I think Japan is trying to kill my body. First, it was that awful cold. Now, everything from the waist down pretty much feels awful, but I’ll get to that soon enough.
I had a pretty awesome sleep last night and didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. My leg muscles are definitely feeling the fatigue from the Shimanami Kaido and my butt still hurts, although not quite so much as yesterday. Fortunately, my thighs protest only when I’m walking upwards (ie. stairs or a hill). Unfortunately, my day of exploring Matsuyama involved a lot of walking.
Still, I forced myself out of bed around 8:00 a.m. and was out exploring the city by about 8:30 a.m.
I started with the areas closest to the hostel, which means a short walk it Ishiteji Temple, a very old temple along the 88 Temple Pilgrimage, which takes pilgrims named “o-henro” all over the island of Shikoku, supposedly following in Kobo Daishi’s footsteps (Kobo Daishi’s being the founder of Shingon Buddhism).
There are supposedly some interesting sights along a small road leading to Ishiteji but I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up on another road that took me to the temple anyway. My legs were feeling tired so I didn’t loop back to see them. Maybe one day, I’ll return to Japan and visit Matsuyama again to explore these smaller places.
Anyway, Ishiteji is definitely an interesting temple with multiple structures and statues, some of which are National Treasures. There was a lot to see there so I spent quite a while just walking around the grounds, even if they weren’t expansive (especially compared to some of the ones in Kyoto). On the far west(?) side of the temple, I also found an almost hidden part if the temple with multiple little statues and a few larger ones near a bamboo forest. There also appears to be a smaller shrine or something up a set of long, rocky stairs but my legs would have none of that sort of exertion.
After, I had a quick breakfast at a nearby cafe, then walked to Dogo Park. It is one of the prime cherry blossom viewing in the city and was the perfect place to take my time and sit whenever I wanted to rest my weary legs. There were cherry blossoms everywhere in the park and it really was beautiful. Since it was still fairly early in the morning, the park wasn’t very crowded yet. There were a lot of places with mats spread out under and around the cherry blossom trees for picnics and parties, though, so I expect things get much livelier later on.
After making a circuit around the park, I hopped on a streetcar to the centre of the city, where I then tackled the walk up to Matsuyama Castle. It’s a beautiful castle on a hill and one of only 12 original castles left in Japan (as opposed to being a modern reconstruction, as most of them are).
The walk up isn’t very long, but the slope is steep – I’d guess about 35-40 degrees? Even if I was well-rested, it would have been a fair walk, but after the Shimanami Kaido, it was a tiring ordeal. There is a cable car and chair lift available, but I was rather determined to make the walk (and save my money). My thighs protested the whole way and I made a stop for some bottled water from a conveniently-placed vending machine about 3/4 of the way up.
I kept going…and going…wondering when I was going to reach my goal and cursing myself for not taking the cable car. And then came the glorious reward.
At the top of the hill, you can get an incredible view of the city. On top of that, there are many, many cherry blossom trees on the grounds, which are currently in full bloom. It’s very stunning. There were also a lot of people there having picnics and just having fun, so the atmosphere was very positive and bursting with energy.
I was hungry but the restaurant there was pretty busy, so I settled for a snack of “Sakura” (cherry blossom) ice cream, which tasted a bit like strawberries with floral hints to it. I moved onto the castle itself, and it was immediately apparent that the structure is indeed quite old – all smooth, aged dark wood and all that jazz, narrow and steep wooden stairs included.
The castle has many turrets originally used for defence, but nowadays, they provide excellent views over the city. The main keep is the highest viewpoint in the castle with views in all four directions over the city and, in one direction, a view of the Seto Inland Sea and the nearby islands. It was really nice.
I then made my way back down and into the city centre, which has a lengthy covered shopping arcade. I wasted a few hours there to have lunch, browse the stores, rest, and have a snack at Starbucks. With not much more to do, I headed back to the hostel to do some laundry and prepare for tomorrow.