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  • Ena Fujita

Discover Tranquility : Rejuvenate Your Body and Mind in Ehime's Hidden Retreats

Ehime Tricolage
Matsuyama Castle

In Japan during the cherry blossom season, the number of foreign tourists has increased compared to before the pandemic. Issues of over tourism have also occurred in major tourist destinations such as Tokyo and Kyoto, which have negative effects on both the local communities and the tourists.

During this peak season, why not experience the spring in Ehime, which is still unknown to many tourists?

Ehime Prefecture in Shikoku, a small island in southwest Japan's main island, is enveloped in a warm atmosphere characterized by the gentle kindness of its people and delicious cuisine such as tai meshi (seabream rice).

Matsuyama Castle, overlooking the city from atop a hill in Matsuyama City, boasts a surviving tenshukaku (castle tower) from the late Edo period. It is said that the castle was never attacked during that time, truly symbolizing the peace of this area.

Dogo Onsen, believed to be the oldest hot spring in Japan, and its main building designated as a National Important Cultural Property. It continues to serve as a place of relaxation for visitors to Matsuyama, while undergoing renovation work. This Onsen is known for its healing effects, as mentioned in the legend of the White Heron. So I have recovered both physically and mentally.

Ehime Tricolage
Dogo Onsen

Uchiko town, where traditional industries thrive, traditional culture is passed down and preserved in various forms.

About an hour's drive from Matsuyama, Uchiko cho is a small town where traditional craft industries have thrived since ancient times. Various people such as local residents from inherited family lineages, immigrants with a deep love for their community, and foreigners impressed by its heritage, all play a role in preserving and spreading this culture.

Traditional culture Tricolage
This culture has been passed down through generations since the Edo period.

At Omori Warousoku (Candle Shop), they have been making traditional Japanese candles (warousoku) for six generations since the Edo period. Currently, the 6th generation, Mr. Omori Tarou, and his son craft each candle by hand, using natural materials.

These candles are made using a traditional Japanese technique called "Nama-Kake Seiho," where melted wood wax is applied by hand onto a wick made of Japanese paper and rush grass and secured with pure cotton. The candles, known for their thick and large flames, are crafted with meticulous care. The technique, passed down through generations in the Omori family, is indeed being faithfully inherited by the current generation.

Traditional culture Tricolage
The culture that was once on the verge of decline has been passed down by the local residents who returned home

The culture that was once on the verge of decline has been passed down by the local residents who returned home.

The black charcoal made from oak trees in Uchiko-cho, is known as "kikusumi", and is from the pattern of chrysanthemum. It is primarily used as charcoal for tea ceremony utensils because it produces minimal smoke when used. 

I visited the workshop, Yamada-ya, and had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Yamada.

"Kikusumi" is produced during the dry season from November to March, and it takes about two weeks to complete due to the labor-intensive nature.

Mr. Yamada is from Ehime and had been working in Tokyo before, but he encountered charcoal-making artisans and decided to move there to establish his own workshop. While there was a period when the number of "kikusumi" producers declined, the return of Ehime locals like Mr. Yamada has ensured its continued legacy.

Traditional culture Tricolage
Collaborating with artists from overseas creates new value to tradition.

The traditional Japanese paper "Ozu Washi” has been passed down since the Edo period, and is meticulously handcrafted by artisans. There was a period when it faced the threat of decline, but it was preserved by a small number of dedicated artisans. 

Tenjin Washi Factory, also called Ikazaki Shachu Inc., collaborated with French artists to develop "Gilding Washi," applying the traditional French gilding technique to Ozu Washi. This collaboration garnered attention both domestically and internationally, with the resulting traditional craft art pieces being exhibited and sold worldwide. 

This collaboration between Japanese and French cultures has created new possibilities for future traditional cultural practices, which are being inherited and continued both at home and abroad.


As Mr. Yamada expressed his desire to give back to his hometown, and want to share the allure of the beloved "Kikusumi" without letting it fade away. 

Not only the culture which is inherited through generations, also passed on by artisans from different backgrounds is admired. All have the same commitment to preserving traditions.

What's most important is the collective sentiment among all these artisans: the profound belief that this wonderful culture must not be allowed to vanish. They wish for these treasures to be known by many and passed down to future generations.

Through experiencing various forms of inherited traditional culture, I grasped the heartfelt dedication of each artisan. I encourage you to visit workshops yourself and listen to the artisans' stories. Through cultural experiences, you too can immerse yourself in the world of traditional culture in Uchiko town.

