Uwajima is the southernmost city in Ehime. It’s a compact city, centered around a small castle on a hill. Above the city towers the massive Mt. Onigajo (Devil’s Castle). Uwajima sits in a bay with a complex topology of islands and inlets, making it a very picturesque city between the mountains and the sea, and equally part of both. The city has an illustrious history as the feudal seat of Date Masamune, a lord who promoted Uwajima as a center of industry, education, and culture. Thanks to this influence, Ehime Prefecture is known for its strong focus on education even today.
Uwajima has an intimate relationship with bulls. On one of the hills around the city stands a bull ring where ‘bull sumo’ is held several times a year. Enormous glossy black bulls square off against each other in the ring, and fight until one of them breaks off and runs away. Like human wrestlers, they give each other the eye, and the raw power of younger inexperienced bulls is pitted against the greater skill of veterans of the ring. The winners are decorated in full sumo regalia with aprons and colored ropes. The other bulls in Uwajima are the ‘ushi-oni’ or bull-devils, oddly shaped creations of wood and cloth with fierce mask faces which are trundled around at the Warei festival in July. The bull-devil masks are used as decorations in many homes in Uwajima, giving the city a well-branded feeling.
Uwajima is the site of a sexual power spot, an unusual fertility shrine called Taga Shrine, which features an improbably large phallus carved from a log. Next to the shrine is a graphic sex museum, prohibited to minors, with artifacts and paintings from around the world. Photographers must pay an extraordinary 20,000 yen if they wish to take photos.
The Yusu-mizugaura area is worth a visit, a 40-minute drive around the coast from Uwajima. Its amazingly steep terraced fields have been designated an important cultural landscape. A seemingly endless series of narrow terraces bordered with stone walls rise in tiers on the steep hillside directly facing the sea. It’s an amazing testament to human ingenuity and hunger.
Indeed Uwajima has a number of good things to offer the hungry person, typically involving fish. Jakoten is a flat, oval fish cake made by processing whole fish with bones and all. It has a very wholesome taste and a gritty texture. It’s delightful if you get it freshly fried, but it’s very good cold too. Another local dish is ‘taimeshi’, sea bream cooked with rice.
Visitors to Uwajima may be tempted to take away a little souvenir of this seaside town in the form of a pearl or two, or a piece of brightly colored coral worked into some suitable personal ornament.