Day 16: Matsuyama, Shikoku Karst and Uwajima

Monday, 21 July 2014

Continues from Day 15: Mt. Ishizuchi & Matsuyama

The plan for today is to hire a car, check out Matsuyama Castle and then drive through the Shikoku countryside, with a stop along the way at the Shikoku Karst before stopping for the night in Uwajima.

Our hotel was actually located right next to the castle, so it would have been preferable to visit before picking up the car.

Chairlift up to Matsumoto Castle
We actually planned to perhaps visit the castle yesterday but we’d got into Matsuyama city too late for that.

So, instead the plan was to pick up the car we had pre-booked and then find some parking nearby.

So, after an included breakfast at the hotel we left our bags with reception and then walked down to go pick up the car.

The plan was to come back with the car to pick up the bags.

After a relatively long walk back to the vicinity of the station I realised I’d freaking forgotten my international drivers licence. Again.

Eugh. I ran and caught a tram back but it was still a massive, exhausting waste of time.

Who said Japanese Castles were not made of stone?
Kate went ahead to wait for me in the office and tried to tell them I was on my way back, but this didn’t really work as they didn’t speak English and just tried to get her to follow the regular process.

Eventually I think she was able to wait on some chairs inside.

A different style castle on another hill

Unlike most other times we’ve hired cars in Japan, we didn’t use Tocoo to book and instead booked direct from Toyota using their website, which was a little tricky as it was all in Japanese.

I still highly recommend Tocoo if you can’t read Japanese.

Anyway, upon arriving picking up the car was the same as any other time, we filled out some forms, presented our passport, licence and international licence and then did a pre-trip inspection of the car (Toyota Vitz) with the vender- making sure to mark down any minor damage on a sheet.

Then, as usual, we drove off without much of a good plan.

So, as usual, we had a lot of trouble navigating the streets to our hotel.

We may have driven the wrong way down a wrong way road at one point. A complete disaster.

Remember kids, program the GPS first, then drive.

Eventually we somehow managed to pull over near our hotel’s back entrance without any accidents.

I then waited with the car while Kate dashed in to grab our bags.

This time we programmed the GPS and drove the short distance over to Matsuyama Castle.

We paid for parking at one of the great many tiny little paid parking lots (each had space for 4-6 cars, though most were run by the same company).

There was lots of people vying for the spaces but as it was still early we didn’t have much trouble.

The lot was fully automatic and after parking a metal beam came up from the ground to prevent us driving away without paying.

If you had a 4WD and were keen maybe you’d be able to drive over but otherwise you’re trapped. I think it only cost us a couple of hundred yen all up, so not too bad.

After parking we walked over to Matsuyama Castle entrance. The castle is located at the top of a hill and there are three methods to get up there.

You can get a gondola, get a chair lift or walk. Walking is cheapest (free) but the other two options both cost 510 yen for a round trip and then another 510 yen for the castle admission.

We opted for the chair lift as it looked like the most fun!

And it was fun!

The lift was a one chair situation and was located quite close to the ground.

On the way up we saw some school children cleaning a pool.

Matsuyama Castle is one of Japan’s twelve remaining original castles (which means it hasn’t been rebuilt since 1868) and was first constructed in the early 1600s.

Unfortunately the castle tower burnt down prior to 1820, but was soon rebuilt before the cut-off date. As mentioned this is a hilltop castle and good example of a typical feudal era layout.

The castle was quite extensive with lots of high sloped walls and buildings.

The main keep was pretty big and had multiple wings to explore with the insides full of historical information and displays.

At the top we were able to look out the windows for a good view down over the grounds and Matsuyama City.

Inside one of the other buildings I was able to bang on a big drum, which was fun.

It wasn’t just the buildings that were extensive but the grounds too were large with multiple levels. I was wondering at one point why Japanese castles were built out of wood (and thus keep burning down) but most of it is actually stone, and there was lots of high stone walls here. Apparently wood is good for the buildings as it’s quick and cheap to build and repair- plus it doesn’t usually burn that easily.

Unfortunately today was another very hot day and I was absolutely melting in the hot, humid air.

On the different levels there were a few shops and we stopped into one so I could get some more shaved ice to cool down.

Once I’d finished that, we caught the chairlift back down and then set off out of Matsuyama to head for the Shikoku Karst.

After leaving the suburbs of Matsuyama, we continued through the Shikoku country side, through small rural towns and up into the mountains. 

