Matsuyama Travel Guide
As the largest city on Shikoku and a port of arrival from Honshu, Matsuyama is a Japanese city that many travellers visit.
With one of the original 12 castles, Meiji Period architecture, and an offbeat animated clock, its attractions will inspire and amuse.
Come check out our Matsuyama travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Matsuyama, Japan.
Begin your adventure in Matsuyama by exploring Matsuyama Castle. Unlike most castles in Japan, this one is part of the original 12 that escaped demolition or destruction after the Meiji Restoration began.
Of them, Matsuyama Castle may have the best view, as it sits atop a steep hill. This gives visitors a sweeping view of the sea of buildings that make up the city centre.
As for the fortification itself, the majority of its buildings date back to the beginning of the Edo Period. This excepts the castle tower, which was rebuilt in 1820 after a lightning strike burned it to the ground. There is a second part to the castle grounds which sits at a lower elevation – once consisting of palace buildings that housed the lord of the keep, none of the original structures remains standing. In its place, Ninomaru Garden now entertains visitors with unique plant beds that sit where features of the palace used to be.
Access to the upper portion of the castle can be had by tramway, but those who are physically able can also choose to hike up the mountain if they wish.
While Meiji Period authorities chose to spare Matsuyama Castle, they opted to build dwellings more befitting of the transformative era in which they lived. This led to the establishment of Bansuiso, a mansion built in the French Chateau style.
Enveloped in leafy trees and shrubs within a short walk of the Matsuyama Castle grounds, this luxury residence was once the home of Earl Sadakoto Hisamatsu, who was related to the Matsuyama clan that once inhabited the castle.
Its design was inspired by the time he had spent in France. Upon returning home, he spared no expense making it a desirable place for the Imperial Family and other elites to visit and socialize. The ground floor and basement are free to enter, but the upper floor charges a 300 yen admission. Given the amazing art, furnishings, and the view from the balcony, it is a price worth paying.
Those looking for a Buddhist temple of note while visiting Matsuyama will want to include Ishiteji Temple in their travel itinerary. Thanks to its inclusion on the Shikoku Pilgrimage, there is a palpable buzz about this place, with white-clothed pilgrims being a common sight.
Ishiteji Temple gets its name from the legend of a dying man. According to the story, a noble who sought a priest to minister to him prior to his imminent death failed to meet with him. He died holding a stone in his hand – later on, a baby was born, who was found to be grasping a stone in one of its hands.
Even if you are skeptical of this reincarnation tale, various structures, like Niomon Gate (a National Treasure), a three-storey pagoda, and various statues will make your trip to this temple well worth your time.
Finally, ensure you have time to check out Isaniwa Shrine as well. Built not long after members of the Royal Family bathed in an Onsen not far from here, the effort put into climbing the 135 stone steps to its front gate will prove to be worth it.
Around for more than 1,000 years, this National Cultural Property is known for is gold-clad pillars, engravings, and inspiring views over the local area.
Explore the city of Matsuyama by catching a ride aboard the Botchan Train. A small tourist train named after the novel of the same name, the cars are pulled by a genuine steam locomotive that puffs real steam as it makes its rounds throughout the city.
At only 300 yen a ride, it is the most entertaining way to see the cityscapes of Matsuyama, so be sure to ride it before moving on to your next destination.
Time your visit to the Bocchan Wind up Clock so you arrive minutes prior to the top of every hour. When the hour hand hits the ‘12’, a magnificent show begins, as the clock transforms into a pagoda, complete with dancing characters and accompanying music.
Looking to kick back and relax for a bit? Drop by Dogo Park. Situated on the grounds of the long-since-demolished Yuzuki Castle, only parts of the former moat exist today. Filled with water lilies, turtles, and frogs, it is a key element that makes this park worth visiting in any season.
Other highlights include a mock-up of a former samurai house and a small museum that focuses on the former existence of Yuzuki Castle. Lastly, its abundance of cherry trees makes it a popular place to be in spring, so swing by if sakura season has hit.