Matsuyama city, in Ehime prefecture on the island of Shikoku is one of Japan’s hidden Jewels. Off the radar, for most international travelers it offers a huge number of things to do and world-class attractions.
Matsuyama Castle, one of the 12 remaining castles, with its magnificent appearance, Dogo Onsen Honkan, the symbol of Dogo that welcomes visitors with its imposing structure, Funaya, Museum of Art, and the Cloud Over the Hill Museum are just a few examples of the best sightseeing spots and recommended things to do in Matsuyama and Dogo.
One of the 12 remaining castles with an impressive and heroic appearance
Matsuyama Castle is one of the 12 castles that still have the original castle tower. In 2006, it was selected as one of the 100 best castles in Japan.
The feudal lord Kato Yoshiaki began the construction of the castle in 1602, and it took him the longest time (about a quarter of a century) in the history of castle building in Japan to complete it, making it the last complete castle construction in Japan.
It is one of Japan’s three largest castles and is located on the summit of the 132-meter-high Katsuyama Mountain.
From the top floor of the main keep, the view from Ishizuchi Mountain to the Iyo Sea is breathtaking.
You can catch a chairlift or ropeway up to the top from the ropeway station at the end of the Okaido Shopping Street.
Address: Marunouchi, Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture
Main keep Hours: 9:00-17:00 (last admission at 16:30)
Admission: Adult 520 yen, Child] 160 yen
Round-trip ticket for ropeway and lift: Adult 520 yen, Child 260 yen
Dogo Onsen Mani Building
When you visit Dogo Onsen the main attraction is the amazing bath house.
This wonderful building is famous as the model for the god’s bathhouse in the movie Spirited Away, and its image can be seen in every detail of the interior.
Before experiencing the baths, visitors can tour the rooms used by the emperor and members of the imperial family, with explanations from the staff.
The bathtubs are made of stone, and the buildings are made of wood, making it a popular hot spring for people all over Japan. The interior of the building is intricate in many places.
The charming Dogo Onsen Honkan is revered as God’s Hot Spring and has two bathhouses, Rei-no-yu and Kamino-yu.
The alkaline balance of the hot spring water means that it is considered to have healing properties and also is said to beautify your skin after a dip.
Asukanoyusen is a public bathhouse that opened in December 2017. It is designed in the motif of buildings from the Asuka period (538-710).
One of the hall’s unique features is that it uses Ehime’s traditional crafts and the latest technology to present the lore and stories associated with Dogo. One example is the introduction of projection mapping.
Unique devices include the projection of the world of waka poetry on a ceramic mural in the bathroom.
A spacious restroom is also available to kick back and relax after your dip.
Dogo Sky Walkway
A unique sky walkway and Footbath with amazing views
Located right next to Yushinja Shrine and across the Dogo Main building parking lot, this promenade allows visitors to enjoy a footbath with free-flowing spring water while enjoying an overall view of the Dogo Onsen Main Building.
The Sky Walkway is a new landmark of Dogo that opened in January 2019, and in addition to the footbath, it has a pavilion, benches, changing booths, and other facilities that can be used as a rest spot when tired from walking while sightseeing.
After sunset, the foot lamps are lit to provide a serene atmosphere unique to hot spring resorts, making it a good place to visit for a stroll after a hot bath.
Take a break surrounded by nature in Dogo Park
Dogo Park, located near Dogo Hot Springs, was built on the site of Yuzuki Castle that once stood there.
The site of the former castle on top of a hill is now an observatory from which you can see the entire town and its surroundings.
There are no buildings left, only the ruins of an earthen mound, but a visit to the free museum in the park will stir your imagination about the conditions of samurai residences in those days.
You can enjoy various plants in the park such as Japanese apricots, azaleas, camellias, etc. from season to season, but the best time to visit is during the cherry blossom season in spring.
If you take a walk in the park before or even after taking a bath, you may be able to feel the atmosphere of a samurai residence from the time when the castle was located there.
Dogo Shopping Street
An undercover shopping street leading to Dogo’s 3 bath houses that is packed with fashionable souvenirs and delicious food.
