The small, laid-back town of Uwajima (pop. 70,000) is known within Japan for its bull fights, its castle, and the very unusual deity of its Taiga Shrine. Uwajima is located in the middle of Shikoku's west coast, on the railway line between Kochi and Matsuyama.
Taga-jinja Shrine 多賀神社
Uwajima's principal claim of fame is for its Taga-jinja Shrine sporting a giant penis carved out of log.
There is an adjoining Sex Museum (open daily 8am-5pm; ¥800), displaying all kinds of erotica, from around the world and ages. The exhibits are packed and no explanations are provided, but the explicitness of some is sure to cause some giggling or guffawing - if not yours, then those of other visitors.
This fertility shrine is a remnant of what was once a common sight in Japan. The Japanese having no Judeo-Christian heritage, they have always regarded sex in a more natural way than Westerners do. When Japan started copying the Western world from the Meiji era, giant penises and other explicit object bound to cause offences among Victorian times Westerners were purged.
Uwajima Castle 宇和島城
Uwajima-jo was errected in 1665 as a three-storied donjon. This may not be a grand castle on the scale of Himeji, but it has the merit of being one of Japan's twelve original castles left standing. It now sits in a park overlooking the city.
Bullfights are not just a Spanish tradition. Japanese have had them for centuries, although nowadays it is mostly restricted to small provincial arenas like Uwajima.
Japanese bullfight is different from the Spanish version in that there is no matador. It resembles more sumo-wrestling, but applied to our bovine friends. Two bulls compete with each others in a ring, and the loser is the first one whose knees touch the ground or flees from the ring.
Bullfights are held at the city arena (市営闘牛場), 500m east of the station. Except for special performances for tours and groups requesting it, bullfights are only held on 2 January, second Sunday of April, 24 July and 14 August. Tickets cost ¥3,000.
Warei Taisai 和霊大祭
The Warei-jinja Shrine's Matsuri, held between 22 and 24 July, is one of Shikoku's most interesting festivals. Devil bulls ("oni ushi" 鬼牛) are paraded with mikoshi in the streets and made to fight in the river.
Uwajima has numerous other temples and shrines, such as the Uwatsuhiko-jinja Shrine, Seigozenji Temple, Ryugesan Tokakuji Temple and Kongosan Dairyuji Temple, all located in the southern part of town, on both sides of the Tatsuno-gawa river.
The Tensha-en Gardens (open daily, Apr-Jul 8:30am-5pm; Aug-Mar 8:30am-4:30pm; ¥300), south-west of the castle park, was laid in 1886, and are a nice place to relax.
The nearby Municipal Date Museum (open 9am-4:30pm, closed Mondays; admission ¥500) has items related to the local Date lords, but is probably not worth the entry fee.
How to get there
Trains from Kochi take a bit over 3 hours via Kubokawa (¥2,860).
The nearest airport is in Matsuyama, which is 75 minutes away with the JR Uwakai Limited Express (¥1,750).
Coming by shinkasen from outside Shikoku, you will have to change train at Okayama. The JR Shiokaze Limited Express makes the journey from there to Uwajima in about 4 hours (¥5,490).