Although I’ve returned to Belgium, imperishable memories continue to occupy my mind, and today I’d like to share with you those that came to life in Ôzu (大洲市), the little Kyoto of Iyo.
Ayaka Sakamoto, a tour guide and friend, took me to discover this small town crossed by the Hiji River (肱川) and located to the west of Shikoku Island, some ten kilometers from Uchiko.
When we arrived, the cool morning air was replaced by gentle warmth, and we began our visit with a lunch break! A delicious way to start. We stopped off at the Ôzurobata Aburaya restaurant (大洲炉端 油屋), a former traditional inn converted into a restaurant in 2012.
It was in this traditional building that we were able to enjoy a local specialty in its southern Ehime version, Taimeshi (鯛めし).
Buoyed by this succulent meal, we set off again and wandered through the historic heart of Ôzu, stopping for a moment in the Pokopen Yokochô alley (ポコペン横丁). The latter immerses visitors in the Japan of the Shôwa era (1926-1989), notably through its enamelled advertising plates. A market is held here every Sunday from the 3rd Sunday in March to the end of November, a not-to-be-missed event for lovers of retro objects !
The district has also been marked by major restoration work since 2018 to preserve the architectural heritage and revitalize the neighborhood in a sustainable approach.
As a result, if you stroll through this pleasant maze of streets, you’ll see buildings with entrances embellished with a noren and branded with the term « Nipponia », one of the results of this initiative combining the efforts of local residents, the authorities and various external partners. As a result, some buildings have been converted into hotels, others into shops or cultural spaces. As a result, Ôzu has been chosen by the Japan Tourism Agency as a « Sustainable Destination » for 2021.
We continued our walk along the river, offering a beautiful panorama of the surrounding countryside and the castle, which I’ll soon introduce to you. But for now, our steps gradually led us towards the Garyû Sansô villa.
My attention was caught, however, by the boats you can see in the photo below.
Ayaka Sakamoto explained to me that these are linked to what’s known as Ukai (うかい), the traditional cormorant fishery whose earliest references date back to the 8th century and which continues to this day. In fact, from June to September, visitors can climb aboard one of these boats and watch the Ôzu Ukai, considered one of the three most important in Japan.
In fact, if you take a stroll through the streets of Ôzu, look down and you’ll find this plaque depicting cormorants, which testifies, among other things, to the importance of this tradition in the town.
But let’s get back to our tour, which took us to the Garyû Sansô villa (臥龍山荘). Built under the supervision of wealthy wax merchant Kawachi Torajirô (河内寅次郎), the residence was completed in 1907 and was designated a Tangible Cultural Property of Ehime Prefecture in 1985.
From the outside, the main building, Garyûin (臥龍院), has a bucolic appearance thanks to the wood used and the thatched roof visible from the garden side. Inside, the rooms are carefully decorated. A refined decoration linked to the passing of the seasons, it’s a fabulous testimony to Japanese aesthetics, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Kawachi Torajirô was undoubtedly very attached to this place.
Outside, a splendid moss garden invites visitors to daydream, and we stopped for a moment, enjoying this moment of calm, a little out of time.
Next, we quietly crossed the garden to arrive at Furoan (不老庵), the tea room. An equally remarkable construction, it offers an idyllic view of the river. Ayaka Sakamoto explained that, when night falls, the sunlight reflected by the moon shines through the ceiling and illuminates the room naturally, bathing the space in a soft clarity. A sight that must be absolutely beautiful, don’t you think ?
Leaving this fabulous place behind, we set off in the direction of Ôzu Castle! Easily accessible on foot, the route gave us plenty of time to take in the sights.
The successor to the Jizôgadake castle (地蔵ヶ岳城) built at the end of the Kamakura period by the governor of Iyo province, its history is also closely linked to that of the Hijigawa, whose destructive power proved to be a major difficulty during its construction. Indeed, the story of its foundation is shrouded in a legend that is tragic to say the least. The story goes that, despite the colossal efforts made to build the castle, the walls eventually collapsed under the relentless onslaught of the river’s floods, to such an extent that the castle was thought to be haunted. It was then decided to resort to Hitobashira (人柱), literally human pillars, which involved burying a person alive near or under buildings of great importance. The kamis could then give their blessing and protect the building.
