***This is part 7 of my “Fat and Furious” trip report detailing a recent trip to Japan which included stops in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Matsuyama***
2. Star Alliance First Class Lounge at LAX
3. Singapore Airlines Suites Class Los Angeles to Tokyo
4. Conrad Tokyo
5. Eating Tokyo Part 1 – Department Store Hopping in Ginza
6. Funaya Ryokan In Matsuyama
7. Living The Onsen Life In Matsuyama
8. The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
9. Eating Kyoto – The Search for Matcha and Geisha
10. Kaiseki Dinner at 3-Michelin Star Kikunoi Honten
11. The Peninsula Tokyo
12. Eating Tokyo Part 2 – Maids, Robots, and Cosplay
13. Eating Tokyo Part 3 – Cherry Blossoms and THE BEST STEAK EVER
14. ANA Business Class Lounge at NRT
15. ANA Business Class Tokyo to San Jose
The most common question we received about our trip to Japan was “which cities are you visiting?” And while most people expected to hear Tokyo and Kyoto, we usually got a puzzled look when we mentioned the 3rd city on our itinerary, Matsuyama. Matsuyama is the largest city and capital of Ehime Prefecture located on the island of Shikoku and is know for onsen, or hot springs, and udon noodles.
The follow-up question to the first one was then “why Matsuyama?”, for which I gave the douchey response, “why not, Matsuyama?”
I’m just kidding, although I think I did that once out of the many times we were asked, and in my defense that person had already been annoying me. The real answer is that we wanted to escape the crowds and enjoy a slower pace of life in smaller, less-traveled destination.
From Tokyo it would have been a 7-hour train ride to Matsuyama, so instead we opted to fly. The 1-hour domestic flight was a pricey $250, so instead I used 4,500 Avios for the Japan Airlines ticket.
We landed through a thick layer of island mist.
Despite being the capital city of Ehime, Matsuyama airport was a true “island airport” in the sense that it felt relatively deserted. In fact, there were only 4 gates in the entire airport (A-D) to handle the handful of flights per day.
We pulled up next to the sibling of the ANA Boeing 787 Dreamliner that we’d be flying home next week.
At Matsuyama airport, we jumped on the airport bus which took us to Dogo Onsen station and from there, it was just a 5-minute walk to the hotel. Compared to the glitz and glamour of Tokyo, it felt like we had been transported back in time.
There was a Hogwarts-like train parked near the station, and to our surprise, it was actually operational. Every few hours it would go for a spin around town.
The clock tower in the middle of Dogo town would chime and light up on the hour with a performance of wooden figurines.
As soon as we stepped off the bus, we heard the clamoring of drums and realized that we were literally in the middle of some sort of huge festival.
As I mentioned in my hotel review of Funaya, we absolutely loved living the “onsen life”, which I’d sum up in 4 words – eat, sleep, onsen, repeat. I spent those few days in a constantly relaxed, almost hypnotic daze.
But while I would have loved to spend the entire day in the onsen, you can only dip your body in and out of 150 degree water so many times before you start to feel cooked. Our hotel was just 5 minutes away from the Dogo-town area, and this became our go-to destination for food and shopping.
The centerpiece of Dogo-town is Dogo Onsen, which is the oldest bath house in all of Japan.
The festivities continued in this area, and it was awesome to just sit back and watch the show. Everybody seemed to be having an absolute blast.
Next to Dogo Onsen was the main shopping center, which featured about 50 stores in an L-shaped indoor mall.
We loved walking through and perusing all the different stores, and found some interesting food and snacks.
And some beautiful arts and crafts – we were a bit stunned at how expensive some of the wooden carving sets were. For example, the ones below were nearly $1,000 USD.
And we had to jump out of the way a couple times as the festivities carried on inside the shopping mall. I was tempted to jump on, but was worried that my extra weight would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Eventually we got around to eating, and what else would we be having for our first meal in Matsuyama? While the udon here was really good, I’d be lying if I said that I could distinguish it from other udon noodles I’ve had elsewhere.
The restaurant had a great view of Dogo Onsen, and we enjoyed a front-row seat of the action.
Eventually this guy made his way out and caught our eye, what the…!?
Still have no clue what this was all about, but we had a few laughs trying to guess.
The festivities carried on into the night, and we caught one last performance before heading back to the hotel.
But not before grabbing a late-night snack at the food stands that were setup near Dogo onsen. There were several choices, but it was a no-brainer as to what I’d order, since Japanese fried chicken was one of them.
The next day my wife pried me out of the onsen to further explore the city, starting with a trek over to Matsuyama Castle. There was a chair lift that took you up the hill, but we decided to skip the $3 lift and walk since it didn’t look too intimidating. We wondered who would actually need to take the lift vs. walking, until we saw several Asian ladies wearing high heels, and it all made sense.
As we were exploring, we pretended that we were storming the castle like a scene out of Game of Thrones.
From the top of the castle there were beautiful views of the city.
And some interesting displays inside, including samurai gear from different eras.
And these spears and weapons. I wouldn’t want to be at the wrong end of those spears on the top.
After visiting the castle we walked into the middle of town and scoped out places to eat. With some help from Google, we stumbled upon a small ramen restaurant called Hyota. The food here was really, really good, and I’d give it 5 stars (or slurps).
Just my luck, next door to the ramen shop was a Mister Donut. I had walked by a few but hadn’t managed to stop in one until now. What I really liked about the donuts here was how fluffy they were compared to traditional donuts.
Oranges are really popular in Matsuyama, and there were tons of specialty stores selling orange hand jelly. One of the main brands was 10 TEN, and there were about 3-4 flavors to choose from, ranging from sour to super sweet. We fell in love with this stuff, and were buying them every chance we got.
Our food tour continued in Mitsukoshi department store, where we headed straight down to the basement level to satisfy a fish craving with some fried fish and spooled fish on a stick.
And then it was dessert time – green tea parfait.
Since we had gotten such an early start, it was still early afternoon and we were ready to head back to the hotel to rest, and of course, to onsen. After a light nap we headed back to Dogo-town for dinner where we found an izakaya restauarnt, and ordered up an assortment of food in including various types of fish and tofu.
And this amazing eel with rice.
Our last morning we headed over to one of the temples that is part of the 88-temple pilgrimage that spans Shikoku.
We actually ran into several people who were in the middle of the pilgrimage, as evidenced by the huge backpacks they were carrying around. These stairs led to the next temple on the route.
Within the temple there was a cave that led to a huge golden dome.
And then back to the hotel for one last onsen before leaving town. We lucked out with a clear view as our flight took off for Osaka, where we were about to spend 4 amazing days in Kyoto.
Looking back, while we certainly enjoyed Tokyo and Kyoto, I’d have to say that our time in Matsuyama was the highlight of the trip, and I’m really glad we found a way to work it into the itinerary.