Matsuyama

For other places with the same name, see Matsuyama (disambiguation).
View of the city from Matsuyama castle

Matsuyama (松山) , meaning "pine mountain", is the homely capital of Ehime prefecture.

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 curious literary and cultural assets.

Understand

With a population of 515,000, Matsuyama is the largest city on Shikoku, though still noticeably sleepier than cities of comparable size on the Japanese mainland. The city is situated in a river basin formed by the flow of the Ishite and Shigenobu rivers, and nestled between the Ishizuchi mountain range to the south and Takanawa Mountains to the north. The center of town is Matsuyama-shi Station (松山市駅, "Shieki" for short), south of Matsuyama Castle, which serves as a hub for local trams, buses, and the private Iyotetsu train line. JR Matsuyama Station is a short walk west.

The climate of Matsuyama is overall mild and temperate somewhat balmy in summer, with most rainfall occurring in late spring, and almost no snow in winter. However, the city's star attraction Dōgo Onsen (道後温泉) is a good time in any season, drawing serious hot spring enthusiasts and newcomers alike to its steamy waters. This public bathhouse is thought to be the oldest in Japan, a claim reinforced by its mention in the second oldest book of Japanese history, Nihon Shoki (720 AD).

But Dōgo and its surroundings are better known for their place in another classic Japanese book, Botchan (1906). Renowned novelist Natsume Sōseki (夏目漱石) wrote Botchan while living and working in Matsuyama as a teacher. Although the area does not come off well in the Edo-phile's description, the town nevertheless celebrates the connection with a variety of events and displays.

Sōseki’s friend and mentor, Masaoka Shiki (正岡子規), was a native of Matsuyama and one of the four great masters of haiku. Born to a lower class samurai family, Shiki had a modest childhood. Thanks to his education and an uncle in public office, Shiki was able to enter Tokyo Imperial University to study philosophy and politics, and later became a journalist covering the Russo-Japanese War. His literary career began when he started criticizing the Edo period's iconic haiku artist Matsuo Bashō and praising Yosa Buson, whose work he felt was brief yet refined. Shiki is credited with revitalizing Japanese poetry and modernizing its themes, thus making the short verse once again relevant to modern Japanese culture.

Matsuyama's bastions of literary pride span centuries, and many of the city's attractions celebrate that heritage with unabashed cheer. In the words of one native, referring the character from Botchan (not the pop star): "We don't have geisha we have Madonna!"

Tourist information

There are also information desks at the ferry terminal and Dōgo Onsen.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 10 11 15 20 24 27 31 33 30 24 18 13
Nightly lows (°C) 3 3 5 10 15 20 24 24 21 15 9 5
Precipitation (mm) 69 74 111 110 158 230 199 120 142 112 79 58

Matsuyama is hottest in July and August. January and February are the coldest months, with temperatures rarely getting below freezing.

Get in

By plane

Matsuyama Airport (MYJ),  +81 89-972-5600. Nonstop service from major airports such as Tokyo Haneda, Nagoya Komaki, Osaka Itami and Fukuoka, as well as from Okinawa. There are also direct flights to and from Seoul and Shanghai. The Limousine Bus connects the airport to Dōgo Onsen, running at 20 minute intervals (¥450) via JR Matsuyama Sta (¥300).

By train

The Shiokaze is the main train service connecting Matsuyama with the Japanese mainland.

Matsuyama is on the JR Yosan Line. From the mainland, take the San'yo Shinkansen to Okayama, and transfer to the Shiokaze Limited Express, which will get you to Matsuyama in about three hours (¥6630).

The Ishizuchi Limited Express connects Matsuyama with Takamatsu on the eastern end of Shikoku (2 1/2 hours, ¥6010). The Uwakai and a few other limited express services run to Uwajima (75 minutes, ¥3410). (Many limited express trains in Shikoku combine or divide with others at certain stations, so be sure you're in the correct part of the train.)

The Sunrise Seto overnight train from Tokyo departs at 10PM. It goes to Sakaide (坂出) station, the first stop after crossing the long Seto-Ohashi bridge, and the station before Takamatsu. After a 40-minute wait (during which you can get a bite to eat), take the Ishizuchi limited express to Matsuyama, arriving at 10AM. The Sunrise Seto is one of the few overnight trains in Japan with a shower on board. You can use the shower for a small fee, or for no charge, depending on your accommodation type. But if you don't like being limited to six minutes of water, just plan an early visit to Dōgo Onsen!

If you have a Japan Rail Pass, all travel on JR trains is covered except for accommodations on the Sunrise Seto; you can book a carpeted floor space at no charge, or pay the applicable room fee and surcharges for a room or compartment. If you are traveling a long distance to reach Matsuyama, you can choose to simply split up your journey, stopping at an intermediate destination en-route in order to sleep somewhere. For example, on a trip from Tokyo to Matsuyama you could leave Tokyo in the evening on the Shinkansen and make your way to Osaka or Himeji to spend the night. The next morning you can continue to Okayama to connect to the Shiokaze train.