Towards the end of the journey the road got very windy and narrow with space enough for only one car in most places, despite it being a two way road.

The road was cut into the side of the mountain with guardrails on the drop side, so there wasn’t any shoulder available.

In these areas we’d frequently come face to face with a car coming in another direction and one of us would have to reverse a little to a spot where the other could pass. At the twisty spots there were circle mirrors we used to check if anyone was coming in the other direction.

After about a two hour drive we finally ended up in the clouds at the Karstland.

The clouds were a bit of shame as it meant we were not able to get a great view, but they kinda added a nice sort of atmosphere themselves.

Karstland is a type of landscape that forms when soluble rocks, usually limestone, dissolve over a long period of time to form sinkholes, caves, underwater rivers and lots of limestone boulders on the surface.

We looked out over rolling green hills dotted with cows, lumps of limestone and windmills.

There was a shop/restaurant nearby and we went in to try and get some food, but they’d unfortunately already finished serving for the day!

It was even that late!

Aside from the restaurant food there were some snacks for sale, but nothing that looked particularly good.

After having another look at the Karst we got back in the car and drove around a bit of a short scenic loop road.

Despite it being quite late, Monday and cloudy, there were quite a large number of Japanese tourists around.

After one final look, and some photo attempts it was time to move on so after a bit of directional discussion we continued along the foggy road back down some more extremely narrow and twisty roads.

The karstland is located at an elevation of about 1200m and we spent the next two hours driving through mountainous villages down to the coastal town of Uwajima.

I still had the cold I caught last week and unfortunately for me my sinuses were so blocked up that my ears did not pop at all going down so I had terrible pain in my ears.

No amount of yawning or chewing helped and it got so bad we actually had to pull over for a bit.

Eventually we reached Uwajima and drove through the town to Taga Shrine.

Uwajima seemed like a bit of an unusual place to us and different from other Japanese towns somehow.

I’m not entirely sure why.

There’s actually a few tourist sights worth seeing here including an original castle and bull sumo wrestling. Unfortunately we had plans to leave early tomorrow morning so really only had time to stay the night.

The roads near Taga Shrine were pretty narrow, and after crossing a small bridge we parked somewhere nearby and walked the rest of the way.

Taga Shrine is an ancient Shinto fertility shrine, one of the few that survived the purges that occurred when Japan imported western Victorian era prudishness.

The shrine was very, uh.


There were lots of penis statues.

Pretty much every vertical shape was fashioned into a phallic shape.

After we’d ogled the statues long enough we continued to the back of the shrine to Dekoboko Shindō (凸凹神堂).

Dekoboko actually means rough surface but from the way the kanji were positioned I think they were going for something else.

It was quite pricey to enter Dekoboko Shindō, 800 yen, and photos were prohibited unless you wanted to pay 20,000 yen.

Image of Tengu Mask in souviner shop by of Snake Head 1995
So yeah, inside there were lots of fertility and sex related relics that had been collected within Japan and from various different cultures around the world. The museum was pretty big and extended over three levels.

A little eye opening, and I’ll definitely never look at Tengu masks the same again.

Anyway after finishing with the Shindō we went back to the car and drove down to Hotel Coral Uwajima, which was where we were staying.

For dinner we drove to a nearby grocery store and got a ready to eat meal.

Later in the evening we went out to a park nearby and lit some small fireworks we had bought.

Fireworks are illegal in Australia so it was quite a novelty for us, though we ended up going back inside as there were mosquitoes and the park was pretty dark.

Tomorrow we’ll be heading to Kochi!


  1. We stayed at the JAL City hotel on out trip to Matsuyama. It has one of those hat ages where you drive in and the car is parked automatically under the hotel. We walked up to the castle as we were thre during Sakura and the temperatures were fine. On the way we passed the turtles and kingfishers in the moat.

    We also rented from Toyota. Programming the satnav was fun. When we were with our son (who speaks Japanese it was ok. Otherwise we had to google the gps coordinates of our destinations and booking.com was fantastic for that. It would allow you to print out the hotel reservations in both English and Japanese.
    The satnav could also be programmed via the map. Once programmed it would speak to you in English - or American ;0)

    I'm really enjoying your blog. Keep up the good work.

    1. Yep that's the same place we stayed! Though we didn't have a car when we arrived.

      Thank you very much for taking the time to leave a comment! I'm glad you're enjoying it :D