Date of Travel: 18/02/2012
For a second after I woke up, I was left wondering if we were in Hokkaido. Reason being that everything was covered in snow outside! Luckily it wasn’t too heavy, so there were hardly any disruptions though the tram was slightly delayed. We took the tram all the way to the Hiroshima Port, then caught a ferry to cross the ocean to reach Matsuyama. The view from the ferry was quite nice, though Brownie took the opportunity to get some additional sleep during the ferry ride and didn’t see much. We arrived at Matsuyama Port about an hour later.
Getting into the city centre itself was tricky, as we needed to take a bus to Takahama station, then a train to Matsuyama Ekimae Station, then an additional tram ride to Dogo Onsen station, which was the closest stop to our accommodation. The station leads to a touristy shopping arcade, with a clock next to its entrance which has an automated show every hour. At the other end of the arcade is Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest indoor onsen complexes in Japan. The building was supposedly the inspiration of that used in the popular Ghibli movie Spirited Away. We dropped off our luggage at Eco Dogo Hostel, then headed back to the arcade to have a look around and have lunch.
After lunch, we caught a tram towards the centre of town, where Matsuyama Castle was located. Matsuyama Castle is regarded as one of the top castles in Japan, and one of the “original” castles still standing. We had initially wanted to visit Himeji Castle, but since it was under restoration, we decided that Matsuyama was perhaps the most accessible since we were stopping in the town anyway. On the way to the castle, we got sidetracked by Ninomaru Garden, which was located at the base of the mountain where Matsuyama Castle was located. It was a very pretty garden, though I wanted to rush through it so that we don’t miss the closing time for Matsuyama Castle. Brownie and J.C. weren’t in any rush though, which made me lose my cool somewhat as we wanted to make sure we had enough time to explore Matsuyama Castle before it closes. It was a sign that the long trip was starting to make me tired, as I usually don’t mind if we deviated from our rough schedule.
We managed to finish looking around Ninomaru Garden with plenty of time to spare, which made me feel bad about losing my cool. Thankfully the short hike up the mountain helped clear my head somewhat, as it offered great views of Matsuyama.
The sight of Matsuyama Castle in all its glory awaited us when we arrived at the summit. While not as impressive as Himeji Castle, the architecture was till beautiful. We spent a good hour exploring the hallways and displays of the castle. Warning though for those who are tall – watch your head! I had banged my head a few times climbing up and down the stairs! The view from the castle was very impressive. I had no idea that Matsuyama city was that big. It kind of felt like it was a never ending concrete jungle! There was also Samurai armour at the very top which visitors can try. J.C. and I had a go, but sorry folks, no photos for you!
We had a quick stop at the main shopping arcade in Matsuyama near the castle, but as there wasn’t much to see, we headed back over to Dogo Onsen. While it was getting dark, it wasn’t quite time for dinner yet. As such, we decided to head over to Ishiteji Temple to have a look around. Ishiteji Temple was located near Dogo Onsen, and appeared to be a very interesting temple based on my research on Japan-Guide.com. After climbing up a massive flight of stairs, I was surprised at how small the complex was compared to what I had read up online. Also adding to my surprise was the orange/red colour of the building, which were more associated with Shrines. Then a thought hit me, and I checked the Lonely Planet guidebook to be sure. Turned out that we weren’t at Ishiteji Temple, but rather Isaniwa Shrine! Ah well, as least it was a good view from up the flight of stairs!
We returned back to the shopping alley near Dogo Onsen to look for some dinner. Most places were packed, but luckily we managed to find one which wasn’t. It also had pretty cheap meals too, so added bonus for that! We returned to the accommodation shortly after to formally check in. The staff here were perhaps the least friendly of any place we stayed during our trip. The staff present were also not aware that the Hostel has WIFI available. The staff denied that they even had WIFI despite the fact that there was a wireless modem just outside our room! The view from our room was good, but the layout was very strange. For instance, the toilet has a sliding window that connected to the hallway, and can also be opened from the hallway itself. The sink however is located at the balcony, meaning you have to walk across the room to wash your hands after finishing your business in the toilet. Still, we did have a good time sitting down and watching some random Japanese game/talk show. Note: Room photos shown were taken the next morning before checking out.
After freshening up a bit, we headed back down to Dogo Onsen to have a tour around the building and have a bath. The tour brought us around the facilities which Japanese Royals use, and featured amazing attractions such as the bath and toilet (sarcasm). Unlike Kurokawa, this onsen was packed with people, which definitely ruined the enjoyment. In addition, the bath was not that big either. Overall, it was actually quite disappointing. The indoor baths at some of the previous ryokans we stayed at (Nakamuraya in Sapporo and Jukeiso in Miyajima) were much more relaxing. After the bath, we headed back to our accommodation to grab some cameras, then returned to Dogo Onsen to take some pictures of the exterior. It started snowing a bit as well which added to its atmosphere. As it was getting late, we headed back to the accommodation to get some shut-eye. Tomorrow would feature another long distance travel (660 km) afterall!
Tram from Dobashi station to Hiroshimako station – 150 yen
Ferry from Hiroshima to Matsuyama – 6,500 yen
Bus from Matsuyama port to Takahama Station – 150 yen
Train from Takahama Station to Matsuyama Ekimae Station – 350 yen
Sum of total tram rides – 450 yen
Ecodogo Hostel – 2400 yen
Breakfast from Rotiboy bakery near J-Hoppers Hiroshima – 440 yen [coffee bred, braised chicken bread and custard bun]
Lunch at arcade near Dogo Onsen – 1,100 yen [Katsudon and Udon set]
Snacks at arcade along Dogo Onsen – 510 yen [Tarts, botchan Dango and Baumkuchen]
Dinner at arcade near Dogo Onsen – 850 yen [Karaage Ramen set]
Glass bottle of coke at Dogo Onsen – 100 yen
Souvenir from arcade near Dogo Onsen – 1,050 yen [dragon wall curtain]
TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
15,850 yen (428,433 yen total)
Total Cost of Chugoku/Shigoku Leg
49,958 yen (12,490 yen per day)