By bus

Highway buses connect Matsuyama with the rest of Shikoku, as well as with other major cities in Japan. The following buses are operated by JR Shikoku Bus (Japanese website) and affiliated JR bus companies.

Within Shikoku, the Botchan Express bus runs multiple times per day from Takamatsu (2 3/4 hours, ¥3900), while the Nangoku Express offers six daily round-trips from Kochi (2 3/4 hours, ¥3500) and the Yoshinogawa Express offers service to/from Tokushima (3 1/4 hours, ¥4300).

The interestingly-named Madonna Express bus service runs six daily round-trips between Matsuyama and Okayama (3 hours, ¥4300).

From Osaka and Kobe, service is offered on the Matsuyama Express Osaka bus. Eight daily round-trip buses during the day from Osaka and Sannomiya Bus Terminal (5 3/4 hours from Osaka, ¥6700). One round-trip bus runs overnight, starting from Kyoto station (8 1/4 hours, ¥7000) and stopping at Osaka and Sannomiya along the way.

The Olive Matsuyama bus service operates overnight between Nagoya and Matsuyama, via Tokushima and Takamatsu (10 1/4 hours, ¥10,000).

Overnight buses are offered from Tokyo on the Dream Takamatsu-Matsuyama service (10 1/4 hours, ¥12,000; ¥14,300 for Premium Seats).

Iyo Tetsu Bus operates similar services in competition with those listed above, at similar prices. It should be noted, though, that Iyo Tetsu's overnight services make pickup and dropoff stops directly at Dogo Onsen (see below). Both Iyo and JR buses make stops at the Okaido arcade, from which Dogo Onsen is a short, convenient journey by tram.

Iyo Tetsu Bus also offers an overnight bus to Matsuyama from Fukuoka and Kitakyushu (10 hours from Fukuoka, ¥8000).

Willer Express operates buses from Matsuyama to Kobe, Osaka and Tokyo. Online bookings are available in English.

By ferry

Ferry services connect Matsuyama with various locations on Honshu and Kyushu. Ferries depart from Matsuyama Kankoko (松山観光港) . To reach the terminal from JR Matsuyama Station, take the Iyotetsu Limousine Bus which leaves every hour (20 minutes, ¥450). The bus also runs from the Dogo Onsen tram station (40 minutes, ¥600).

Get around

One of Matsuyama's trams. Route #5 (above) connects JR Matsuyama Station with Dogo Onsen.

If you plan on staying for an extended period of time (or believe you will spend more than ¥2000 on transportation), you may want to buy an I~C Card at Shieki, which gives 10% discounts on all Iyotetsu transportation (including taxis).

Traveling on foot is an entirely viable way of getting around downtown at a comfortable pace.

By tram

Trams (streetcars) have a flat fare, ¥160 per trip (November 2014) or ¥80 for children. A one-day pass costs ¥400.

Of the lines that run around the city, route # 5 is the most useful for travelers, as it runs between the JR Matsuyama station and Dogo Onsen, passing Matsuyama Castle and the Okaido shopping arcade. Route # 3 connects Dogo Onsen with Matsuyama-shi station (for the Iyo Railway).

You can also tour a few Botchan sites on the Botchan Ressha, which is a recreation of the old steam-powered trams (though the modern version runs on diesel).

By bus

Iyotetsu (伊予鉄) city buses connect all corners of Matsuyama (except for the island, Nakajima), from the ferry port in the west to Kume in the east, and from Hōjō in the north to Tobe in the south. The hub is the aforementioned Shieki. Timetables are not in English, but if you can pronounce the destination, the driver will help you get there. Fares start at ¥150. Enter buses in the rear and take a slip of paper. If you need to change a yen note, insert it into the machine at the front of the bus to receive change. When you are ready to disembark, go to the front, check the amount due on the above chart and drop the money into the slot.

Buses run once an hour from the Takahama Ferry Port to Dōgo Onsen Eki. There is also an East-West Loop bus which connects all vital areas and whose fare is ¥150.

By train

Outer City Commuter Train (郊外電車),  +81 89-948-3329. Also run by Iyotetsu, with a hub at Shieki. Trains run from Yokogawara to Iyo to Takahama every 15 minutes and are quite reliable. ¥150-500.

By car

The Nissan Car Rental port at the intersection of Nishihoribata and Hanazoromachi, across from JAL Hotel. Car rental is not practical for city travel, but can be handy for onward destinations in Shikoku.

By bicycle

Map of Matsuyama

See

While having read Sōseki's novels or Shiki's haiku is by no means essential to enjoy most of these sites, it will probably represent the difference between whether you find them evocative pieces of history or just a pleasant collection of Meiji-era buildings.

