Uwajima is a coastal town in southern Ehime Prefecture, facing the Bungo Channel, which separates Kyushu from Shikoku. Although most travelers bypass it en route to Matsuyama, the town makes for an interesting detour for its age old traditions of pearl farming and bloodless bullfighting. It also draws a steady trickle of travelers to its Shinto fertility shrine and attached sex museum. Now I have your attention!
Many Shinto shrines once had a connection to fertility rites. Of those that remain, the Taga Shrine is one of the best known. Taga Shrine is situated north of Uwajima’s city center and people visit the shrine to pray for longevity, good health and in particular, fertility. It features an improbably large phallus carved from a log alongside the main building and numerous statues and stone carvings throughout. Next to the shrine is a three-story sex museum featuring erotica from all corners of the world. There is an entry fee of ¥800 and if you wish to photograph the displays, you are required to pay ¥20,000. Minors under the age of 20 are not allowed to enter the museum.
Uwajima is also one of the top pearl producers in Japan. Shinju Kaikan located at 3-58 Takakushi is a pearl souvenir shop, which also has a restaurant and hotel on the premises. Here you can have pearl jewelry custom created to fit any budget.
The city also has an intimate relationship with bulls. It is one of nine locations to watch bull fighting in Japan. The bull fight (bull sumo) tournaments are held five times per year in January, April, July, August and October. The Uwajima Bull Fighting Arena can’t be missed, situated atop one of the hills above the city. The arena has a roof, allowing the fights to take place during inclement weather. It is here where enormous black bulls square off against each other and fight until one of them breaks off and runs away. The bulls are categorized in a similar hierarchical structure as sumo wrestlers, each with a rank that befits their past performances. The rank names mimic those used in sumo with the exception of the highest ranked bulls being referred to as “champions” rather than “yokozuna“.
And let’s not forget about Uwajima Castle. Although small and modest, it is an original castle dating back to 1665. Visitors can approach the castle’s keep from either the north or the south. The respective routes travel uphill on stone steps winding past moss covered stone walls and require 10 to 15 minutes to traverse. Once inside you will find that the castle’s authentic wooden interior is relatively well-preserved. If you climb up the steep wooden stairs to the top floor, you will be rewarded with excellent views of Uwajima. The castle also has an interesting collection of portraits, swords and armor, which belonged to past feudal lords that are worth seeing.
Before you leave, be sure to try the local dish, tai meshi, which consists of red snapper and rice. It is delicious.
Web page: http://www.uwajima.org/