You probably haven’t heard of Ozu City because of its remote location. But this rural town located in the heart of Shikoku is a perfect place to discover another side of Japan. My last trip to the “land of the rising sun”made me discover places I knew nothing about. Ehime Prefecture was a big surprise for me as it revealed one of Japan’s best hidden gems: Ozu.
- 1 How to plan your trip to Ozu City
- 2 Where is Ozu City ?
- 3 Getting to Ozu City
- 4 Getting Around Ozu City
- 5 Things to Do and See in Ozu City
- 6 Take a Stroll in Ozu Old Town
- 7 Visit Ozu Castle
- 8 See the Ozu Red Brick Museum
- 9 Shop at Pokopen Yokocho Alley and Omoide Soko Warehouse
- 10 Marvel at Garyu Sanso Villa
- 11 Wander along the Hiki River
- 12 Go on a short hike
- 13 Enjoy local events
- 14 Other Things to Do In and Around Ozu
- 15 Visit a farmer’s market
- 16 Discover Shikoku’s four castles
- 17 Where to Stay in Ozu
- 18 Like it? Pin it!
How to plan your trip to Ozu City
Despite not knowing about Ozu City until I was in Matsuyama, I was excited about it. If you love low key and quiet towns, then you must add this town into your Japan itinerary.
Here are all the information you need to plan your trip to Ozu, a picturesque town in Japan.
Where is Ozu City ?
Ozu City (大洲, Ōzu) is a small town located in Ehime Prefecture on the western coast of Shikoku. Nestled in the mountains, on the bank of the Hiji River, Ozu City is an off-the-beaten-path spot that you don’t want to miss. The town emerged during the Edo Period, so expect a walk back in time as you stroll along the old cobbled streets with traditional wooden houses.
Getting to Ozu City
By train: Located southwest of Matsuyama, Iyo-Ozu Station is accessible via JR Yosan Line which also stops at Uchiko, another traditional town. You can either get on the express train (40 minutes) or local train (100 minutes). Once in Ozu, all the attractions are within walking distance. A one-way train will cost you 970 Yen or 1,290 Yen for a reserved seat. Both train types are covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
By Bus: Uwajima Buses operate buses between Matsyama-shi Station to Iyo-Ozu Station every one to two hours. The journey takes about an hour and costs 1,250 Yen.
By car: It takes about 50 minutes to reach Ozu from Matsuyama.
From Tokyo or Osaka
If you are travelling from Tokyo or anywhere in Kansai, you will need to head to Okayama Station via shinkansen first then JR Seto Ohashi’s Limited Express Shiokaze to Matsuyama Station. If you have the JR Pass, please note that the entire journey will be covered by it. From there, follow the above steps.
Getting Around Ozu City
Ozu Castle is about 20/30 mins walk from the station. Alternatively, you can take the city loop bus or hire a bike next to the station. Ozu is a small city and most attractions are within walking distance. Don’t forget to pick up a detailed tourist map at the Ozu Tourist Information Centre.
Things to Do and See in Ozu City
Our 2 days 1 night in Uchiko and Ozu was packed with activities and discoveries. Although these two rural towns are small, they have lots of things to do. There are so much you can discover in and around Ozu that it would be a shame to miss out.
Here is a snapshot of some of the best attractions and things to do and see in Ozu, Japan.
But first things first, let’s look at all the attractions on the below interactive map. You can find additional information on each of them by clicking on each pin.
Take a Stroll in Ozu Old Town
The old town of Ozu is so tiny that walking is the best way to see it. As you stroll along the cobbled streets, you feel like you’ve been transported a hundred years back. You can’t miss the authentic structures. The wooden and brick houses, sometimes with bamboo structures add to the charm of the town. The small streets of the town centre are filled with restaurants, shops and workshop galleries.
Do not miss Ohanahan Street where a drama of the same name by Japan’s main broadcaster NHK took place in the sixties. The street is lined with Meiji period townhouses and storehouses. You can get there by taking the loop bus to Asamoya-Mae.
Visit Ozu Castle
Another attraction worth a visit is Ozu Castle. Standing on top of stone walls is the restored castle. The castle was built high in order to monitor the territory and trade routes like those on the Hijikawa River. Rebuilt in 2014 based on the original 17th-century model, works on the wooden structure was done according to traditional construction methods: without nails, screws or concrete. The main castle (tenshu) blends well with the preserved 700-year-old four-story tower.
