Do you want to see a side of Japan that most first-timers and most visitors miss? Fancy wandering off the beaten path and exploring places that the Japanese like to visit? If the answer is yes, we have you covered with this guide to Uchiko, a charming Japanese village.
- 1 Where is Uchiko
- 2 Is Uchicko worth visiting?
- 3 Preparing your travel to Japanese village of Uchiko
- 4 Things to do in the quaint Japanese village of Uchiko
- 5 Where to eat in Uchiko
- 6 Where to stay in Uchiko
- 7 Staying longer? Why not visit these sites / Japanese villages
Where is Uchiko
The little Japanese village of Uchiko (内子) is located 40 km southwest of Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture, in the western part of Shikoku island. It makes a perfect day trip option from Matsuyama.
Is Uchicko worth visiting?
Known as the small Kyoto of Iyo, Uchiko is worth visiting, especially so if you love traditional architecture and the Japanese village feel The traditional town was once prosperous due to their production of traditional sumac wax from the Edo period (1603 – 1876) to the Meiji period (1868 – 1912).
The wax was made from the Hazenoki tree which was on abundance near the area. One of Uchiko’s highlights is Yokaichi Old Town which is a 600-meter long street where you can find most of the town’s attractions. The Uchiko-za Theatre is also a popular spot.
Trivia: The sumac wax is still used today to style Sumo wrestlers’ hair into the traditional top knot (mage)
Preparing your travel to Japanese village of Uchiko
How to travel to Uchiko
Located between Matsuyama and Uwajima, Uchiko is easily accessible via Matsuyama.
- By car: Uchiko is only 30 minutes from Matsuyama by car. Please note that the expressway is subject to tolls along the way.
- By train: It takes 25 minutes on the limited express train. The ticket costs 1280 yen for an unreserved seat or 2000 yen for a reserved one. Local trains take about 60 minutes and cost 760 yen. Both local and limited express trains are covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
- By bus: If you prefer traveling by bus, you can take the Iyotetsu buses from Matsuyama-shi for 720 yen one way. It takes about the same time as the local train.
Get your JR Pass here
The easiest way to travel to Uchiko from anywhere else in Japan is to either fly or take a ferry.
- From Tokyo: Flying from either Haneda or Narita airports to Matsuyama takes about 1h35. From there, take the limousine bus to JR Matsuyama Station and then train as mentioned above.
- From Osaka: 1 hour
- From Hiroshima: 1h20 by high-speed ferry or 2h40 on a regular ferry
Getting around Uchiko
UcUchiko is very small therefore you can explore it entirely on foot. JR Uchiko station is about 10/15 minutes walk to Uchiko-za so it might be better to start from there. The Yokaichi Old Town is another 10 minutes from the theatre. Be sure to grab a map of the town at the Tourist Information Centre near the station.
If you like cycling, you can also rent a bike near the station for 500 for the first 3 hours or 700 for the whole day. I say this is a bargain!
Things to do in the quaint Japanese village of Uchiko
If you are wondering about the things to do in Uchiko other than wandering the streets of the Yokaichi Old Town. Read on to find out all the attractions the small town as to offer.
Wander in the streets of Yokaichi Old Town
We started our journey in the Old Quarter. The districts of Yokaichi and Gokoku are the most iconic streets in Uchiko. The streets are lined with old wooden houses, merchant houses that looked exactly as they were back in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Yokaichi and Gokoku Special Preservation District has been designated Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings. There is about 90 buildings which have been restored to their original condition. The buildings attest to the wealth of the traders during the Meiji period.
While exploring the streets, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the old town of Kawagoe in Saitama. When planning our trip to Yokaichi Old Town, we read that the streets of the old town usually get busy in the afternoon. However, when we were there the town was practically empty. I’m not sure if it was because we were there in the morning. In any case, we were able to explore the area without seeing many tourists.
Visit the Kamihaga Residence
Among the 90 buildings is the former home of the Haga family, one of the largest wax producers. The Kamihaga Residence is opened to the public as a transformed wax museum. Visitors can learn all about the wax industry and production in Uchiko as well as get a sense of the wealth of the family. The beautifully maintained residence with rooms filled with screens, tatami mats, and a gorgeous garden is nice to explore.
We passed two other impressive buildings. The Honhaga Residence belongs to the first and primary producer of wax in the town. Just next door is the Omura Residence, one of the oldest buildings. Both residences are restricted to the public.
- Address: Japanese Wax Museum – Uchiko-chō, Uchiko 2696Hours: 9:00 to 16:30
- Admission: 500 yen
Get a glimpse of Uchiko’s history with a visit to the museum
We finished our little wander in the old town with a visit to the Machiya Museum. Set in a small traditional house it showcases what the interior of a typical merchant house looked like in the Edo Period. The entry is free.
Another must-see museum is the Uchiko History Museum, also known as the Museum of Commercial and Domestic Life. Although small, the museum is a fun place to visit, especially with kids. The animated life-sized dolls showcase how a merchant family used to live. When you approach the waxworks, they start telling you what they are doing (in Japanese only)
- Hours: 9:00 to 16:30
- Admission: 200 yen or 900 yen if you include tickets to Kamihaga Residence and Uchiko-za
Visit Uchiko-za Theatre
After a short 10 minute walk from Yokaichi and Gokoku Preservation district, you will find another tourist attraction: Uchiko-za Theatre. Build-in 1916, the two-story theatre previously used as a venue for Kabuki (traditional Japanese theatre) is where you can see Japanese performing acts. You can see anything from puppet shows, storytelling to kabuki.
As well as attending the shows, people can also join tours where they can get behind-the-scenes access to look through the entire theatre on days when there are no performances.
Since there were no performances when we visited, a volunteer guide explained the history of the theatre. We were shown the wooden stage and the two trap doors where the actors are brought up and down from the stage. We learned about the intriguing set up of kabuki theatres: rotating stage, hidden entrances used by the actors and even the actors’ dressing rooms.
- Click here to check out the event calendar
- Address: Address: Uchiko-chō, Uchiko 2102
- Hours: 9:00 to 16:30
- Admission: 400 yen or 900 yen if you include tickets to Kamihaga Residence and history museum
Visit unique craftsmen shops
There are still lots of shops in operation in Uchiko including traditional craftsmen. We came across two very interesting shops. The first one was the Japanese Candle Maker Ōmori. They have been in operation for over 200 years. There, visitors can enjoy watching the craftsmen through a glass partition create Japanese candles with a large flame.
The second shop was Take-Kōbō Bamboo Studio. The shop/workshop is full of some of the finest bamboo products such as bags, chairs, figurines, kitchen utensils, etc. I loved this shop not only because of the quality of the product made skills and great precision but also for the passion and respect they have for their products. Truly inspiring!
Create your own personal souvenir
There are several workshops in Uchiko where you can create all sorts of amazing souvenirs. The art studio Uchiko no Wa and Tenjin Japanese Paper Factory organise most of the workshops. You can learn to make Japanese Washi papers, small paper lanterns called “iro-andon” or gilding. Gilding is the decorating of paper, wood, plastic and other surfaces, using gold foil.
- Gilding workshop: 1620 yen at Tenjin Japanese Paper Factory / 200 yen at Uchiko-no-Wa (40mins to 1h)
- Handmade candlestick: 3000 yen at Jizaikōbō (1.5h)
- Mini paper lantern workshop: 2000 yen at Uchiko-no-Wa
- Paper-making workshop: 500 yen at Tenjin Japanese Paper Factory /
Tip: Note that all workshops are held in Japanese however it is possible to arrange for an English speaking guide with advance notice.
Walk around town in a kimono or yukata
IIn the warmer months, especially in the summertime, Japanese and visitors enjoy wearing traditional clothes while wandering xxx. Where best to do this popular activity than Uchiko, the traditional town by excellence! The kimono rental shop Uchiko no Wa offers a great number of kimono in various colors and patterns that you can wear to walk around the town. The shop, as well as offering kimono, also sells washi paper and other handmade products. The dedicated staff will help you put on the garment and even style your hair.
- Kimono – from 3000 to 4500 yen
- Yukata – 2800 yen
- Hair: 1700 yen
- Japanese tabi socks: 500 yen
Want to wear a yukata or kimono while in Japan? Book your kimono or yukata rental here.
Where to eat in Uchiko
Many of the old houses have been renovated into shops, restaurants, and unique accommodations. There are plenty of eateries where you can try out the town’s specialty: sea bream. You’ll find restaurants serving delicious food near Uchiko station and along Yokaichi and Gokoku. The map below (courtesy of Uchiko Town Visitors Centre) lists some restaurants favored by local tourists, however, I recommend that you walk around and stop if anything takes your fancy.
Where to stay in Uchiko
Most people visit Uchiko as a day trip. I think it’s worth staying overnight and visit other neighboring towns. If you decide to stay you will be the choice between luxury inns, traditional Japanese houses or farm stays.
Staying longer? Why not visit these sites / Japanese villages
- Ishidatami Seiryu-en Park: There used to be 30 water mills in the area, but this number has decreased to three thanks to renovation works by the local.
- Covered Bridges: Uchiko previously had more than ten covered bridges that were once common throughout southern Ehime prefecture. Today, sadly only a few remain. These bridges, not only facilitated movement within and between small villages, but they also served as a storage and a shelter for farmers.
- Terraced Rice Fields of Izumidani: 95 terraced rice paddy fields spread across the mountainside.
- Farmers’ Markets: Both Karari Farmers’ Market & Restaurant and Seseragi Farmers’ Market offer fresh local specialties and fruits and vegetables and crafts manufactured in the surrounding villages.
When visiting Uchiko, don’t focus only on the Old Quarter. Explore the sides streets, wander through some alleyways and even beyond the small town. You will be impressed with your new discoveries.
Have you visited a Japanese village before? Want to explore more of Japan, including the countryside? If you enjoyed this article, read more about my Japan travel some trip ideas.
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