15 Things to Do in Matsuyama, Japan: Castles, Temples, Museums, and More

  • EHIME
  • MATSUYAMA
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  • Matsuyama, located in Ehime Prefecture, is one of Shikoku’s most famous cities. There is so much to see here, including an original castle, a renowned onsen, and beautiful temples. The city also boasts a rich literary history, and many important Japanese authors have written about it and lived in the city. World-famous Natsume Soseki lived here, and you can find all kinds of attractions commemorating the author.

    While Matsuyama is a much smaller city than Tokyo or Osaka, there are still many worthwhile attractions and it is a charming town that is well worth the visit. Here are 15 interesting things to do in the area!

    1. Visit Ishite-ji Temple

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    While Matsuyama has eight temples that are a part of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, Ishite-ji is the most famous. Ishite-ji is, for a lack of a better word, quirky. There are all sorts of eclectic Buddhist statues and even one that seemed to be of Jesus. You can find statues that resemble dwarves and demons, as well as circular marble structures, an impressive dragon, and a bird warrior. There’s little explanation for what all of these statues are, but it is nevertheless fascinating to explore the grounds yourself.

    One of the more unique features of the temple is a cave that houses even more statues. Following the cave takes you into the inner temple with a striking domed hall. Ishite-ji is a traditionally beautiful temple as well. Most of the buildings date back to the late Kamakura era or the early 1300s, and they are quite impressive to behold. The three-story pagoda, in particular, is stunning, and the Niomon Gate is a designated national treasure. In fact, seven of its buildings have been deemed national treasures or important cultural properties.

    There’s much to see and appreciate at Ishite-ji Temple, and it is an especially relaxing way to start or end your day. It’s a 15-minute walk from the Dogo Onsen tram or a five-minute bus ride away.

    Ishite-ji Temple Website
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    2. See the Botchan Karakuri Clock

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    Botchan is one of Japan’s most famous novels by renowned author Natsume Soseki. The titular character becomes a teacher in Matsuyama, as did Soseki himself. Matsuyama remains proud of its literary importance, and there are quite a few tributes to the character and the author in the city.

    One of the more interesting Botchan attractions is the Botchan Karakuri Clock, located steps away from the Dogo Onsen Station. Every hour, the clock comes to life with a fun show featuring the characters of the novel. The two-level clock extends upward, revealing another two levels and various moving parts. It’s a short show but an impressive one that is easy to enjoy even if you have no knowledge of Botchan.

    There is also a free public foot bath at the base of the clock if you find yourself with some spare time before the show.

    Botchan Karakuri Clock Website
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    3. Ride the Botchan Train

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    If you want a fuller Botchan experience, you can ride the Botchan Train. This sightseeing train is modeled after the steam trains Botchan would have ridden.

    The train departs from Dogo Onsen Station and travels to either Matsuyama or Komachi Stations for 800 yen a ride, which is significantly more than the typical 160-yen tram fare. If you ride it, be sure to stay and watch how the conductor turns the train around. Keep in mind that the train can be crowded with long lines, and as it is an old train, it can get very hot in the summer.

    If you prefer to skip the ride, you can also simply watch the train depart from the beautiful Dogo Onsen Tram Station, or you can get a closer look at the train that sits just outside it. Alternatively, there is a free Botchan Train Museum located by Matsuyama-shi Station where you can learn more about the history of Matsuyama’s train lines.

    Botchan Train Website
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    4. Take a dip at Dogo Onsen

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    Dogo Onsen is one of Matsuyama’s most famous spots and one of Japan’s most popular onsen. It’s also one of the oldest in Japan, and it was visited by important figures like Natsume Soseki and even the Imperial Family. For pop culture fans, the onsen was also one of the sources of inspiration for the bath house in Spirited Away.

    The grand building is stunning on its own and it is easy to mistake it for a large temple or residence at first glance. Of course, the real highlight is the baths themselves. There are two options: the smaller and cheaper Kami No Yu, and the nicer Tama no Yu. Additionally, there is the Yushinden, a bath reserved for the Imperial Family, which you can tour for an additional fee. There’s also a small collection of documents related to the onsen as well as old yufuda, wooden pieces that were used as tickets.

    There are four ticket tiers, and be warned that on crowded days, all but the lowest may be sold out (and as Kami no Yu is fairly small, you may still have to wait to wash or enter). The cheapest is 410 yen, which allows you into the Kami no Yu. For 840 yen, you receive a rental yukata that you can wear in the lounge, where you can enjoy snacks and tea. 1,250 yen allows you access to Tame no Yu, a nicer lounge, a tour of the Yushinden, as well as a rental towel and yukata. Finally, for 1,550 yen, you can use a private lounge instead, as well as the other tiers’ three amenities.

    If you visit, make sure to bring your own towel and toiletries though you can buy soap or rent a small towel.