This is an L-shaped arcade shopping street stretching about 250 meters from in front of the Dogo Onsen Honkan to Dogo Onsen Station.
About 60 stores line both sides of the street, making it a unique shopping zone where you can enjoy strolling around in yukata (light cotton kimono).
There are stores specializing in Imabari towels, selling Botchan dango (dumplings), serving mikan soft serve, and some Japanese-style cafes.
Hours: 9:00-22:00 (varies according to stores)
Access: Close to “Dogo Onsen” station
A vermilion Shrine located on the Dogo hillside that watches over Dogo Hot Springs.
Isaniwa Shrine is said to have been modeled after Ishimizu Hachimangu Shrine in Kyoto, along with Usa Jingu Shrine in Oita, and is one of only three shrines in Japan built in the Hachiman-zukuri style.
Also known as “Dogo-Hachiman,” the vermilion-lacquered tower gate is decorated with a flat plaque reading “Hachimangu Shrine.
Isanami Shrine can be visited on foot from Dogo Onsen Honkan or Dogo Onsen Station. 135 long stone steps are also impressive. The 135 stone steps are impressive and attract the most worshippers in Dogo during the New Year’s holidays.
Ishite-dera Temple has attracted a lot of attention since it was awarded a Michelin star. The temple is the 51st of 88 temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage, and most of the buildings on the temple grounds are designated as national treasures or national important cultural properties.
Noteworthies are the mantra cave tunnel and surrealistic Buddhist statues, a three-story pagoda, and the treasure house.
Botchan Karakuri Clock
The Botchan Karakuri Clock is located just over the road from Dogo Onsen Station.
Characters from Soseki Natsume’s novel Botchan pop out of the clock every hour to put on their show. The clock, which starts moving with elegant music, is a nostalgic sight for the locals, many of which read Soseki’s Botchan in their youth and know all the characters.
The exterior of the clock was designed in the motif of the Dogo Onsen main building and is a fun way to start your Dogo onsen experience.
There is a footbath next to the Karakuri Clock, so you can enjoy a footbath while waiting for the show.
Saka no Ue no Kumo Museum
The next recommended attraction in Matsuyama, Japan is the Clouds over the Hill Museum. This museum is based on the novel “Clouds over the Hill” by the great writer Ryotaro Shiba.
The novel’s stages are scattered throughout Matsuyama, and the museum was built as a base for sightseeing in the area.
The museum exhibits a wealth of materials related to the characters and the Meiji era.
The novel triangular building designed by Tadao Ando, one of Japan’s leading architects, is worth admiring alone.
Located in central Matsuyama, this is a great spot to visit together with Matsuyama Castle and Bansuiso.
Ride The Botchan Train
The Botchan Train was modeled after a steam locomotive that was in service for 67 years from 1888, not long after the Iyo Railway was opened.
Although the train is now operated with a diesel engine, the smoke is reproduced with an odorless and pollution-free smoke machine and water vapor. You can enjoy the feeling of riding in a steam locomotive of those days.
The Botchan Train derives its name from renowned Japanese author Soseki Natsume’s classic coming-of-age novel “Botchan, which is set in Matsuyama and Dogo.
Ferris Wheel Kururin
Giant Ferris Wheel Kururin is an attraction that everyone can enjoy and a sightseeing spot that offers a spectacular view of the city center.
The Giant Ferris Wheel is located on the roof of the 9-story department store, Iyotetsu Takashimaya, in the center of the city, and boasts a height of 132 meters above sea level (about the same height as Matsuyama Castle).
The Ferris wheel offers a panoramic view of the city, the Seto Inland Sea, and the neighboring mountains.
There are two types of gondolas: regular gondolas and see-through gondolas. The see-through gondolas have a transparent glass floor so that visitors can enjoy the view from their feet.
Fares are 700 yen for the regular gondola and 900 yen for the see-through gondola. The Ferris wheel is accessible from Matsuyama City Station, which is attached to the Iyotetsu Takashimaya Department Store and the Hours of operation are 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily.
Matsuyama Castle Ninomaru Garden
Located halfway up the hillside of Matsuyama Castle, Matsuyama Castle Ninomaru Garden is a garden that recreates the residence of the feudal lord of the Matsuyama Clan.