Bansuiso, nestled against Katsuyama Mountain
The other castle on the grounds of Matsuyama Central Park
Botchan Ressha is a common sight in the downtown area.

88 Temple Pilgrimage

Buddha's feet, Jōdoji

Eight temples in Matsuyama are part of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Most are well out of the city center, though, and require a car or (appropriately enough) a hike.

Do

Dōgo Onsen bathhouse

According to legend, Prince Shotoku (574-622) used to partake of the waters, and in 1899, the annex Yushinden, was built so that the Imperial Family could enjoy Dōgo in privacy. The last time the Emperor visited Dōgo was in the 1970s, but the curious can peek into the rooms (15 minute tour without bathing: ¥250 adults, ¥120 children.) There is also an exhibition room that features artifacts from the various stages of Dōgo's history.

There are two types of baths in the honkan for both men and women.

Co-ed almost-naked stair-climbing

As you descend the staircase down to the baths, keep an eye out for an unusual sign:

裸で階段の昇降は固くお断りします。

Or, in English, "Climbing the stairs while naked is strictly forbidden".

  • Kami no Yu 1F (神の湯). 6AM-11PM. The "Bath of the Gods" is a simple public style bath in a pseudo-Mediterranean setting. Towels and soap are not provided but can be cheaply rented at the front. Includes access to the Exhibition Room and Botchan's Rooms. Adults ¥400, children ¥150.
  • Kami no Yu 2F (神の湯) (The path marked in blue.). 6AM-10PM. Bathers can use the lounge, wear a Dōgo yukata, and have tea with sembei (rice cracker) for 60 minutes. Includes access to the Exhibition Room and Botchan's Rooms. Adults ¥800, children ¥400.
  • Tama no Yu 2F (霊の湯) (Follow the red path.). 6AM-10PM. The "Bath of the Spirits" 60 minute course includes use of Kami no Yu, lounge, a yukata, snacks, towel, the two aforementioned rooms and a 15 minute Yushinden tour. Adults ¥1200, children ¥600.
  • Tama no Yu Private Room 3F (霊の湯) (Follow the yellow path.). 6AM-10PM. This course is 80 minutes. The room is private, and the provided yukata has a heron design. Botchan dango (rice dumplings) are served. Adults ¥1500, children ¥750.

Buy

Hime Daruma and Hime Temari

Two stories explain the origins of these cheerful artifacts. One says that when Emperor Ojin visited Dōgo Onsen he was inspired by the memory of his mother's pregnancy, and decided to craft an object to give expecting mothers good luck. The other says that after being left fatherless by the Mongolian Invasion (1274-1281) and devoting the rest of her life to caring for her late patriarch's grave, the face of one of the daughters of the Kōno clan, Hime, was drawn over that of a Bodhidharma toyōka daruma (Bodhidharma being the founder of Zen Buddhism). In Japan, a bride brings a temari, which is a technicolor string ball, to the groom's house as a sign of "amicable settlement", but it is more commonly exchanged during New Year's.

A stroll around Dōgo Onsen, particularly the Yunomachi shopping corridor, will turn up plenty of tourist-oriented souvenir shops. Look for Iyo Kasuri cloth, which was traditionally woven with thread-dyed indigo, but is now made in many vibrant hues and is used for clothing, toys and accessories. (Kasuri means "splashed pattern".) Another item of note is Tobe pottery, which boasts a history of over 220 years. Designated a National Traditional Craft, it's valued for its thickness and simplicity, and the sensual contrast of the indigo against pristine white ceramic ware. Shops in Yunomachi sell Tobeyaki, but Tobe the town is not far from Matsuyama if you'd prefer to go to the source.

The Gentangai Arcade, just east of Shieki, is the place to look for more contemporary and eclectic items.

Eat

Matsuyama is a great place to indulge a sweet tooth. Botchan dango (坊ちゃん団子) headline every sweet shop in town. They're skewered rice dumplings covered in bean paste dyed with green tea, eggs, and azuki beans. This soft, sweet snack was popularized by Sōseki, who had such a weakness for them that he included the treats in Botchan. Another local favorite are the cute little tarts (タルト). Originally derived from Nagasaki's Castella cake in the 1600s, the Matsuyama variety replaces jam with azuki bean paste, and rolls up the cake.

For a healthier sweet, mikan (みかん) (citrus fruits) come in a multitude of species, including iyokan (grapefruit-like) and dekopon (huge, orange and puckered). Mikan are mainly harvested in the fall and are very cheap, but they're so treasured that they are used as offerings to ancestral spirits.

Drink

The drinking district is fairly well-concentrated; the streets around the Okaido Arcade are the place to begin a bar crawl.

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Matsuyama is a safe city, even by Japanese standards. Theft has never been an issue of note at Dōgo Onsen, but there are coin lockers (¥100) if you have valuables to store.

Go next


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