Matsuyama is one of Japan’s best kept secret, the city is Ehime Prefecture’s capital and was built with the iconic Matsuyamajo Castle at its heart, perched upon the hill with views of the Seto Sea.
Matsuyama has an incredible literary reputation, being the birthplace of several well-renowned Japanese poets. The city was brought to national fame in Japan as it was featured in the well-renowned novel by Natsume Soseki, called “Botchan” which is read by Japanese schoolchildren across the country. The city’s most iconic onsen is also mentioned in the book and has become one of the most visited hot spring resorts in Japan, don’t miss out on the authentic experience of bathing at the centuries-old Dogo Onsen.
Matsuyama has all the charm of another era, with trams traversing the city streets and friendly locals. There are also many pilgrims called “henro” who visit the city in search of enlightenment and pay pilgrimage to the 88 temples on the island of Shikoku on a 1,200 km long walk.
Step into the past and experience authentic Japan, great cuisine and fascinating culture on a 48 hour visit to Matsuyama with our guide to the city.
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The best time to visit Matsuyama
Matsuyama is best visited during the months of April until October. This is the driest part of the year and springtime and autumn are excellent times to see the city as you will have fantastic weather and the chance to see delicate flowering cherry blossoms in the springtime and the stunning rich russet colours of autumn leaves around October. Bear in mind that these are also the most expensive times to visit and the busiest, with accommodation and flight prices increasing for these popular Japanese events.
Summer in Matsuyama can be stiflingly hot, with temperatures reaching peaks of 34°C in July, August and September. Winters can be very cold, with snow and rain during the months of December to February with temperatures reaching lows of 10°C.
How to get to Matsuyama
Matsuyama can be easily reached by plane from Tokyo with JAL and ANA airlines offering affordable flights that take only 90 minutes, costing around 36,000 yen for a round trip with some discounted offers available on the websites.
Once you arrive at Matsuyama Airport, you can catch a bus to JR Matsuyama Station which is situated in the heart of the city in just 15 minutes. It also stops at Matsuyama-shi station and the last stop is the renowned and historic Dogo Onsen.
If you prefer to travel by train, the JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen train departs from Tokyo to the city of Okayama, the journey takes around three and a half hours, here you will need to change trains and take the JR Shiokaze express train to Matsuyama, a two and a half hour long journey. The JR Rail Pass will allow you to travel on these trains, if you don’t have a rail pass, the journey will cost around 20,000 yen.
Once there, the city can be easily traversed on foot or on one of their iconic trolley cars. There are five lines running from Matsuyama Station which allows you to navigate the city with ease, the one-day pass costs only 600 yen and offers unlimited travel by tram, perfect for getting around one of the biggest cities in Shikokou.
Where to stay in Matsuyama
When you arrive in Matsuyama, the first thing you’ll want to do is drop off your bags at your hotel. Matsuyama has a wide selection of accommodation to suit all budgets, from hostels for backpackers, midrange hotels to luxurious hotels and ryokans, where you can stay in a Japanese style inn and sleep upon a mattress on the tatami mat floor.
Best budget hotel in Matsuyama – Guesthouse Miso Soup
For those on a shoestring budget, Guesthouse Miso Soup offers basic accommodation in shared rooms with bunk beds, bicycle rental, laundry facilities and free WIFI. It’s a short walk to the Dogo Onsen and also the Isaniwa Shrine. Prices start at around ¥4,000 per night.
Best mid-range hotels in Matsuyama – Premier Inn Matsuyama
The Premier Inn is a recently refurbished hotel with air-conditioned rooms, all rooms have a shower, fridge, TV and free WIFI. There are also laundry facilities, luggage storage, massage services and bike rental services available at the hotel. There is also a hotel restaurant with breakfast menu. The hotel is situated in central Matsuyama and within walking distance of the Saka no Ue no Kumo Museum. Room prices start from ¥6,800 per night.
Best mid-range hotels in Matsuyama – Hotel Sambancho
Hotel Sambancho is a centrally-located budget hotel that boasts three-stars. Clean, affordable and popular with solo travellers, the hotel is situated close to many local eateries as well as Matsuyama-jō castle and only four minutes’ walk from Okaido tram stop. Rooms are cosy and equipped with TVs and free WIFI. The hotel has an unpretentious restaurant, female and male hot spring bathhouses, laundry facilities and also bike rental. Prices for rooms start at around ¥7,000.
Best luxury hotel in Matsuyama – ANA Crowne Plaza Matsuyama
The luxe Ana Crowne Plaza hotel is a contemporary hotel in the heart of the city, there is a restaurant and bar on site, babysitting services and activities for children as well as a hair salon. The hotel is within easy walking distance to the castle and Dogo Onsen as well as the Matsuyamajo Ropeway. Prices for a room start at ¥12,700.
Best luxury Ryokan in Matsuyama – Yamatoya Besso
This five star ryokan has charming, traditional style rooms with en-suite bathroom and is located a four minute walk away from the famous Dogo Onsen. Matsuyama castle and other attractions are also a short distance away. Here you can sleep on traditional futons and tatami mats and an upgraded room even has hot tubs where you can soak under the skies with views of the tranquil garden. The hotel boasts a patio, courtyard garden and a lounge to relax. Prices start from around ¥23,000 per night.
48 hours in Matsuyama
Once you get to Matsuyama and you’ve dropped off your bags, it’s time to explore!
