Matsuyama Itinerary: Two Days of Castles, Cats, and Hot Springs!
January 19, 2017
Matsuyama is a vibrant city that is off the usual tourist path. Located on the southern island of Shikoku, locals are friendly and the city’s atmosphere is welcoming. It has much to offer guest with a rich history, delicious foods, and beautiful scenery. With cheap, direct flights from Osaka, it is definitely a city worth adding to your trip. Here is a simple itinerary to make the most of your visit to Matsuyama.
To assist in getting around town there is a streetcar system that is very helpful. Day passes can be purchased for 600 yen, which give you unlimited use of the trams. If you don’t buy the day pass, you will need to pay with exact change on-board. (Change machines are provided.)
1. Matsuyama Castle
One of the last twelve original castles left in Japan, Matsuyama Castle is definitely a sight to see. You are able to call in the samurai by playing the taiko (Japanese drum) in a castle tower, and view the original tatami rooms and Japanese architecture. Entrance is 510 yen and hours are from 9am to 5pm (4:30pm in December and January), with the last entrance 30 minutes before closing. The climb up to the castle gets quite steep and takes about 20 minutes, so a chairlift is available for 270 yen one-way. To access the castle, take the tram (160 yen) and get off at the Okaido stop and walk for about 10 minutes.
Address: 1 Marunouchi, Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture
2. Dogo Onsen
Although there are many great onsen (hot springs) in Japan, Dogo is a must for any bathhouse lover. Dogo Onsen is the oldest onsen in Japan. It also is the only onsen in Japanese history to have a separate bath solely for the imperial family. In addition to this history, it was also the inspiration for the hotel in the animated film Spirited Away. It offers two baths for visitors and multiple package options to fit any price range. The onsen and surrounding area pay tribute to the classic Japanese novel Botchan, which takes place in Matsuyama and speaks highly of the hot springs. The clock tower plays scenes from the novel at the top of every hour. The Botchan Train is a classic replica of the one in the novel and can be ridden to many popular sites.
Emperor’s facilities tour only: 260 yen
Kami no Yu bath (large main bath): 410 yen
Kami no Yu bath, yukata rental, lounge access with green tea and Dogo cracker: 840 yen
previous package + Tama no Yu bath (smaller, more exclusive bath), face towel rental, and Emperor’s facilities tour: 1250 yen
Kami no Yu bath, yukata rental, Tama no Yu bath, face towel rental, and Emperor’s facilities tour + private room with green tea and Botchan sweets (local specialty): 1550 yen
Although there are said to be time limits on all packages, the only strict one is on the 1550-yen package due to limited private rooms. Dogo gives a feeling of traditional Japanese luxury and leaves one feeling fully refreshed. Towels, soap, shampoo, and conditioner can all be purchased when entering. To access, take trams 3, 5, or 6 to the last stop (Dogo Onsen) and then walk about 10 minutes through the shopping center.
Hours: 6am to 9pm (open later for certain packages)
Address: 5-6 Dogo Yunomachi, Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture 790-0842
3. Aoshima Island, AKA “Cat Island”
Many have seen the viral videos of Japan’s “cat islands,” and though there are a few in Japan, Aoshima is the most popular. With a dwindling population of 15 people and a growing population of cats, cats outnumber humans 6:1 on this small island. Surprisingly, the island has no tourist amenities such as hotels, restaurants, or even public bathrooms. There is no website or even Google pin for the ferry. Despite this, many tourists come to see the hordes of cats, especially during the summer months.
The cats are overall very friendly (with the exception of seeing a few cat fights). I suggest bringing toys in order to attract the kitties. There is limited viewing area on the island due to it being residential, and visitors are to stay along the blue painted path.
From Matsuyama JR station, take a train to Iyo-Nagahama Station. It will cost 1520 yen and take about 2 hours. Make sure you plan your trains right because the ferry only leaves twice a day (8am and 2:30pm) and returns around 8:45am or 4:15pm. The ferry is 1240 yen roundtrip (cash only) and takes about 30 minutes. It has been rumored that tickets can sell out quickly ahead of time during spring and summer months. When you leave Iyo-Nagahama Station, walk straight towards the water and you will see the white ferry in front of you.
I am from Nashville, Tennessee in the United States of America. I graduated from the University of Tampa with a BA in Applied Sociology. I am currently living in Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan teaching high school English.