The 88 Temple pilgrimage:
The famed 88 temple route is a task that most Japanese embark on at some point in their lives. The route is meant to inspire awe and contemplation for individuals seeking enlightenment. The process usually involves traversing the island of Shikoku complete with stylish pilgrim garments. This includes a white Hakue, or short kimono-type jacket, a walking stick inscribed with important and contemplative teachings, and a Sugegasa, otherwise known as the traditional bamboo rice-farming and cone-shaped hat that we might be familiar with in the west through lore and film. For pilgrims on the island, Ehime prefecture, is the last on the route of the 88 temples, and is thus known as ‘bodai-no-dojo’ or the place of attainment of wisdom.
Mount Ishizuchi, whose jagged peak resembles a massive stone hammer, is western Japan’s highest point at 1982m. The mountain offers stunning panoramas and forms part of the island’s 88 temple pilgrimage route (the little rock pagoda at the summit is as rewarding as any of the more richly decorated temples closer to the ground). The mountain is also known as one of Japan’s Seven Holy Mountains (or 七霊山 nana reizan), forming part of the larger Ishizuchi Kokutei Koen, a sort of quasi-national park.
Located on small Mt. Katsuyama, in the center of the city, Matsuyama Castle is an immaculately preserved medieval castle that is worth a visit for its unique cultural offerings. The castle has a distinct stately appearance supported by a fortress-like base with white stucco and brown cedar elements on its upper section. Its unique structure and central location feel uniquely grounded above the hilltop setting (compared to Japan’s other castle structures, such as famed Himeji-jo, or the White Crane, which are often located on small mounts or open planes). Through its nearly impenetrable fortress and setting, the castle is unsurprisingly known as the ‘bear castle’. Matsuyama Castle is accessible by cable car from the eastern edge of the mountain, or through a steep hike to the summit. On the way down, a stop at Ninomaru Shiseki Tei-en, on the outer citadel of the fort, is worth a visit with its old Japanese style gardens and water features.
Historic Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama is a place of much needed rest and relaxation, after all the pilgrimage and sightseeing. As one of the oldest traditional onsens in Japan, Dogo Onsen’s history stretches back over 1,000 years. This mythical hot spring has been part of Japanese history and poetry, with many a famed visitor throughout its history, including a future Emperor, Prince Shotoku in around 574 A.D. The onsen is also famous for having inspired the bathhouse in the classic Japanese anime ‘Spirited Away’. This bathing house is so revered that there is a special room that is reserved exclusively for the Imperial Family. So if you’re looking for the royal treatment, this is the place to go.