    Dogo Onsen Website *Automatice translation available
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    5. Buy souvenirs at Dogo Shopping Arcade

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    This short shopping arcade takes you from the Dogo Onsen tram stop to Dogo Onsen. While it is undoubtedly a tourist trap, it is a great place to pick up reasonably priced souvenirs or try a traditional snack from the hot food vendors. You can find everything here – from kimono and Japanese fans to beautifully painted chopsticks and Botchan sweets.

    Here, you can also find Donguri no Mori, the Studio Ghibli goods store. After seeing Dogo Onsen and reminiscing about Spirited Away, this store is sure to beckon to Ghibli fans. While No Face or Haku would be more appropriate, a giant Totoro sits on a bench outside of the store, welcoming you inside (or just to stop for a photo). Rest assured, there are plenty of Spirited Away goods in the store that are perfect to commemorate your trip to Matsuyama.

    Dogo Shopping Arcade Website
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    6. Stroll around Dogo Park

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    While Dogo Park used to be the site of Yuzuki Castle, very little remains now though you can still see the former moat. There is a free museum where you can see old artifacts that were uncovered in the castle excavation, but that is the closest you will get to the old castle. Still, it’s a pleasant place for a stroll. There are plenty of pretty trees and plants, and the old moat is especially picturesque as it is covered in lily pads.

    If you follow the walking paths up the hill, you will be treated to a lovely view of the city. When the weather is nice, the grounds are the perfect place for a picnic, and there is plenty of space on the lawn to sit or play. While the park may not be a must-see destination, it is centrally located and often quiet so it’s a good way to unwind or to kill time (or to join the locals for a jog).

    Dogo Park Website
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    7. Take a look around the Dogo Giyaman Glass Museum

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    The Dogo Giyaman Glass Museum is located a few minutes away from Dogo Onsen and is a great stop for antique lovers. In the museum, you can find all kinds of glass from the Edo, Meiji, and Taisho eras. If you are expecting striking glass sculptures, you will be underwhelmed as the contents are mostly home goods like bowls and dishes. Still, there are some beautiful pieces in the collection.

    Entrance is 600 yen, which is rather steep for a museum that is fairly small, but you can find 10% off coupons at tourist information spots. If you are looking for a place to relax, there is a cafe attached with a lovely view overlooking the pool and garden. Here, you can get full meals or some delicious fruit teas, cakes, or parfaits.

    Dogo Giyaman Glass Museum Website
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    8. Visit Isaniwa Shrine

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    Isaniwa Shrine sits on a hill near Dogo Onsen, and once you brave the steep steps, you are treated to a beautiful view and an even more beautiful shrine. It is said to be founded on where Emperor Chuai, the 14th Emperor of Japan, bathed at Dogo Onsen, so the shrine boasts a long history. The current main building dates back to 1667 and is recognized as an important cultural property. The shrine is dedicated to Hachiman, the god of warriors, so of course, you can find a few paintings on warriors and warfare here.

    The shrine is also a popular place for weddings and other ceremonies, but you are still free to wander the grounds even when something is going on. As it is a rare example of the Hachiman-zukuri style, the shrine is worth exploring.

    Isaniwa Shrine Website
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    9. Learn about the Father of Modern Haiku at the Shiki Museum

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    Matsuyama has no shortage of literary culture, and while Natsume Soseki is the most famous, there is one more writer who called Matsuyama home. Shiki Masaoka (1867 to 1902) is considered the Father of Modern Haiku; he helped reform and modernize haiku in the Meiji era, and later in his life, he also wrote tanka poetry.

    The Shiki Museum chronicles Shiki’s life and legacy, and you can even find a replica of the house that he shared with Natsume Soseki here. The museum also has explanations on Matsuyama’s history, as well as introductions of the other authors who played an important part in local history. Entrance is 400 yen, and while there is some English, you can also rent an English audio guide for 200 yen.

    If the museum isn’t enough, you can also visit Shikido, a replica of Shiki’s house which features his original writing desk as well as photographs, writings, and other things related to the author. For only 50 yen, it is certainly one of the cheapest paid tourist spots.

    The Shiki Museum Website
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    10. Admire Matsuyama Castle

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    Matsuyama’s most famous site is, of course, Matsuyama Castle, one of Japan’s 12 original castles. The castle is located on top of a steep hill near the Okaido tram stop and can be accessed by cable car, ski lift (270 yen one way/510 yen round trip), or by walking.

    The castle was built in the early 1600s and originally had five stories. Unfortunately, it burned down. The current three-story structure dates back to 1820, though parts that survived the Meiji Restoration were destroyed by bombs in WWII. The main keep is expansive with plenty of interesting displays and things to see. The black keep is striking and there is a large number of impressive gates, seven of which are designated cultural assets. The castle offers stunning views from the top and is especially scenic in spring thanks to the cherry blossoms that fill the grounds.