In the serene of Ozu, enjoy a blissful stay at a castle town hotel savoring every moment of tranquility and relaxation.

In Ozu, located just about an hour's drive from Matsuyama, you can experience a luxurious stay beyond imagination.

Ozu Tricolage
Ozu Castle with Sakura

You can indulge in a one-of-a-kind experience, such as staying overnight in Ozu Castle and participating in a castle entry ceremony, where you can feel like a castle lord for a day. Additionally, you can enjoy breakfast at Garyu Sanso, a nationally designated important cultural property (exclusive to hotel guests), making your time here truly special. Moreover, in Ozu city, there are 23 hotels renovated from traditional Japanese houses, with cafes and miscellaneous goods shops nearby. You can also enjoy a luxurious stay in this castle town with its nostalgic atmosphere.

Ozu City has been recognized for its efforts in utilizing historical resources such as machiya (townhouses) and old folk houses for tourism development. In 2023, Ozu City received the top award in the "Culture & Tradition" category at the Green Destinations Story Awards.  By appropriately preserving and utilizing culturally valuable assets, the region has also stimulated the local economy, and travelers' stays in Ozu directly contribute to the community's conservation efforts.

Ozu Tricolage
Garyu Sanso Villa

The Shikoku Pilgrimage, Ohenro-san overcomes challenges with a support by the mutual assistance and kindness of the local community along the way.

Ehime Tricolage
45th Iwaya-ji

In Japan, pilgrimage is often associated with the famous Kumano Kodo, a World Heritage Site, but there's also the Shikoku Pilgrimage. While the Kumano Kodo is a pilgrimage route with a history of about 1000 years leading to the Kumano Sanzan, the Shikoku Pilgrimage follows the 88 temples that the monk Kobo Daishi practiced at around 1200 years ago, covering a distance of approximately 1400km* which is longer than the Kumano Kodo (160km along the Ise route). Visiting all the temples in one go takes about 40 days.

* following a circular route through Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime, and Kagawa prefectures 

During this year, leap year, instead of the usual sequential visit starting from number 1, a reverse pilgrimage starting from temple 88 counterclockwise is popular. It's believed to bring even greater blessings, and you might even encounter Kobo Daishi himself. 

In Ehime, there are 26 temples, and this time we experienced temples 44 (Daihoji) and 45 (Iwayaji) with Ohenro-san (pilgrimages)

Shikoku Pilgrimage Tricolage
I was ready to go with the pilgrimage attire !  The sedge hat (sugegasa), white robe (byakue), round-necked robe (wagesa), and vajra staff (kongōzue) .

First, we visited Temple 44, Daihoji, and then walked the steep mountain path to Temple 45, Iwayaji. Along the way, we spotted red pilgrimage markers in the forest to prevent getting lost, and exchanged greetings and encouragement with other pilgrims we encountered. Together, we supported each other on the journey towards the temples.

Ehime Tricolage
Refreshing my mind with hiking in a deep forest

Our guide taught us how to Omairi (worship) properly, one of its is paying respects by making an offering a votive card and money, bowing, and dedicating sutras at the main hall.

Even with just two temple visits, it felt like a cleansing of the soul. Pilgrims undertake this visitation process at all 88 temples, so the feeling of accomplishment when completing them all must be truly special and unique to pilgrims.

Ohenro-san overcomes its rigorous training with their own strength as well as the support of the local community. As a manifestation of this support, there's a culture of hospitality where pilgrims receive "o-settai," which can include meals, clothing, or even rides to accommodations. During our journey. We received sweets from our guide, and offered a Portuguese pilgrim a ride to their accommodation, this is really "o-settai" with each other. 

The Shikoku Pilgrimage is longer and more challenging than the Kumano Kodo. However, experiencing the culture of o-settai, where people around you offer support, and wholeheartedly visiting each temple imbued with a mystical power, travelers can feel a great sense of accomplishment after the experience.

Ehime Tricolage
Many statues with wish on the way to ahead to Iwaya-ji

 My Reflections…

Through this journey, I've discovered the charm of Ehime, including its traditional crafts, historical buildings, and mystical pilgrimages, which are still relatively unknown. I've also felt the heartfelt desire of local people to pass on their culture to others. I strongly believe in sharing these experiences with more people. Traveling during the off-peak season allows for a more enjoyable experience without crowds, and travelers can truly immerse themselves in unknown cultures, leading to greater satisfaction.

Tricolage have delivered many such journeys to foreigners who are yet to explore these hidden gems, and our clients who have experienced these trips have highly praised them. Why not embark on a journey with us to explore new experiences?


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