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Published: October 7th 2013
Monday was my last day trip from Takamatsu and I headed over to the west of Shikoku to Matsuyama. When I left the hotel it was bright and sunny. However, by the end of the 2 and a half hour train trip, dark clouds were rolling in. The trip itself was quite nice though because the train line runs along the north coast of Shikoku, sometimes right alongside the water.
I grabbed a map from the tourist information centre in Matsuyama. The fellow there, who I think said he lived in Australia at some point, recommended I catch the streetcar (tram) to the entrance that has a cable car running halfway up the hill. I had been planning on walking there, but that sounded like a better idea. I jumped on what I thought was the right tram, but got surprised after the third stop when the tram turned down a street I wasn’t expecting and then everybody got off at the next stop. Turns out I was on the right one, but this was just the start/finish of the loop line. All I had to do was stay on and the tram went back to the correct
street and continued to my stop (and beyond, presumably).
After a short walk, I reached the cable car. Actually, I had a choice between taking the cable car and taking the chair lift. The chair lift looked pretty fun, but I had to carry my camera and my backpack – neither of which I wanted to drop – so I opted for the cable car. This cable car was staffed by some pretty girls in kimonos, which was pretty cool.
As the fellow at the tourist information centre said, the cable car only took me half way up the hill. Or may be further, I’m not quite sure. Either way, I was glad for the lift because it’s a bloody big hill – possibly the biggest so far. I walked up to the first bailey and was glad to see plenty of information signs with English text on them. I learnt that the castle was actually made up of 3 baileys, and the castle on the top of the hill was actually just the first. The other two were much lower down the hill. One is now the Ninomaru Historical Garden, the other is
pretty much the rest of the park.
It was on the walk up to the first bailey that the rain started. It wasn’t too heavy though, so I didn’t even get the umbrella out. It was a good test of the weather-sealing on my camera, which passed with flying colours. I’m not sure what I would have done if it hadn’t!
Entering the first bailey is quite the lesson in castle defence. The gates all cut back on themselves, and there was also a small hidden gate so the defenders could sally out and attack the attackers in the flank. One gate is known as the Tonashi Mon Gate, or “Doorless Gate” because there is no sign of hinges ever being there. One theory is that it invited attackers to enter, so they could be surrounded and annihilated.
The first bailey is on the very top of the hill and is quite long and narrow. Of course, the view from there was wonderful, but I quickly headed up to the main keep to get out of the rain. There were more gates to get to the keep, and they were the
most defensive gates yet. The doors on the last one were almost completely reinforced with iron. I have no idea how you would take this place by storm back during the feudal period. Even with siege weaponry, you would be under attack from arrow slits and stone drops the entire time.
The main keep featured a small courtyard from which you enter the keep itself. Once again it was shoes off, but this time they offered a locker for you to keep your shoes in. Up the narrow stairs and I was into the best keep of any castle I’ve visited in Japan. On display was a good selection of armour and swords, plus other weapons. And there were other interesting bits and pieces as well. Best of all was that they had English version of most of the text displayed. The route through the keep went around all the buildings that surround the small courtyard and there were excellent views from each. This was definitely the most interesting keep to visit so far. Also, it was while I was in the keep that the sun came back out.
Heading back out, I had
just on 2 hours before I had to catch the train back to Takamatsu. I headed to the shop/café that is inside the first bailey and I noticed that although the sun had come out, there were plenty more dark clouds on the way. Typical, I thought, for it to rain while I’m outside but for the sun to shine while I was inside! Fortunately, the rain held off. But I had a brief rest for a drink and an ice-cream (possibly the best I’ve had in Japan) before heading back down the hill.
I decided to walk down through the other two baileys, skipping the cable car. This way I would come out of the castle grounds closer to the train station. The walk down to the second bailey was very nice. The path switched back through the lovely forest and I got some nice photos. Arriving at the second bailey, I saw you needed to buy a ticket to get inside. As I was running out of time, I decided to give it a miss. I then walked along the path around the third bailey – another pleasant stroll through trees, this time alongside the
I have to say, I think Matsuyama is my favourite castle so far. It had everything – it is mostly original (some outer buildings were destroyed in WW2), it was on the highest hill, it had the most interesting interior and the surrounding park was gorgeous.
Anyway, I arrived at the station in time to catch the train back to Takamatsu, and spent most of the trip home by myself in the green class car. Thus ends my visit to Shikoku. Tomorrow I pack my bags and head off to my next hotel in Matsumoto.
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