists to debate the merits of the verse and he also taught techniques to students of the Shofukai Haiku School. Sōseki, who was himself at a turning point in his life, was greatly inspired by his college friend’s passion and after parting ways, began a serious career in literature.
Matsuyama Castle (松山城), 1 Marunouchi, ☎ 089-921-4873 08:30-16:30, closed 12/29.
Entrance fee: Adult: ¥500, Child: ¥150.
Situated on the 130m tall Katsuyama Hill in the center of the city, this is one of three multi-wing, flat hilltop castles remaining in Japan. Before the industrial revolution, one could readily view the castle from almost all corners of the city, but even now travelers can orientate themselves using the old compass. This sprawling fortress, constructed by the feudal lord Katō Yoshiaki (加藤嘉明) over the course of 25 years, was completed in 1627, and like all castles has been the victim of arson and lightning strikes. The main tower is a wooden framed structure (like Himeji Castle, as opposed to the many concrete reproduction castle towers found in most parts of Japan) and in fact renovation has just been completed within the past year, using techniques and materials consistent with its 17th century construction. With four of its eight strategic gates designated national cultural treasures (Inui Gate is the only actual original part) and the wealth of historical artifacts – swords and armor belonging to the three occupying families, calligraphy and official documents from the feudal era – and narratives available (in English) within its majestic walls, Matsuyamajō is well worth the hike. The castle is accessible by hiking a wooded trail, but the cable car or chairlift (ropeway, ロープウェイ) can be boarded at the east entrance, located along Ropeway Street. Cable car and chairlift times correspond to castle tour times, and the fee is ¥500 roundtrip.