Uwajima (宇和島)  is a slice of small town life on the west coast of Shikoku — nothing much out of the ordinary, if you don't count an ancient fertility shrine and the occasional sumo match between two bulls. As of January 2021, Uwajima had a population of approximately 73,100 people.
Small-town Japan by the Suka River
Uwajima is the western terminus of the JR Yosan Line (予讃線), and there are regular connections north to Matsuyama. Normal trains from Matsuyama cost ¥1830 and take 3 hours, with at least one change of trains required. The Uwakai Limited Express costs ¥3030 (adult unreserved seat), but shaves the travel time down to 75-80 minutes by not stopping at every rice paddy along the way.
Okayama is about 4¼ hours away via two limited express trains, the Shiokaze and the Uwakai, changing trains in Matsuyama (¥8410, adult unreserved seat).
Infrequent trains on the JR Yodo Line (予土線) also connect Uwajima to Kochi, but you'll have to transfer at JR Kubokawa Station, and the total time can take 5-5½ hours, a good portion of that waiting for the connecting train (local train fare, ¥3000).
By remarkable coincidence, buses from Matsuyama to Uwajima also cost exactly ¥1750, but are a little faster than the regular trains.
Uwajima is fairly spread out, but many sights of interest can be reached on foot from the center of town.
For those going further and into the nearby mountains, a rental car is by far the quickest and most convenient.
- Tourist Information, 3-24 Nishiki-cho, ☎ 089-522-3934. 8:30AM-5PM. Across the street from the train station, with a range of English handouts. Bike rentals are available for ¥100/hour. edit
Unusual deity at Taga Shrine
There are two temples within a short distance of Uwajima on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage: #41, Ryūkōji (竜光寺), and #42, Butsumokuji (佛木寺).
- Taga Shrine (多賀神社 Taga-jinja), ☎ 089-522-3444. Although Taga doesn't get much press at the local tourist office, it's probably the most unusual sight in town: the shrine is an ancient Shinto fertility shrine, full of phalluses of all shapes and sizes, including a mighty carved log that gets carried about on festival days. It's located on the north side of the river, not far from the better known Warei Shrine. Free. edit
- Dekoboko Shindō (凸凹神堂), ☎ 089-522-3444. 8AM-5PM. Located on the grounds of the Taga Shrine, this is essentially a three-story sex museum devoted to fertility and its graphical expressions. Two of them are found in the name: the kanji 凸 and 凹 usually mean "convex" and "concave" respectively, but the shrine's logo makes things clearer by placing the pointy bit under the one with the gap. Be aware that it does not focus on Japanese items, but includes many international pieces of art. Entry ¥800, and you need to pay a whopping ¥20,000 if caught taking photos inside. No minors allowed. edit
- Tenshaen Garden (天赦園), 1 Tenshakoen, ☎ 089-522-0056, . 8:30-4:30 (Apr-Jun ~5). A beautiful traditional garden close to Uwajima Castle, with a nice tea house and best near the end of April to see the wisteria drape a curved bridge in white flowers. ¥500. edit
- Uwajima Castle (宇和島城 Uwajimajō), 3 Marunouchi, ☎ 089-522-2832, . Castle grounds 6AM-5PM daily (Nov-Feb ~4), Castle keep 9-5 (Nov-Feb ~4). Uwajima Castle occupies a strategic location at the heart of the city. Unlike most of Japan's castles, it's actually one of 12 surviving originals (dating to 1665), not just a ferro-concrete reconstructed fake. That said, the castle is comparatively small and modest. From the top there are good views of the sea and surroundings. Grounds free, castle keep ¥200. edit
- Nanrakuen Garden (南楽園), 1813 Chikaieko, Tsushimacho, Uwajima, ☎ 089-532-3344, . 9-5. One of the most beautiful and biggest gardens on Shikoku at 153,322 square meters, Nanrakuen lies about 16 km south of Uwajima Stn and best reached by rental car, or if you're up to it, a 2 hour round trip bicycle ride. Offers a large variety of flowers year round. Closed Dec 29-Jan 1. ¥310. edit
- Date Museum (伊達博物館), 9-14 Gotenmachi (Next to Tenshaen and the bus center), ☎ 089-522-7776, . 9-5, Closed Mon. Offers loads of relics and information on the former feudal lords of the area, the Date clan, who ruled for close to 250 years. Displays don't have much English but there is a very useful and informative English pamphlet at the entrance. ¥500. edit
- Uwajima Historical Museum (宇和島市立歴史資料館), 2-4-36 Sumiyoshicho, ☎ 089-523-2400, . 9-5, Closed Mon, of if a holiday, the following day. The building of the former Uwajima Police Station, in 1884, which shows how Japanese architects carefully recreated western style buildings of the time. Includes exhibits of local Uwajima artists and sculptors. edit
- Warei Shrine (和霊神社), 1451 Wareicho, . A large, comparatively staid Shinto shrine, probably Uwajima's best known attraction among the Japanese. Not worth a detour, but you'll be passing by on your way to the Taga Shrine anyway. Free. edit
Uwajima's main claim to fame is bull sumo (牛相撲 ushizumō), where two bulls decked out with holy ropes grapple each other by the horns and attempt to push each other out of a sumo ring. This is no modern gimmick, but an age-old tradition solemnly officiated by the same priests who run human sumo tournaments.
It's held on January 2, the 1st Sunday of March, the 3rd Sunday of May, July 24 (during the Warei Festival), August 14, and the 3rd Sunday of November. The match starts at noon and takes around 3 hours. Tickets cost ¥3000, be sure to book in advance. On festival days there are free shuttle buses to/from the station.
