Monday, 28 September 2015

Hiroshima and Matsuyama 5-Day Itinerary: Day Four

Read Day 1 here - Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Manga Library
Read Day 2 here - Miyajima, Mount Misen
Read Day 3 here - Ferry to Matsuyama
Read Day 4 here - Matsuyama Castle, Dogo Onsen, Ishiteji Temple
Read Day 5 here - Return journey

Today was a full day city tour of Matsuyama (松山) and we purchased a one-day tram pass (500 yen). Our first stop was the Matsuyama Castle which was on top of Mount Katsuyama at 132 metres above sea level. There is a ropeway that takes you up for 2000 yen roundtrip but we opted to walk. There were a lot of stairs and some parts were steep but it wasn't a long walk (around 15 minutes).

Matsuyama Castle
The castle area is free to walk around in but the castle itself cost 510 yen to enter. There were three floors and at the top we could see a panoramic view of the city. No shoes are allowed inside and they provide slippers to wear but you may want to bring/wear socks. The stairs inside the castle were steep but not as steep and narrow as the Himeji Castle ones.

View from Matsuyama Castle
After descending the mountain we found lunch at Ehime Kitchen which was delicious. We took the tram back to the Dogo Onsen (道後温泉) area and went to the Dogo Onsen Hanko's tour of where past imperial families have used their facilities 10 times. It cost 260 yen and was a short tour. We opted for the tour instead of bathing at the onsen because it was very crowded during Silver Week.

Dogo Onsen
Next on the agenda was walking from a back route to the Ishiteji Temple (石手寺). We were recommended this path by the person at our hostel and she gave a chuckle when she said there were some strange statues on the trail. The path can be reached going past Dogo Onsen and walking away and uphill from the shopping streets.

On the way you will see a sign that says Youth Hostel. You can follow that sign uphill until another Youth Hostel sign points for you to turn right. Instead of turning right, keep going straight. This part was completely empty unlike the busy Dogo Onsen Arcade a block back.

Entrance to the cave
On the way, there is a kindergarten and graveyard. On the right is an entrance to a cave which is 200 metres long and leads to Ishiteji temple. The large stone on the front roughly resembled a skull. Across the street from the cave further down the road was a broken sign which read "Welcome" in English and another word I did not recognize. There was a scary looking figure carved above the wooden sign. Beyond the wooden sign was a very large dome shaped bronze structure called the Mandala that looked like a space ship behind the gnarly trees that obstructed my vision of it. I was honestly a bit jumpy at this point from all the weird sights.

Walking along the trail, you will see a very large statue of a Buddhist monk named Kobo Daishi. I found out the names of all the strange things I saw in a brochure at the temple but before knowing what they were, it all seemed a bit strange. The land on the sides of the trail were a bit forlorn with an abandoned looking building and stone and colourful crumbling statues watching those who approached on the trail.

Ishiteji Temple
Finally we reached the Ishiteji Temple and the inside was more "normal." There were elements that were common to other Japanese temples but the trail that led to this temple made it feel special. We didn't go into the cave nor the Mandala because they were closed but read this blog post on the entire experience. It was definitely the most adventurous day of our trip.

Since the bathhouse in Spirited Away was inspired by Dogo Onsen, we joked that the unique sights that we saw in Matsuyama must have helped with ideas in the movie as well.

After the goosebump inducing hike, we went to Tsubaki no Yu down the road from Dogo Onsen for a bath. It was a more modern onsen than Dogo and less crowded. It cost 400 yen and you must bring your own towel and soap. Though if you forget, those are available for rental. Using the hair dryer cost 10 yen and the locker also cost 10 yen.

Dogo Onsen and Tsubaki no Yu are known to have really hot water. This was my first public bathhouse experience in Japan so I cannot compare to other public baths but it was certainly much hotter than the baths I have tried in ryokans and hotels. The relaxing onsen soaked away all the tiredness from traveling the last few days and I felt so refreshed despite a bit sleepy.

We ended the night with a nice bowl of udon and re-watched Spirited Away with snacks back at the hostel.

Free public foot bath outside Dogo Onsen Station
Read Day 1 here - Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Manga Library
Read Day 2 here - Miyajima, Mount Misen
Read Day 3 here - Ferry to Matsuyama
Read Day 4 here - Matsuyama Castle, Dogo Onsen, Ishiteji Temple
Read Day 5 here - Return journey
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