Matsuyama Castle is a flatland-mountain castle that was built in 1603 on Mount Katsuyama, whose height is 132 meters, in Matsuyama city in Ehime Prefecture.[Wikipedia]
Matsuyama is becoming increasingly more popular with travellers who are looking for locations slightly removed from the traditional tourist routes of central Honshu. Matsuyama City is distinctive because of it's slightly more rustic, cozy setting on Shikoku which contributes to the the warmth of its welcome and ability to enamour the visitor. Matsuyama castle is one of the central attractions of the city, and still holds a key role in day to day cultural and seasonal festivities.
Most may not expect to find a French-style villa below Matsuyama Castle, but the elegant structure offers some respite from the bustling urban center of Ehime. Bansuiso, largely hidden by trees and modern buildings, was originally the second home of Earl Hisamatsu Sadakoto, a descendant of the Matsuyama samurai clan and former lord of the neighboring castle. After living in France and returning with a love of neo-Renaissance architecture, he ordered for the construction of a chateau with all the fashionable trimmings—beautiful fireplaces, stained glass windows, chandeliers and of facade fit for a prince. The property even simulates a countryside location with its surrounding rich greenery. Completed in 1922, the villa was the site of numerous elite parties and social gatherings, and even welcomed members of the imperial family as guests, including Showa emperor Hirohito. Now it is less exclusive but, having come out of the war unscathed, just as beautiful. Bansuiso serves as an arts and culture venue as well as a sightseeing spot. The first floor and basement are free admission, and for ¥300 visitors can ascend a wooden staircase for more photo opportunities. Although the chateau houses solo exhibitions, it also contains its own murals and portraits, including the likeness of the first owner. On the first floor is a dazzling dining room that was converted to an upscale French restaurant when U.S. forces requisitioned the building in 1945; now it is a concert and exhibition hall. On the second floor are exhibited various works of the nation’s preeminent haiku association. After exploring the main building, you can check out the little tea house and Japanese garden on the grounds, or the haunts of novelist Natsume Soseki outside the urban villa.
When you mix one of Japan's most lauded novelists and trains you get two of Japan's most sought-after pastimes in one. Literature and transport. "Botchan" is one of Natsume Soseki's most-loved novels which focuses (in a fictional sense) on his time as a teacher in Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture. Novelty trains can be seen across Japan but the Botchan train carries so much history and adoration that it ranks, easily, as one of Japan's best train experiences. For ¥800 (adults) and ¥400 for kids it’s easy to take a ride from Matsuyama City Station to Dogo Onsen Station and enjoy the atmosphere of a train that ran from 1888 for 67 years. The current incarnation, although a replica, is impressive and well worth the opportunity to return to times gone by. Matsuyama City also plays host to the Botchan Train Museum which is another reason to visit the magical prefecture of Ehime.
Thought to be at least 1000 years old, Isaniwa is one of Japan’s three shrines dedicated to the deity Hachiman. After climbing a long stretch of stone stairs, passing a double-story gate, a magnificent bright-red structure emerges. The architectural details are especially grand with the building’s swooping tile roofs, gold-leaf columns and ornate, cloudlike beam engravings. In addition to the spectacular architecture, there are displayed paintings of warriors and warfare (as Hachiman is the guardian of warriors and protector of Japan) and even numerous documents on Japanese mathematics. A hall of treasures features swords and armor for samurai history buffs. Other relics include animal paintings and calligraphy. Supposedly, Isaniwa Shrine originally marked the location where Emperor Chuai and Empress Jingu, who reigned in the third century AD, bathed at one of Japan’s oldest bathhouses, Dogo Onsen, now just a few hundred meters away. The shrine was moved to by the Kono samurai clan in the fourteenth century to the current location where, after conquering the stairs, you can enjoy breathtaking views of Matsuyama city. It was rebuilt in the 17th century by the Matsudaira clan; the current buildings with their great vermilion surface date from 1667. The original imperial bathers are enshrined there. Despite its age, the shrine is still buzzing with worshippers and even couples celebrating or taking pictures for their wedding. Although visitors note that the stairs are a little treacherous, the views and tranquil atmosphere only add to the experience of walking around the colonnade and absorbing a rich and long history—and if you’re lucky, observing a modern-day ceremony. If the trip does tire you out, you can always relax at Dogo Onsen at the foot of the compound.