Because I`d made such an early start, I arrived early in the afternoon, meaning that I had a full two and a half days to explore the city and its surrounds. Naturally, I got lost (but only partially, so I`m improving) trying to find the youth hostel, but it was worth the effort as it is regularly voted the best one in Japan, and I would have to agree that it`s right up there with K`s House in Kyoto.
Obviously there is a castle in Matsuyama, and it dominates the city centre like the one in Kumamoto, but this one was surrounded by nice walkways allowing you to stroll to your heart`s content. I showed amazing restraint by resisting from going inside it AND turning down the opportunity to go on the ropeway (the castle is situated on top of a hill). I did decide to climb up to another castle though which for some reason wasn`t listed in any of my guidebooks, but as it wasn`t a traditional Japanese one, it made a refreshing change. The views out towards the other castle, and of the Inland Sea, were stunning as well.
I`d timed my visit with the start of Golden Week, a period where most people in Japan stop working, and start travelling. I didn`t mind this so much, except when it came to bathing naked in the historic Dogo Onsen. Being a reserved English gentleman, I could think of better ways to spend an hour or two on a Sunday morning than sitting in scolding hot water, surrounded by starkers Japanese men with wet towels on their heads! I paid a bit extra to go in the more prestigious bathing area, away from all the peasants, and despite my jesting it was a relaxing, erm, experience
I always look to see if there`s anything of interest nearby when I arrive in a city, hoping for a nice day trip away from the hustle and bustle. Luckily for me, I uncovered the small island of Kashima, which turned out to be a mini-Miyajima with gorgeous scenery and wild deer. It only took twenty minutes to arrive there by train, followed by a five minute crossing on the boat, which had a plastic deer on the top of it! It was so quiet and peaceful, and I received plenty of stares from locals who looked like they`d never seen a foreigner before!
Anyway it didn`t take that long to walk around the island, but there were some lovely little sandy coves that I had all to myself, and the weather was perfect. There were more impressive views of the coast when I scaled Mount Takanawa in the centre of the island, and I spent a good half an hour at the top...I wish I`d have stayed longer as I may have avoided the killer crow on the way back down!
The crows in Japan are the size of cats but are usually harmless enough, but as I walked back down through the forest I was concious of one squawking at me, and swooping on three separate occasions until it was just a couple of metres above me. Like a girl, I ran until the evil creature left me alone (actually I`m not entirely sure why I`m divulging this embarrassing information...!).
Other than the crow incident, Kashima had made for an enjoyable little excursion...
Back in Matsuyama, I visited Ishite-ji, just one of the 88 temples on Shikoku`s sacred circuit. Some people embark on a lengthy pilgramage to all 88 temples, but there was never any danger of this happening with me, particularly as I must have seen about 88 temples in Kyoto recently (maybe). This one was made more appealing by the large Buddha figure up on top of a hill, overlooking proceedings...but it wasn`t a patch on Nagasaki`s Turtle Temple!
(As an aside, the mayor of Nagasaki was shot in the head outside the train station the day after I left!).
I spent my final evening just having one last mooch around, climbing the steps up to Isaniwa-jinja and seeing the entertaining Botcha Karukuri Clock which opens up on the stroke of each hour to reveal, amongst other things, Japanese men bathing in an onsen!
They`re obsessed with onsens over here!
I like travelling to places on the ferry as it makes a change from the trains, and it reminds me of raucous weekends away in Amsterdam! Also there were no casinos or fruit machines on the one to Shikoku, but there was nice scenery along the way, particularly as we edged nearer to Matsuyama, my drop off point. It was exciting to be venturing onto another island, and as an added bonus, one which attracts few western tourists.