    Matsuyama Castle Website
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    11. Try different foods at the Okaido Shopping Arcade

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    If you are looking for a place to eat before or after your castle visit, the Okaido Shopping Arcade is a great bet. Starting right from the Okaido tram stop, the arcade stretches for about a kilometer before terminating at Matsuyama Station.

    You can find various restaurants and cafes (including some Botchan-themed ones) with all kinds of cuisines here. There are cheap chains, izakaya, traditional Japanese, Italian, Indian – something for everyone. It’s a good place to find somewhere to relax between stops, and there are plenty of delicious cafes if you want something light.

    Of course, you can also do your shopping here and you can even find large department stores. The Okaido Shopping Arcade is a little less touristy than the Dogo Shopping Arcade, though of course, you can still find souvenirs here. In summer, you can find a Saturday night market here. Starting in the afternoon, the arcade is filled with food and game stalls giving off a festival feel, and there are even concerts held.

    Okaido Shopping Arcade Website
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    12. Explore Bansuisou

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    Bansuisou is a 19th-century French-style villa hidden in the hills near Matsuyama Castle. The former owner, Sadakoto Hisamatsu, had lived in France and wanted a Western-style second home. Due to its grandeur, Bansuisou was a social hotspot and was even visited by the Imperial Family. Now, it has been converted into a museum.

    The villa is stunning from the outside and it absolutely stands out from the traditional Japanese residences. Looking up at it through the lush greenery is even reminiscent of a Disney film or fairy tale. However, the interior is rather sparse and simple, and you aren’t missing much if you skip the 300-yen paid area though there is a lovely stained glass window. The first floor, however, hosts concerts and free exhibits, which are often worthwhile. When I visited, there was a delightful exhibit on an artist who makes incredibly realistic felt animals, and recently, there was an exhibit on Japanese armor. The grounds are also lovely and there is a pretty pond with a picturesque view of the villa as well as a cafe.

    Bansuisou Website
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    13. Drop by the Saka no Ue no Kumo Museum

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    Right down the hill from Bansuisou is the Saka no Ue no Kumo Museum, a striking modern glass building that is worth seeing for the architecture alone. Its name translates to “clouds over the hill.” It’s the name of a novel by Shiba Ryotaro that is centered in Matsuyama.

    The museum includes exhibits on what Matsuyama was like in the Meiji era, where you can find old letters, books, photos, and other artifacts. Of course, you can also find exhibits on the novel’s characters and locations, so if you’re familiar with the book (or the TV version), you are more likely to enjoy the museum. Unfortunately, English is very limited, but you can rent an English audio guide for 100 yen.

    Saka no Ue no Kumo Museum Website
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    14. View the interesting exhibits at the Museum of Art, Ehime

    The Museum of Art, Ehime, a five-minute walk from the Minami-Horibata tram stop, costs only 300 yen to see the permanent collection. Here you can find art by both local artists as well as European artists. The museum houses Edo era scrolls as well as more contemporary paintings. The special exhibits are pricier, but you can often find fascinating ones. In the past, there have been exhibits on everything – from China’s Imperial Household, to ancient Egyptian art, to the character Miffy.

    If you’re in Matsuyama, it’s worth checking out their website (Japanese only) to see what interesting collection the museum is featuring.

    The Museum of Art, Ehime Website
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    15. Buy mikan-related products

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    One of Ehime’s main products is mikan (mandarin orange), so of course, Matsuyama is a great place to buy mikan and mikan-flavored products like juice, jello, or ice cream. If you venture into any of the shopping streets, you are sure to find cafes advertising all kinds of mikan-related sweets.

    If you’re looking for a souvenir, there is no shortage of cookies and cakes that are mikan-flavored. If you travel to Ehime in the fall, you can even try your hand at mikan picking yourself though you will need to leave Matsuyama.

    If you want a mikan-themed souvenir that is a little cuter, Mikyan is perfect. Mikyan, who is part dog and part mikan, is Ehime’s adorable mascot and it’s easy to find pens, stationery, stickers, socks, and other goods featuring the character. If you like your mascots to be on the darker side, look no further than Dark Mikyan, the bad but no less cute version.

    While Matsuyama is rather far from the more popular spots in Japan, it is well worth the visit. It’s an easy city to explore as the trams are frequent and convenient, and most of the attractions are clustered around Dogo Onsen or the castle. You can explore the main sights in a day, though of course, a weekend gives you more time to leisurely explore and take in the charms of the city.

    If you find yourself in Shikoku or southern Japan, Matsuyama is not to be missed. As for getting there, the closest Shinkansen is 2.5 hours away in Okayama, but you can also fly from Tokyo, take a ferry from Yamaguchi or Hiroshima, or a highway bus from many cities.

    Matsuyama Tourism Website

    Would you like to stay in Matsuyama? Check out all the hotels in the area here!