Unveiling the mandarin farce: Ehime Prefectures historical past and present

Taking over the northwest quarter of Shikoku Island and many smaller islands in the Seto Inland Sea, Ehime Prefecture is the seaside inaka (countryside) you’ve always dreamed of… but don’t let the farming facade fool you! Ehime Prefectures mikan (mandarins) are some of the best in the world (we’ve tried them first hand and can confirm with our mikan-obsessed staff, that it is indeed, some of the best mandarins in the world) but unknown to the common travelers eye, Ehime Prefecture also houses some of Japan’s most significant historical and cultural icons, and the best seaside views.

View from the top (Image by Tokyo Creative team)

Steam your strain away at Dogo Onsen

Deemed as an Important Cultural Property, Dogo Onsen consists of a three-story castle-style wooden structure and is said to be the oldest hot spring in Japan. If you’re not quite familiar with the Dogo Onsen name, then how about we simplify it into one digestible sentence: that onsen that inspired Ghibli’s Spirited Away. Yes, the magical place that set the scene for all of Chihiro’s troubles and led it to be the highest grossing movie of all time in Japan, began at Ehime Prefectures, Dogo Onsen.

Entrance of Dogo Onsen (Image by Tokyo Creative Team)

With a history dating back over 3,000 years, Dogo Onsen was recorded to have even the Imperial family visit them in the Meiji Period and has since been awarded three stars in the Michelin Green Guidebook. Not only does this mean that it was an important place for cleansing in the past, but it has remained culturally significant in contemporary Japanese society. The Imperial family frequented Dogo Onsen so much so that it even had a special bath built in, just for the family! Constructed in 1899, the Imperial bath even has its own private entrance for royals behind the main entrance and on the opposite side of the building. Going into Dogo Onsen, you’re also able to see where the last member of the royal family, Emperor Hirohito sat and relaxed after his bath. So if you need a quick shower before slipping back out to continue your royal duties, then Dogo Onsen was the place for you!

The oldest onsen in Japan (Image by Tokyo Creative Team)

Apart from the Imperial family, Dogo Onsen has also housed many notable onsen-enthusiasts, such as that guy we all know on the 1000 yen note: Natsume Souseki. Other than starring on our nation’s currency, Souseki was also an important scholar of British literature, haiku composer and novelist– all in all, making him one of the profound Japanese writers of all time and was on the forefront of embracing individuality, freedom, and modernity in Japan. Not only did Dogo Onsen provide Souseki a deep cleanse (and what we hope was some kind of spiritual enlightenment), but also provided him a set for his masterpiece, “Botchan” (坊っちゃん), where the protagonist was also written to frequent the Dogo Onsen as a teacher in Matsuyama. In celebration of Botchan’s international and national success, you will find that there is a dedicated Botchan exhibition room in Dogo Onsen, which displays Dogo Onsens historical artefacts like the antique wooden bath tickets.

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Offering an endless stream of smooth hot spring water, here at Dogo Onsen you can relax and wash all your stresses away. To be able to do that, now that MUST be the work of some god– and maybe it was! Legend says Dogo Onsen was said to have been discovered during the age of gods; when a white heron put its injured foot into the hot water gushing out of a crevice in some rocks, its leg magically healed. So in alignment with the legend, when you visit Dogo Onsen today, you’ll be able to see white herons decorated on the walls, statues, and ceilings of the onsen. Literally, as you enter the bath, you’ll see that there are two types of baths called, “Kami no Yu” (Water of the Gods) and “Tama no Yu” (Water of the Spirits). So next time you’re in Matsuyama, heal yourself in some holy water only fit for Kings and gods at Dogo Onsen. Just don’t forget to rinse yourself off before entering the bath and, well, try not to stare too much.

Oversee the city at Matsuyama castle

What stands as Matsuyama Castle today is one of Japan’s few original surviving castle structures, with all 21 of its buildings listed as Important Cultural Properties of Japan. Spanning almost a quarter of a century in construction, Matsuyama Castle today is nationally celebrated as one of the three great castles in Japan.

(Image by Tokyo Creative Team)

Matsuyama as a historic town was a place that people used to stop by while on their voyage to Kyoto, Osaka or Edo, so in order to protect themselves, forts and defence lines were built in Matsuyama and Takamatsu to prevent enemy attacks. The best tactic for defence? Gates– simple but extremely effective. At the Matsuyama Castle, there are several fortified gates that are in itself, labeled as important national cultural properties, and each of them has various contrivances for protecting the castle from attackers. For example, there’s a gateway that has no barricade to stop people from coming in, but when enemies do come in, they fall into the trap and are immediately shot from behind. On each gate, there are also six huge measles-like bumps– six pronounced as mu, meaning “none”. With these symbols on each gate, it was also wished that no diseases would get into the castle and affect its dwellers.

(Image by Tokyo Creative Team)

Despite all this incredible history within its walls, in our opinion, Matsuyama Castle’s greatest feature is the view from the main castle tower. There, you’ll be able to get the most jaw-dropping 360-degree panoramic view from Mount Ishizuchi to the Seto Inland Sea.

View from the top! (Image by Tokyo Creative Team)

But like everything in life, good things come with a price– to get the perfect picture of this view, you’ll need to climb a whole lotta steep and narrow stairs up to a slope, so try to get your exercise on before coming!

Your biennial sporting adventure: Shimanami Cycling Event

Who doesn’t love another reason to travel? Especially for all you gear-heads out there, the famous Shimanami Kaido event came and went this year and we were lucky enough to participate in it! Only occurring once every two years, the Shimanami Kaido event has become the go-to destination for cyclists from around the world, spanning around 70 kilometres with stunning views of the mountain, the sea, and local towns. Starting at Imabari City in Ehime and ending at Onomichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture, cyclists ride through six different islands, and also are able to ride across the Kurushima Strait bridge, giving them the spectacular view of the infamous whirlpools.

(Image by Tokyo Creative Team)

As the only bicycle event to allow cyclists to ride on expressways in Japan, the Shimanami cycling event offers a unique look into the Japanese landscape– so much so that 7,000 participants from inside and outside of Japan flock to the Seto Inland Sea to watch the event. This event gets more intense and attracts more international attention every year, as it was already selected by CNN as one of the top seven cycling courses in the world.

(Image by Tokyo Creative Team)

There are many diverse courses that cover your needs as a cyclist! If you’re experienced, there’s a course that gives you the round trip over the Seto Inland Sea Shimanami Kaido, an intermediate course where you can cruise through Imabari and Onomichi, and a beginners course for those who just want to relax a little bit while cycling and enjoying the view. For the full travel experience, we recommend taking the cruising course, which allows you to cycle and take a ferry ride– fun for the whole family!

Unfortunately for all you cyclists out there, you just missed this year’s event, which means that the next time you’ll be able to ride along these six different islands with all your cycling mates will be in 2020. Before your time to shine, we heavily advise you to train away and get your head in the game to sweat while admiring the amazing view of the sea. But our most important piece of advice? Just don’t forget to inhale as many mandarins before you leave!                                 

We hope you enjoy your stay at Ehime! (Image by Tokyo Creative Team)

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