When people think of Japan, popular cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Hokkaido often come to mind. But in my recent trip, I discovered a hidden gem, tucked away in the outskirts.
Now, don't get me wrong. Tokyo was mesmerising - the bright lights, the tasty food, the efficient subway system. And I still hope to visit Osaka and Hokkaido one day. But ultimately, it was the quaint little Ehime prefecture that took my breath away and showed me a side of Japan I never expected to see.
Located in Shikoku Island, the smallest of Japan's main islands, Ehime has a relatively small population of just over 1.3 million people. Known mainly for its old castles and hot springs, there are so many reasons to make a trip to Ehime.
1. Try out Ehime's famous mandarin oranges, or mikan, with as many as 40 different varieties
Known as the 'Citrus Kingdom', Ehime exports around 210,000 tonnes of mikan every year. Thanks to Ehime's sunshine, sea breezes, and mild temperatures, the region produces some of the best mandarin oranges, with a perfect balance of sweet and sour.
Make sure you try their fresh mikan juices, ice cream, jellies, biscuits, and more!
Plus, Ehime has an orange mascot called Mikyan that's just ADORABLE! You'll see it practically everywhere around Ehime—on flags, in stores, and as cute souvenirs.
2. Cycle by the ocean and enjoy beautiful stretches of scenery along Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge
Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge is part of the Shimanami Kaido Bikeway, a 70km bike route that connects Japan's main island of Honshu to the island of Shikoku, passing by six small islands along the way. You can rent a bicycle at one of the terminals from just 1,100 yen (RM42) a day.
On a clear day, the scenery of the Seto Inland Sea is simply breathtaking. With the cool sea breeze, this is the perfect way to spend an afternoon at Ehime.
3. Enjoy absolutely stunning views at Mount Kiro Observatory Park
If you thought the view along the Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge was amazing, wait till you see it from 307.8 metres above sea level. Here at Mount Kiro Observatory Park, you'll get to enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view of the bridge and the Kurushima Straits.
Accessible by car or bike, the observatory park is open 24/7 and is free entry. It's definitely worth a visit especially on a day with good weather! :)
4. Take a thrilling chairlift ride up to Matsuyama Castle
Matsuyama Castle is one of Japan's 12 "original castles". First built in 1602, the castle you see today was constructed in 1820 - after the original one was destroyed by lightning.
The castle is nestled atop Mount Katsuyama, so you'll need to take either a chairlift or cable car up. I'd definitely recommend going in the chairlift (with no seatbelts) because it's just so much more fun!
Once up on the mountain, you'll see Matsuyama Castle in the distance. As you walk towards it, you'll discover the beautiful compound as well as multiple castle gates and towers along the way. You'll also get to enjoy a bird's eye view of Matsuyama city and the Seto Inland Sea.
5. Visit Nippon Budokan, the impressive sporting arena built for the 1964 Summer Olympics
Nippon Budokan, or just Budokan, was originally built as a martial arts venue for the 1964 Summer Olympics. Even now, the indoor arena looks as impressive as before, with multiple halls for various sporting events.
Sports culture is strong in Japan, with many Japanese children being exposed to sports at a young age. When we were touring Budokan, we came across different groups of children training at the facility. If you're lucky, you'll even get to watch competitions that are taking place in the arena.
6. Soak and relax at Dōgo Onsen, one of the oldest hot springs in Japan
With a history dating back over 1,000 years, Dōgo Onsen is famous for its three-storey public bathhouse, which partially inspired the design of Yubaba's bathhouse in 'Spirited Away.' Outside the bathhouse, you can soak your feet in the mini hot springs for free - just remember to bring along a small towel to dry your feet.
Dōgo Onsen has become an iconic destination for locals and tourists alike. During my trip, we even got to see a couple in traditional yukata and kimono taking a wedding photoshoot right outside the bathhouse.
7. Savour some of the region's best seafood like tai-meshi, snapper sashimi served over rice
While Ehime isn't known for its amazing food like Hokkaido or Tokyo, the region has its own specialties that are tasty and worth trying. Tai-meshi is one of the most popular dishes, which is snapper sashimi that you can dip into raw egg yolk and soy sauce - it tastes really clean and refreshing.
Another dish you'll see in Ehime is jakoten, a type of fish cake that's made from blended small white fish. Other than that, they also have their own ramen varieties, so make sure you try them all!
All in all, Ehime was a pleasant surprise. The region is beautiful, relaxing, rich in culture, and totally worth visiting.
If you're looking to travel to Japan soon, you should definitely try to stop by Ehime for a few days. Here, you'll get to unwind and experience a taste of Japan unlike any other.
Once again, thank you JENESYS for bringing us on this amazing trip to Japan. If you missed the first part, check it out here: