Uwajima (宇和島)  is a slice of small town life on the west coast of Shikoku — nothing much out of the ordinary, if you don't count an ancient fertility shrine and the occasional sumo match between two bulls.
Uwajima is the western terminus of the JR Yosan Line (予讃線), and there are regular connections north to Matsuyama. Normal trains from Matsuyama cost ¥1810 and take 3 hours, with at least one change of trains required. The Uwakai Limited Express adds a ¥1500 surcharge, but shaves the travel time down to 75-80 minutes by not stopping at every rice paddy along the way.
Okayama is about 4 1/4 hours away via two limited express trains, the Shiokaze and the Uwakai, changing trains in Matsuyama (¥8570).
Infrequent trains on the JR Yodo Line (予土線) also connect Uwajima to Kochi, but you'll have to transfer at JR Kita-Uwajima Station, one stop north of the city center.
By remarkable coincidence, buses from Matsuyama to Uwajima also cost exactly ¥1750, but are a little faster than the regular trains.
Uwajima is fairly spread out, but the few sights of interest can be reached on foot from the center of town.
- Tourist Information, 3-24 Nishiki-cho, ☎ . 8:30AM-5PM. Across the street from the train station, with a range of English handouts. Bike rentals are available for ¥100/hour.
There are two temples within a short distance of Uwajima on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage: #41, Ryūkōji (竜光寺), and #42, Butsumokuji (佛木寺).
- Taga Shrine (多賀神社 Taga-jinja), ☎ . Although Taga doesn't get much press at the local tourist office, it's probably the most unusual sight in town: the shrine is an ancient Shinto fertility shrine, full of phalluses of all shapes and sizes, including a mighty carved log that gets carried about on festival days. It's located on the north side of the river, not far from the better known Warei Shrine. Free.
- Dekoboko Shindō (凸凹神堂), ☎ . 8AM-5PM. Located on the grounds of the Taga Shrine, this is essentially a three-story sex museum devoted to fertility and its graphical expressions. Two of them are found in the name: the kanji 凸 and 凹 usually mean "convex" and "concave" respectively, but the shrine's logo makes things clearer by placing the pointy bit under the one with the gap. Entry is fairly pricy at ¥800, and you need to pay a whopping ¥20,000 if you want to take photos inside. No minors allowed.
- 1 Uwajima Castle (宇和島城 Uwajima-jō). 6AM-5PM daily. Uwajima Castle occupies a strategic location at the heart of the city. Unlike most of Japan's castles, it's actually an original (dating to 1665), not just a ferroconcrete shell. That said, the castle is comparatively small and modest. ¥200.
- 2 Warei Shrine (和霊神社 Warei-jinja). A large, comparatively staid Shinto shrine, probably Uwajima's best-known attraction among the Japanese. Not worth a detour, but you'll be passing by on your way to the Taga Shrine anyway.
- Bull sumo (牛相撲, ushizumō) (On festival days, free shuttle buses to/from the station). tournaments held in January, April, July, August, and October; matches start at noon and take around 3 hours. It is Uwajima's main claim to fame. Two bulls decked out with holy ropes grapple each other by the horns and attempt to push each other out of a sumo ring. This is no modern gimmick, but an age-old tradition solemnly officiated by the same priests who run human sumo tournaments. Tickets: ¥3000. Buy in advance if possible.
- Warei Festival (和霊大祭, warei taisai). held July 22-24. This annual festival features not only bull sumo but a series of parades featuring Uwajima's symbol: the black-bearded and red-robed bull demon (牛鬼 ushioni). Book accommodations early if in town during festival time.
If visiting the Taga Shrine with a partner, be sure to pick up a Yin-Yang Harmony Fortune (陰陽和合おみくじ In'yō-wagō-omikuji) to test out your sexual compatibility. For a mere ¥300, you'll receive a Japanese-language fortune describing your equipment and abilities by awarding you with a sumo wrestling rank (all hail the mighty Yokozuna!), as well as a little clay figurine graphically illustrating the coupling of said equipment.
