An unhurried castle town, Uwajima draws a steady trickle of titillated travellers to its academically inclined sex museum and attached Shintō fertility shrine. Though most travellers bypass Uwajima en route to Matsuyama, the town makes a pleasant stop and retains some noteworthy traditions, such as pearl farming, terraced agriculture and bloodless bullfighting.
Uwajima to Matsuyama
Several worthwhile stops along the western coast include the unhurried and unpretentiously bewitching Ōzu, with its recently reconstructed castle, and Uchiko, a town that grew rich on wax in the 19th century and is home to an elegant historic district. From Uwajima, the JR Yodo line runs to Kubokawa and Kōchi; the JR Yosan line heads north to Matsuyama.
Uchiko is undergoing a mini-renaissance, with a growing number of domestic travellers taking interest in this attractive town with its prosperous past. During the late Edo and early Meiji periods Uchiko boomed as a major producer of wax, resulting in a number of exquisite houses that still stand today along a street called Yōkaichi.
Throughout the centuries, pilgrims from Kyūshū traditionally arrived in Yawatahama by ferry, and then started and ended their pilgrimage at nearby Temple 43 – Meiseki-ji (明石寺). Take the Uwajima Unyu Ferry from Yawatahama to Beppu (¥3100, three hours, six daily) and Usuki (¥2310, 2½ hours, six or seven daily) on Kyūshū.
At 1982m, Ishizuchi-san is the highest peak in western Japan, and was traditionally considered to be a holy mountain. Ishizuchi attracts pilgrims and climbers alike, particularly during the July and August climbing season. During the winter (late December to late March) skiing is possible.