The rich natural scenery makes it a very popular spot for pre-wedding photo shoots. The garden was recognized as a sacred place for lovers due to the discovery of a legendary coin and is now visited by many couples as a power spot for love.
The splendid Japanese garden with exposed rocks and waterfalls is worth seeing, including the Ryusui-en (running water garden), which recreates the layout of a house in those days with a pond, and the Citrus and Grass Garden, where citrus trees are planted.
Benches have been set up around the area for visitors to enjoy a leisurely stroll. Enjoy a different kind of date in the peaceful scenery.
Bansuiso villa is a French-style building that was built in 1922 by Count Sadamo Hisamatsu, a descendant of the former lord of Matsuyama.
Traditional artworks and events such as mini-concerts are held here.
Note: In October 2017, a café, Soseki Coffee Shop “Aishotei” opened in the Japanese garden of Bansuisoo to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Soseki Natsume’s birth. Soseki coffee, made with a siphon, is best enjoyed while gazing out the wide windows of this beautiful cafe.
Access: It is located at the southern foot of Matsuyama Castle, a 5-minute walk from the “Daimaido” stop on the Iyo Railway line bound for Dogo Onsen from JR Matsuyama Station.
Matsuyama General Park
This exhilarating park was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Matsuyama. There is a children’s plaza, a cherry blossom viewing plaza, and a camellia garden and it’s a great place to stretch the legs for some outdoor activities.
The main draw however is the fabulous old European castle-style tower that has become the symbol of the park with its outstanding observation decks.
Address: 1-1633-2 Asahigaoka, Matsuyama-shi, Ehime
Access: 15-minute walk from JR Matsuyama Station Hours: Free admission
Ehime Museum of Art
The Ehime Museum of Art houses approximately 11,900 works of art by local artists, leading modern Japanese artists, and foreign artists such as Monet and Cezanne.
Collection exhibitions are held five to six times a year with changing exhibits. The museum has a restaurant where visitors can enjoy a meal or coffee while gazing at Matsuyama Castle.
Hours: 9:40-18:00 (last admission 17:30)
A photogenic unmanned station that you should get off at least once
This unmanned station on the JR Shikoku Yosan Line is located in Iyo City, Ehime Prefecture. When you get off onto the platform, the beautiful Iyonada Sea spreads out before you, and the composition of the station with the sea in the background is very photogenic.
The station is also known as “the closest station to the sea in Japan,” where waves sometimes crash on the platform.
Shimonada Station is also famous for its spectacular sunset view. Visitors can enjoy the orange-tinted scenery, which is different from the blue sea and sky scenery during the daytime.
Address: Okubo, Futami Town, Iyo City, Ehime Prefecture
By Train: About 45 minutes from Matsuyama Station to Shimonada Station on the JR Yosan Line
Tobe, Home of Pottery
About 40 minutes by bus from Matsuyama City, Tobe Town is the home of Tobe-yaki pottery, which is white porcelain painted with cobalt colors. It is a must-visit area for pottery lovers.
Visitors can tour the kilns where Tobe-yaki pottery, one of the country’s traditional handicrafts, is produced, and there are also specialized facilities where visitors can try their hand at making pottery. You can also enjoy taking a break at a restaurant or café that serves Tobe-yaki pottery dishes.
More Things To Do In Matsuyama And Ehime Prefecture
We hope we’ve been able to give you a stack of ideas about the top attractions and best things to do in Matsuyama Japan. Here are a few more ideas.
- Catch the wonderful Iyonada Monogatari Sightseeing Train to Ozu and Yawatahama (runs Saturday and Sunday)
- Spend some yennies at the Okaido Shopping Street in the city center
- See the cherry blossoms at Dogo Koen Park
- Take a ferry trip accross the Seto Inland Sea
- Take an early morning hike up to the Castle along one of the walking paths
- Cycle the Shimanami Kaido and island hop to Onomichi
- Visit the fascinating Towel Museum in Imabari
- Drink some dd mikan juice
- Eat some Tai Meshi – A local sea bream on rice dish