Visit Matsuyama Castle
First stop is Matsuyama Castle, a historic castle originally constructed in 1603 and has remained intact since 1868, one of Japan’s 12 castles that remains standing after the feudal era! This is a fantastic place to take in a bird’s eye glimpse of Matsuyama and the surrounding nature from atop the castle mount. Stroll through the peaceful gardens of Rinsentei and Ryusuien and admire the spectacular architecture. Entrance costs around ¥510 per person.
See the iconic Ishiteji Temple
A short tram ride or walk away from the castle is Ishteji Temple which is temple no. 51 on the pilgrimage of Shikoku’s 88 temples. The temple’s name means “stone hand temple” and comes from a legend where a rich man died clasping a stone tightly in his hand after failing to find the priest Kobo Daishi and was reborn as a baby clutching a stone.
The temple is expansive and there are different buildings, statues, pagoda and also an inner temple that is accessed from the main grounds by route of a cave. The famous Niomon Gate was declared a national treasure and the architecture of the temple compound is stunning, dating from around 1192 to 1333, in the Kamakura period. Admission to the temple is free.
After all that sightseeing it’s time to savour some delicious Japanese cuisine at Nikitatsuan, on the way to Dogo Onsen. A short 20-minute walk will take you to this famous restaurant with English speaking staff where you can taste local sea bream caught from the waters of the Seto Inland Sea and other freshly caught seafood. There are also tasting sets and mouthwatering noodle dishes. All of this can be washed down perfectly with a glass of sake.
Soak the day away at Dogo Onsen
Now it’s time to relax. Head to the 3,000 year old Dogo Onsen, one of Japan’s oldest existing and functioning hot springs. Taking a steamy bath alongside the locals is a way to immerse yourself in the local culture and soothe your weary feet!
You can visit the beautiful wooden structure built in 1894 and also even if you don’t feel like getting wet, a visit to the Yushinden must not be missed, being the bathing facilities for the Meiji era Imperial family and steeped in history.
Stop for dinner at Iyotanuki before heading back to your hotel and enjoy some sublime seafood, sashimi, Japanese curry and Tonkatsu. After filling up on delicious Japanese traditional dishes you can enjoy a good night’s sleep before your early start!
Rise and shine
Breakfast in Japan usually consists of congee or soup or rice, in the West we crave coffee in the mornings and there are plenty of coffee and pastry shops to satisfy your early morning hunger. Crepe & Cafe Hi5 offers delicious crepes and snacks and it’s low-key appearance makes it the perfect place to grab a breakfast before heading out on your wanders. Another great breakfast place is the chic Café Bleu, modelled on the Beat poetry and music scene of Paris and London with an impressive record collection.
Take a ride on the traditional Botchan Train
This iconic train began running in 1888 and is now a local tourist attraction, loved by locals for over 67 years! The train is nicknamed “Botchan Ressha” after Soseki Natsume’s protagonist in his famous novel. You can take a ride on this train driven by a driver wearing the costume of train conductors dating back over 100 years and enjoy a trip to Matsuyama’s nostalgic past. The ticket for a ride on the trolley car costs ¥300 per person.
Visit Bansuiso, Matsuyama’s hidden gem
This beautiful villa was once the second home of Sadakoto Hisamatsu, an Earl from the Matsuyama clan and was once frequented by the Imperial family as well as many a local celebrity and members of high-society. The renaissance-styled Bansuiso building is now host to many cultural exhibitions and events and though it is a situated in the city centre, it is often overlooked by visitors.
The rooms, despite their modest appearance are fitted with details modelled on the renaissance era and is a popular place for newlyweds to take their wedding photos. Visitors can enjoy strolling around the rooms and grounds of the mansion and escape on a journey into a glamourous past.
Savour Matsuyama noodles
Visit Goshiki Sōmen for lunch to taste some of Matsuyama’s popular colourful noodles, a typical dish which is served up in the elegant backdrop of this institution. A set meal will set you back ¥1500 and there is an English menu available.
Visit the Matsuyama Ropeway Shopping Street for some interesting finds, whether it be that unique souvenir, local traditional sweets or delicacies, independent boutiques and local eateries. Matsuyama is famed for its production of citrus fruits and there are plenty of places to taste the local satsumas, visit the famous Mikan shop where you can taste freshly squeezed satsuma mandarin juice.
For a typical snack, head to Dogo Arcade where you can rice balls infused with satsuma or mandarin juice, selling for ¥460 a pop which is rather overpriced but is one of the city’s famous snacks and favoured by celebrities. This is a great place to see people wearing Yukata, a traditional dress in Japan.
Sake Brewery Tour
If you want to taste the best of some local Sake, take the sake tour to the brewery which dates back over 120 years, producing Dogo beer and sake through traditional methods.Minakuchi Brewery’s shop is recognised as tangible cultural property and a tour will show you how one of Japan’s most famous beverages are created. Savour different sakes and beer at the standing bar or even bring back a bottle as a souvenir!
Experience Matsuyama’s craft beer scene
To end your Matsuyama experience we propose something a little different. The craft beer scene is emerging in Matsuyama and you can enjoy a night drinking side by side with the locals at Bokke, a popular spot on the weekends with outdoor and indoor seating and delicious bar food as well as some craft beers from all over the country. Follow this with some great local food at the Okaido Shopping Arcade, lined with hundreds of restaurants and eateries.
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