Uwajima (and the surrounding area) is well-known for pearl farming, so you may find a bargain (relatively speaking) on pearl souvenirs here.
- Shinju Kaikan (真珠会館), 3-58 Takakushi, ☎ . Primarily a pearl souvenir shop, but to ensure you're not rushed when considering a purchase, they've helpfully included a restaurant and a hotel (rooms from ¥4000 single) on the grounds. Pearl rings and necklaces can be custom-made to fit your budget; on the cheaper side, try some pearl candy (¥650 for 15 pieces). It's a little way out of town, north on the Uwajima Highway from the JR Takamitsu train station.
Eat & Drink
- Jyakoten (じゃこ天). Uwajima is well-known for this flat, oval fish cake made by processing fish (with bones and all). It is tasty, but has a gritty texture to it.
- Taimeshi (鯛めし). This is the local dish. It is sea bream/red snapper on top of dried kelp and gently boiled over rice in an unfinished earthenware pot. Variations occur up and down Ehime, but Uwajima style — raw and flavored with sake — is considered the principal upon which all others are built.
- Taisōmen (鯛そうめん). It uses the same hearty fish, but this dish's beauty is in the noodles sculpted into waves and the seasonal nature of its presentation. Dip the noodles and fish into the tai sauce before savoring.
- Iyo Satsuma (伊予さつま). It is a dish made from fish mashed with mugimiso and stock. It creates a roasted, salty, sauce-like concoction. It is usually served over a bowl of hot rice.
The covered arcade running from JR Uwajima Station has the usual assemblage of restaurants and coffee shops.
- Isshin (一心), 3-2 Marunouchi, ☎ . M-Sa 11:30AM-2PM, 5-10PM. Seasonal seafood dishes, including the notorious fugu (for a premium), but chicken and beef as well. Sets ¥3700, also ¥1000 'Henro' lunch boxes.
- Kadoya (かどや), 8-1 Nishiki-cho, ☎ . 11AM-9PM. A good place to sample the aforementioned taimeshi and other local specialties. Dishes ¥350-730, sets ¥1790.
- Hotel Clement Uwajima (ホテルクレメント宇和島), 10-1 Nishiki-cho, ☎ . Business hotel connected to JR Uwajima Station, with a summer beer garden (6-9PM, ¥3600 all you can eat/drink). Rooms from ¥6930 single.
- Hotel Shirakabe (ビジネスホテル しらかべ), 2-22 Tsurushima-cho, ☎ . Cheap accommodations suitable for a quick trip; free washing machine and Internet are included. Rooms from ¥4200 single, ¥6300 double; breakfast ¥500.
- Sunokawa Park Camping (須の川公園キャンプ場 Sunokawa-kōen kyanpujō) (there's a bus stop right outside, although it's a fairly steep ¥990 to the city from here). A very pleasant seaside camping ground, located an hour down the road south from Uwajima on the way to Sukumo and Cape Ashizuri. Facilities include showers, toilets, barbecue pits and acres of grass. A night costs ¥300.
- Uwajima Kokusai Hotel (宇和島国際ホテル), 4-1 Nishiki-cho, ☎ . Luxury option in the center of town, with a large public bath, bar, cafe, and upscale restaurant. It's popular with tour groups, particularly folks in town for the bull sumo, and the staff will be happy to help with tickets. Rooms from ¥14,000 single, includes two meals; surcharge for holiday and sumo periods.
- Uwajima Youth Hostel (うわじまＹＨ), ☎ . Inconveniently located on Atago Hill to the south of town, a fair hike (about 2k) from the train station (or an 8 minute taxi ride). Note also that they're closed on Sundays. They do offer bike rentals and Internet access, though. Single rooms are ¥3600, dorms ¥3000, plus optional breakfast/dinner for ¥620/1000.