Matsuyama is the main city of Ehime Prefecture and the largest city on Shikoku. It is famous for Bochan Dango (a sweet that looked like balls on skewers) and Dogo Onsen, the oldest onsen in Japan. It was also our destination last weekend.
Friday evening, Justin, Ryan, Leandi and I packed up Justin’s car and hit the road. We were in Matsuyama by 8pm, where we checked into a hostel right by Dogo Onsen, put our party faces on and took the tram to Okaido.
There we walked around the bustling shotengai and found somewhere to eat and drink. We spent the night partying in Okaido and enjoyed ourselves immensely.
We had a slightly slow start the following day, but we made it to Dogo Onsen where Leandi and I showered and sank into the beautiful hot water. I love onsen.
Once we were clean and beautiful again, we grabbed food before heading to Ishiteji, one of the 88 temples of the Shikoku Henro.
This was by far the coolest of any of the Henro temples I’ve seen so far. There was a network of creepy tunnels which led us to a garden with a dome building full of weird statues. There were bags of sand from each of the 88 temples arranged around the main temple so you could touch them all and do the whole henro in three minutes. There was a huge Buddha statue. And most importantly, there was Muneo.
Leandi and I were waiting for the boys to come back down from climbing a hill, when we were approached by an elderly Japanese man.
This is entirely normal here; we always have people wanting to talk with us, and we are always happy to chat with them. His English was excellent and he also spoke French, which he demonstrated when he gave us the flowers he was holding (that looked like they had been ripped from the ground) with a flourish.
He was very insistent that we take advantage of the services of a group of trainee tour guides he knows, and when we said we wouldn’t have time during this trip, he insisted we bring our parents back to Matsuyama when they visit. He gave me his phone number and was actually trying to pin down a date for us to meet for a tour when the boys got down off the mountain.
Muneo was delighted to have four foreigners to chat to and was kind enough to show us around the temple. He took us on the three minute henro, showed us which pine needles to put in our wallets to make us rich, arranged for us to have an origami lesson, gave us a souvenir shoudo (mine says “You must understand others’ pain”), and asked if he could join us for dinner.
We left the temple with a dinner date and wallets full of pine needles, and headed to the local microbrewery, Dogo Brewery. The brewery was inconveniently closed, but we visited the shop and enjoyed some sake and shochu samples. Many samples.
We each bought a delicious beer, and walked over to the footpath onsen, pulled up our trousers and soaked our feet in the beautiful hot water while enjoying our beers.
Aside from having our feet all warm and clean, we were also in the perfect location to watch the clock which puts on an amazing show every half hour. It played music, got taller by two storeys, and had little naked men rotating and onsen-ing at the bottom.
Best clock ever.
We freshened up quickly before dinner, and were at our meeting place at bang on seven. Muneo was there, backpack strapped around his waist, and feather in his fedora.
He told us he knew an excellent yakitori (skewered, grilled food) place, a ten minute walk away and we readily agreed.
An hour’s walk later–which included a stop at a florist to buy a single stemmed rose each for me and Leandi–and we finally arrived at a tiny yakitori shop which was unfortunately full.
It was freezing, and Leandi and I were hungry and cranky, but we felt bad when he said “well now’s the perfect time to give you your presents!”
He told us his hobby was giving people presents, and he certainly showed a certain talent. He produced an envelope for each of us which he told us contain the ashes of the giant sandals which sit at the gates of Ishiteji and are ritually burnt every four years.
He also produced phone charms for each of us–I now have a tiny maneki neko hanging off my keys.
It was all very thoughtful and generous, but some of you may be aware than I get a teensy bit short tempered when I’m hungry, and at this point I had been waiting for an hour and a half for my dinner and I was freezing.
Luckily some seats came free in the restaurant then, and we sat along the counter and watched the surly chef prepare delicious and strange food on skewers. My least favourite was the chicken kidneys, closely followed by the hearts, but the others were excellent.
Having enjoyed our dinner, we were more than ready to say goodbye to our new friend. We had previously arranged a signal word to activate our exit plan so we slipped it into conversation, picked up the bill, thanked him for showing us the yakitori shop and headed to a coffee shop to perk up before heading to karaoke.
He decided he also wanted a coffee, so he joined us there as well. We finished our coffees, rinse, lather, repeat. We used our exit word again, and headed to the huge arcade in the shotengai… followed by Muneo.
By this point, we had all thoroughly lost patience with our well meaning but irritating dinner companion.
I slipped away to play UFO catchers, and when I’d won two Spongebob toys (in one go) Muneo had disappeared.
We felt a little bad that he had disappeared like that, but also terribly relieved, and we managed to soothe our consciences by doing purikura.
Our final stop of the night was in front of some buskers in the shotengai who were so good, and so charming that I bought their CD.
One McFlurry and a taxi ride later and we were sinking gratefully into our bunk beds for a well deserved nap.
The next day we loaded up the car and headed to the castle.
Easily my favourite castle so far in Japan, it included sakura (my first of the season!), bizarre, steep flights of wobbly steps and Leandi and Ryan dressing as samurai.
When we had indulged all our ‘reconstructed during the Meiji Restoration’ needs, we headed homewards.
It wasn’t until we we were on the freeway, whizzing back towards Takamatsu and laughing about our adventures with the unfortunate Muneo, that Ryan paled suddenly.
“Oh god. I’ve just remembered. He said he was going to visit Kagawa next month.”
We laughed. “Ah, well. What are the odds of running into him?”
“I gave him my phone number.”