Uwajima is a small historic city situated deep inside Uwajima Bay on the west coast of Shikoku and embraced on three sides by mountains more than 1,000 meters high. The city has flourished as a castle town of the Date family since the early 17th century. The population is only about 80,000, but the city attracts a lot of tourists from all over Japan because of its history and beautiful scenery. In the center of the city, you can find the Uwajima Castle, the Uwatsuhiko-jinja Shrine, the Tenshaen Garden, and other interesting sights.
Uwajima Castle is one of the 12 original castles built during the feudal era. The castle was constructed on an 80 meter-high hill by feudal lord Todo Takatora, who was regarded as a castle building master in 1601. In 1615 Date Hidemune, the son of strong feudal lord Date Masamune who governed the northern part of Japan, became the lord of the area by the order of the Tokugawa Shogun. His son made a big restoration of the castle in the 1660s. The castle hasn’t changed since then.
To enter the castle, you have to go up the 80-meter hill, but the view from the hilltop is amazing. You can look over the beautiful Uwajima Bay from there.
The Tensha-en Garden was built as a retirement palace for the Date family in 1692 by the second feudal lord of Date, Munetoshi. Then in 1866, the seventh Date, Munenori made the garden that you see today. It is a typical Japanese garden called a ‘pond strolling garden’. It is especially beautiful in the wisteria and iris season and admired by many local people. The Date Museum where you can see the history and the collection of the family is next to the garden.
Uwajima Pearl Industry
Regarding pearl production in Japan, the Shima area in Mie Prefecture is famous because of Mikimoto Pearl. But in fact, Uwajima is producing the most cultured pearls in Japan. There are about 300 pearl oyster farmers in the area. Some farmers give demonstrations on how they make cultured pearls, and you may see the moment that they extract a fresh pearl from an oyster. You can buy their pearl products at the shops or directly from some of the farmers.
You can see traditional sumo bullfights, a traditional 300-year-old event in Uwajima. The events are held five times a year, even today. Bulls weighing about one-ton butt against each other in a 20-meter-diameter ring in a domed bullfight arena. The bulls fight until one loses its fighting spirit.
Of course, animal welfare is a point that deserves attention. The bulls are well taken care of in their daily life, and they only fight a few times per year. It is not a fight to the death either, as the fight is decided once one bull gives up.
Access: 1.5 hours by the express train from Matsuyama (Capital city of Ehime Prefecture)