If you want to feel like a daimyo (feudal lord) you can do so from July 2020. The castle will welcome guests in the tenshu. That’s if you can afford the £7,200 ($9,000) a night rate! Available only for 30 days a year, guests will be sure to have a perfect butler service.
The castle mainly serves as a museum or exhibit showing visitors how the reconstruction took place. There are very steep stairs you can climb to see an amazing view of the city, surrounding river and mountains.
When we left the castle, we saw a group of local people waving flags. They were waiting for the limited express train to pass by. When they spotted me, they were keen for me to join them. As we waited for the train to come, I ended up chatting to a few of them (thanks to my friend translating most of it!).
Address: 903 Ozu, Ehime 795-0012, Japan – Fee: adults 500 Yen / Children 200 Yen Open: 9.00-17.00
See the Ozu Red Brick Museum
Ozu Red Brick Museum (赤煉瓦間 – Akarenga-Kan) was originally home to the Ozu Bank of Commerce. Built in 1901, it features British tiles and Japanese tiled roof, giving it an interesting architecture. Now, it’s open to the public as a museum, gallery and souvenir shop displaying local products and food.
Address: 60 Ozu, Ehime 795-0012, Japan – Fee: Free admission – Open: 9:00-17:00
Shop at Pokopen Yokocho Alley and Omoide Soko Warehouse
Pokopen Alley (ポコペン横丁) is a complex of alleys and market designed to replicate the atmosphere of the Showa period (1960s). The various stalls selling all sorts of things from snacks and sweets to antiques.
For more nostalgia, head over to Omoide Soko (思い出倉庫 – also known as storehouse of memories) is a warehouse displaying more Showa period scenery with a police box, pharmacy, theatre, a barbershop and typical living room. It’s interesting to see the evolution of things in the area.
Address: 103 Ozu, Ehime 795-0012, Japan – Fee: 200 Yen (Omoide) Open: 9.00-15.30
Marvel at Garyu Sanso Villa
Probably the most beautiful and serene tea house in all of Japan, Garyu Sanso (臥龍山荘) is arguably the main attraction in Ozu. The beautiful traditional and artistic villa facing Hijikawa River is well worth the trip from Matsuyama. Garyu-in, the main building is a big wooden, watched-roof house inspired by an imperial villa in Kyoto.
The rooms are simple but tastefully decorated according to Japanese aesthetics. Sliding doors open to a charming landscaped garden which although small, adds to the charm of the villa. The moss-covered path lined with stones and sculptures leads to the best feature of the villa: the tea house. The pavilion offers a beautiful view of the river and mountains. I can only imagine how wonderful it must be to sit there on a summer evening sipping on green tea and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
Despite its simplicity, the villa took ten years to design, four years to construct and involved at least nine thousand artisans. Simplicity doesn’t mean easy!
You can easily walk there after visiting the Red Brick Building and Pokopen Yokocho.
- ddress: 411-2 Ozu, Ehime 795-0012, Japan
- Fee: Adults 500 Yen / Children (under 15) 200 Yen
- Combined tickets with Ozu Castle: Adults 800 Yen, Children 300 Yen
- Open: 9.00-17.00
Wander along the Hiki River
The picturesque Hijikawa River (肱川) flows through Ozu City. Even though it was nearly dry when we were there, we could tell that it is an important part of the town. We were told that the river is a popular summer destination to see cormorants fishing (known as ukai). I had the chance to experience this traditional fishing technique a few years ago in Uji (see image below)
While wandering the town, we came across a couple who invited us to join them as they were attending a festival. I’m not entirely sure what it was about but it was a fun experience. We followed people as they climbed a hill, soon we realised that all eyes were on the waterfall in front of us. As we were trying to figure out what was happening we saw a massive ball, made of several fabrics, being thrown.
Schedule: From June to September and costs from 4,000 (afternoon session) to 6,000 Yen (night session) with a bento box.
Go on a short hike
If you like hiking and waterfalls, there is an amazing hiking trail close to the town. Shirataki Park is a beautiful spot, especially in autumn for fall viewing. We took a short one (about 30 minutes). The path took us along the Taki River all the way to Shiro no taki. The landscape was amazing coupled with the autumn leaves and waterfalls.
