A towering castle and red brick craft house make this town a little gem
Located not far from Ehime’s capital city of Matsuyama, the town of Ozu is known as the Little Kyoto of Iyo. It’s a great place to visit offering the historical allure of Kyoto in a tranquil countryside setting.
Ozu is a short trip from Matsuyama by train, and you can see all of its main attractions within a day. Take the Yosan Line Uwakai Limited Express from Matsuyama to Ozu. It takes around 40 minutes. Once you’re in Ozu, the main attractions of the city are about 20 to 30 minutes walk from the station. There is a bus that travels from the station to Ozu Castle. It runs twice an hour and takes around five minutes.
Ozu is sometimes known as the Little Kyoto of Iyo. Iyo is the old name for Ehime Prefecture. Ozu Castle was rebuilt entirely using traditional methods. The city is one of three locations in japan where fishing with cormorants is still practiced.
Visit the lovingly restored Ozu Castle, which overlooks the sweeping Hiji River. Its interior is just as beautiful as the exterior; the cypress beams emanate a rich, woody scent. You can learn about the history of Ozu and see armor of the feudal lords up close. From the top of the castle, you can see beautiful views of the river and city. Below the castle is the adorable Rarirurero Cafe where you can enjoy coffee and homemade sweets.
Ozu is home to Akarengakan, a rare red brick building which houses locally crafted, handmade artisanal goods, including washi paper, silk bags, candles, and local foods. Pokopen Yokocho, a retro market and museum, is located just next door. On select Sundays throughout the month, the outside street comes alive with vendors selling food and games. On a regular day, it’s still well worth visiting the small museum crammed to the rafters with Showa period (1926-1989) memorabilia. It includes a recreation house, barber, and a car garage.
When in the area, you have to try the local specialty tonkurimabushi, a dish of rice topped with succulent pork, sweet chestnuts, and a tangy sauce. If you prefer seafood, don’t miss taimeshi (sea bream rice) inspired by the neighboring city of Uwajima, in which the fish is served raw.
Take a walk through the charming streets of the old town area to Garyu Sanso. Here you can stroll through the perfectly landscaped moss-covered gardens, towards the famous Garyu Sanso Villa. Take time to soak up the stunning views of the Hiji River and the mountains beyond.
Ozu completely transforms with the passing seasons, making it a great place to visit all year round. In early May, 60,000 azalea trees bloom on the summit of Ozu’s Mt. Tomisu. In fall try the local hot pot. This dish made is known as imotaki, the main ingredient is satoimo (Japanese taro root) with deep-fried tofu, mushroom, and chicken. In winter you can see the unusual misty cloud formations called hijikawa arashi. The difference between the heat and cold during the day causes mists early in the morning, which then rush down into the sea.
Ukai cormorant fishing in the Hiji River is a signature summer event. A traditional, though almost extinct, fishing method, ukai cormorant fishing uses trained local seabirds to catch small Japanese trout ayu (sweet fish). The fishing typically begins at around 7.p.m. While you eat, drink and relax by the waterside, watch as cormorant fishermen skillfully juggle several birds at once.
Ozu is a convenient base for other attractions. To the north of the area sits the major city of Matsuyama filled with history and home to one of Japan’s last original castles. To the south of Ozu is the coastal city of Uwajima, which is home to another impressive castle but is most well known for its bullfight events that are hosted here five times a year.
Overall, Ozu is a hidden gem that offers a unique blend of historical charm and natural beauty. Whether you’re interested in exploring ancient castles, strolling through traditional streets, or experiencing traditional fishing methods, Ozu has something to offer every visitor. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit this little Kyoto of Iyo and immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of Ehime Prefecture.
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