In the case of Ôzu Castle, the choice fell on a 16-year-old girl named Ohiji. Before her sacrifice, she is said to have uttered the following words: « I want the name of the castle and the name of the river that flows at the foot of the castle to be the same as my name, so that future generations will not forget me… ». This is why Ôzu Castle is also called Hiji Castle, and the Hijigawa is the Hiji River.
Construction was completed, and many lords subsequently occupied the castle until the Meiji Restoration, when many buildings were dismantled, including the main tower in 1888. In 1994, major restoration work began to restore the main tower to its former glory. Based on extremely rare and precious documentary sources, this work was completed in 2004 and represents an extremely faithful reconstruction of the original.
We visited the main tower, following a very interesting itinerary recounting the history of the castle, from its origins to its current form.
Continuing our ascent to the heart of the building, the summit offered a magnificent view of the region and the Hijigawa.
An important cultural landmark, the castle is also the setting for a unique experience offered by the town of Ôzu: take on the role of the local lord and spend a night in this illustrious building.
As you can see in the video, this experience is also accompanied by a performance of Kagura, an ancient theatrical dance once dedicated to Shinto deities. Each performance is accompanied by dances and traditional music, and each actor is dressed in flamboyant costumes – veritable handcrafted treasures! The immersion continues the next day with lunch in the Garyû Sansô villa I mentioned earlier, before exploring the historic heart of the city.
As I write these lines, I have to admit that this program must be incredible! You can find out more about it by following the link at the end of this article.
As we left, we chatted for a while about the hill we’d seen at the Garyû Sansô villa, and which we’d seen again from the top floor of the château tower… The carpet of flowers at its summit had aroused our curiosity throughout the day, and it didn’t take us long to decide to go there…
So we set off to climb Mount Tomisuyama, 320 m high. We took the car and arrived at our destination in about ten minutes. At the entrance to the park, you’ll find parking, amenities and a children’s playground, making for a great day out with the whole family !
Before you reach the top of the hill, you’ll have to do a bit more walking, but your efforts will be rewarded with a magnificent view of the azaleas in bloom in spring, and a breathtaking view of the region and the Hijigawa River. Remember the manhole cover with the cormorants on it ? Azaleas too !
This article is drawing to a close, but I’d like to thank Ayaka Sakamoto once again for introducing me to Ôzu. His expertise, good humor and simplicity enabled me to fully immerse myself in this region, whose beauty is a source of lasting memories !
To find out more, please visit the following links:
Ayaka Sakamoto :
- Instagram : Ayaka/Tourisme Designer & Organizer, Guide🇯🇵🇫🇷🇬🇧 (@unetokyoite) | Instagram
- Facebook : Une Tokyoïte | Facebook
- Website : Une Tokyoite – Your local guide & unforgettable experiences in Tokyo/Shikoku-Setouchi/Online
- YouTube : Une Tokyoite – YouTube
Ôzu Tourist Office:
- Instagram : 大洲市観光情報サイト「Visit Ozu」 (@visit_ozu) • Photos et vidéos Instagram
- Facebook : Facebook
- Website : 大洲市公式観光情報【VisitOzu】愛媛県大洲市
Garyû Sansô Villa :
- Instagram : 臥龍山荘 (@garyusanso) • Photos et vidéos Instagram
- Facebook : Facebook
- Website : 臥龍山荘｜愛媛県大洲市 (garyusanso.jp)
Ôzu Castle :
- Instagram : 大洲城 (@ozu.castle) • Photos et vidéos Instagram
- Facebook : Facebook
- Website : 大洲城公式ウェブサイト｜愛媛県大洲市 – (ozucastle.jp)
Ôzu Castle Experience :
- Instagram : 【公式】大洲城キャッスルステイ【Ozu Castle Stay】 (@ozu_castle_stay) • Photos et vidéos Instagram
- Website 【Official】Ozu Castle Stay
Ôzurobata Aburaya Restaurant :
Pokopen Yokochô :
Ôzu’s Ukai :
- Website : Ozu ukai | 大洲のうかい