Enjoy local events
Following the hike, we took part in a local festival, the Shirataki Rurihime Festival (白滝るり姫まつり). The event held yearly (November 23rd) relates to the tragedy of Princess Ruri and aims for children’s good health. Ruri-hime was the wife of the feudal lord who ruled the region. After their castle was invaded by a rival clan, she escaped to Shirataki with her two year old son and threw herself in the waterfall. A very sad legend that is illustrated all along the trail. The event is remembered with flower portable shrine being thrown to the bottom of the waterfall by children in colourful kimono.
The festival consisted of harvest dances and folk song being performed. There are also a few food stalls with some pounding rice to make mochi rice cakes, soba and other seasonal snacks. I was invited to join the rice pounding which was lots of fun!
There are lots of festivals and events along the year so you might want to coincide your trip with one of them.
Access: Take the train to Shirataki Station, the park is about 10 minutes walk
List of annual festivals
- Ebisu Festival – 9th to 11th January * Ozu Shrine
- Gion Festival – Chinese New Year * Gion Shrine
- Sakura Cherry Blossom Festival – 25th March to 25th April * Shiroyama Park, Tomisuyama Koen Park, Gion Park
- Tsutsuji Azalea Festival – 25th April to 15th May * Tomisuyama Koen Park
- Firefly and Japanese Iris Festival – 1st to 15th June * Nia shobu-en Park
- Ukai Cormorant Fishing – 1st June to 20 September * Ukai Rest Plaza or Nyoko-ji Kawara to Ozu Castle Town
- Ozu River Firework Festival – 3rd and 4th August
- Imotaki – late August through late October (sunset to 22:00)
- Momiji Maple Festival – 1st to 30th November
Other Things to Do In and Around Ozu
Visit a farmer’s market
I have seen quite a number or markets in Japan, however this one is different as it’s a roadside market.
While travelling from Uchiko to Ozu, we stopped by Uchiko Fresh Park Karari (道の駅 内子フレッシュパークからり) to get some fresh fruits and freshen up. The market looks like a big hangar full of stalls displaying an array of seasonal fruits and vegetables of all kinds, nicely wrapped or bagged. I have to say that Japan is not very eco friendly country and their love for packaging is a little extreme!
Of course, since we are in Ehime, the star citrus fruit mikan takes central stage and is on several tables. There are plenty of varieties of the orange/lemon type of citrus fruit. As well as the market, there is also a restaurant (Karari) and bakery (Karari Pan Kojo).
Address: 2452 Uchiko, Uchiko. You can access via Iyotetsu Nanyo Bus from Uchiko to Uchiko-bashi.
Discover Shikoku’s four castles
Did you know that Shioku has four of the twelve designated castle towers in Japan? If you are a castle buff or simply love architecture, why not discover Shikoku’s castles. As well as the Ozu castle, there are two other castles in Ehime worth visiting. The first one is Matsuyama Castle, the largest castle on the island. Once you have reached the main tower via the ropeway, you can enjoy a spectacular view of the tower’s top floor.
The second castle on the list is Uwajima Castle which sits on top of a mountain. The castle is well known as one of twelve Japanese castles to still have an original donjon built in the Edo period. The third one is the Imabari Castle which faces the Seto Inland Sea and features a big entrance by the sea.
Where to Stay in Ozu
If you decide to stay a night or two in Ozu, I recommend staying in a traditional guesthouse to make the most of the town’s heritage. There are several ideally located in the historic quarter.
We stayed in Omeguri-an (おめぐり庵) in Seiyo. The accommodation is run by a young couple; Misami and Ben.
Our room was spacious and opened onto a large veranda overlooking a nice garden. There are only futons so if you are not too keen on sleeping on the floor, this is probably not for you. I was pleased to see that the veranda had a heated Japanese coffee table: the kotatsu. We didn’t waste time to get our feet under the kotatsu blanket to enjoy our welcome tea and mikans as well as other snacks we bought at the farmer’s market.
The next morning, after a little stroll in the neighbourhood, we were served a delicious traditional breakfast on the veranda. The breakfast consisted of miso soup, a bowl of plain rice, grilled fish, japanese omelet and pickles.
To see all the accommodation options available on Booking.com, click here.
Have you been to Ozu City or Ehime? What was your experience? What do you like about rural towns in Japan?