The annual Warei Festival, held July 22-24, features not only bull sumo but a series of parades featuring Uwajima's symbol: the black-bearded and red-robed bull demon (牛鬼 ushioni). Book accommodations early if in town during festival time.
- Yakushidani Gorge (薬師谷渓谷), (20 min. by car SE of Uwajima Stn.), ☎ 089-522-3934. Primarily used as an escape from the muggy summer heat, Yakushidani is a relaxing 35 minute walk through a river gorge with natural waterfalls around you and tons of nature. Car required. Free. edit
If visiting the Taga Shrine with a partner, be sure to pick up a Yin-Yang Harmony Fortune (陰陽和合おみくじ In'yō-wagō-omikuji) to test out your sexual compatibility. For a mere ¥300, you'll receive a Japanese-language fortune describing your equipment and abilities by awarding you with a sumo wrestling rank (all hail the mighty Yokozuna!), as well as a little clay figurine graphically illustrating the coupling of said equipment.
Uwajima (and the surrounding area) is well-known for pearl farming, so you may find a bargain (relatively speaking) on pearl souvenirs here.
- Shinju Kaikan (真珠会館), 3-58 Takakushi, ☎ 089-523-0818, . Primarily a pearl souvenir shop, but to ensure you're not rushed when considering a purchase, they've helpfully included a restaurant and a hotel (rooms from ¥4000 single) on the grounds. Pearl rings and necklaces can be custom-made to fit your budget; on the cheaper side, try some pearl candy (¥650 for 15 pieces). It's a little way out of town, north on the Uwajima Highway from the JR Takamitsu train station. edit
Uwajima is well-known for jyakoten, a flat, oval fish cake made by processing fish (with bones and all). It is tasty, but has a gritty texture to it.
The local dish is taimeshi (鯛めし), sea bream/red snapper on top of dried kelp and gently boiled over rice in an unfinished earthenware pot. Variations occur up and down Ehime, but Uwajima style — raw and flavored with sake — is considered the principal upon which all others are built.
Taisoumen (鯛そうめん) uses the same hearty fish, but this dish's beauty is in the noodles sculpted into waves and the seasonal nature of its presentation. Dip the noodles and fish into the tai sauce before savoring.
Iyo Satsuma is a dish made from fish mashed with mugimiso and stock. It creates a a roasted, salty, sauce-like concoction. It is usually served over a bowl of hot rice.
The covered arcade running from JR Uwajima Station has the usual assemblage of restaurants and coffee shops.
- Isshin (一心), 1-3-2 Marunouchi, ☎ 089-524-6698, . M-Sa 11:30AM-2PM, 5-9:30PM. Seasonal seafood dishes, including the notorious fugu (for a premium), but chicken and beef as well. Sets ¥3700, also ¥1000 'Henro' lunch boxes. edit
- Kadoya (かどや), 8-1 Nishiki-cho, ☎ 089-522-1543, . 11AM-9PM. A good place to sample the aforementioned taimeshi and other local specialties. Dishes ¥350-730, sets ¥1790. edit
- JR Hotel Clement Uwajima (JRホテルクレメント宇和島), 10-1 Nishiki-cho, ☎ 089-523-6111, . Business hotel connected to JR Uwajima Station, with a summer beer garden (6-9PM, ¥3600 all you can eat/drink). Rooms from ¥6930 single. edit
- Hotel Shirakabe (ビジネスホテル しらかべ), 2-22 Tsurushima-cho, ☎ 089-522-3585, . Cheap accommodations suitable for a quick trip; free washing machine and Internet are included. Rooms from ¥4200 single, ¥6300 double; breakfast ¥500. edit
- Sunokawa Park Camping (須の川公園キャンプ場 Sunokawa-koen kyanpujō). A very pleasant seaside camping ground, located an hour down the road south from Uwajima on the way to Sukumo and Cape Ashizuri. Facilities include showers, toilets, barbecue pits and acres of grass. A night costs ¥300, and there's a bus stop right outside, although it's a fairly steep ¥990 to the city from here. edit
- Uwajima Grand Hotel (宇和島グランドホテル), 2-3 Nishiki-machi, ☎ 089-524-3911, . checkin: 14; checkout: 11. Luxury option in the center of town, with a large public bath, bar, cafe, and upscale restaurant. It's popular with tour groups, particularly folks in town for the bull sumo, and the staff will be happy to help with tickets. Rooms from ¥8,000; surcharge for holiday and sumo periods. edit
- Uwajima Youth Hostel (森の宿 うわじまユースホステル), 166-11 Daichojioku, ☎ 089-522-7177, . Inconveniently located on Atago Hill to the south of town, a fair hike (about 2 km) from the train station (or an 8 minute taxi ride). Note also that they're closed on Sundays. They do offer bike rentals and internet access, though. Single rooms are ¥3500, dorms ¥2100, plus optional breakfast/dinner for ¥600/1000. edit
Uwajima like the rest of Japan is quite safe, although you should never throw away common sense. The area is very quiet and inactive at night.
- Ozu - Small Ehime city with a nice villa and one of Japan's best "cat islands".
- Matsuyama - One of Shikoku's most interesting cities, with its nice castle and Dogo hot springs.
- Kochi - Far-flung city with its laid back atmosphere, castle, nature, scenic views, and one of Japan's best limestone caves close by.
- Takamatsu - One of Shikoku's most interesting cities, with its castle and one of Japan's finest gardens, Ritsurin.
- Iya Valley - A mountain valley deep in the heart of Shikoku, famous for its pristine nature.
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