For my last travel of 2016, I had the pleasure of visiting Ehime Prefecture – located in the northwestern part of Shikoku. Unlike larger cities like Tokyo, Ehime has its own charm and one I’ve got to experience during my short stint there. I tried specialty dishes from this prefecture, harvested fruits and vegetables, and enjoyed the scenery as I went to different cities.
If you’re planning a trip to Ehime, here are some of the places, food and activities you shouldn’t miss out on!
A local delicacy at Ehime, Jako-tem comprises two types of fish — aji and gmome, freshly caught from Seto Inland Sea and Uwa Sea, and deep fried till golden brown on the exterior. Many places serve them in cutlets (coated in tempura batter) and these are widely available as gifts and snacks.
I got to watch the process and even tried my hands on making and frying my own Jako-tem! I liken it to our local fish paste, only sweeter and more refined due to the thorough handmade process.
EAT: Ehime Mandarin Oranges
As the climate is relatively mild and soil is fertile in Ehime, fruits and vegetables are particularly tastier in this prefecture. The Mandarin oranges are the best I’ve eaten – mid-sized, juicy and sweet. I got to visit the orange farm and learnt the art of picking oranges myself.
VISIT: Kamihaga Residence, Uchiko
Uchiko is a small town about 40km southwest of Matsuyama City and is known for its wax and paper production. This is also home to the Kamihaga Residence, a branch family of Honhaga (Uchiko’s most influential family). The residence which is beautifully maintained, is now a wax museum with a beautiful garden at the courtyard.
Entrance fee is 500 yen and the place is open for visitors from 9am till 4.30pm.
SHOP: Miso paste and Yuzu jam from Moribun
In Uchiko, do check out the miso paste selection from this store called Moribun. They’ve been around for more than 120 years and specialises in yuzu enzyme, rice vinegar, soy sauce and miso paste. The miso paste has lower salt content and a creamy sweetness as wheat is used, instead of soybeans.
Moribun still uses traditional method to produce their products so you’re assured of craftsmanship and quality. They are also coming to Isetan Kuala Lumpur this February for the Japanese Fair so do look out for the miso. Good stuff!
VISIT: Asahi Kyohan Co., Ltd.
I’ve eaten quite a bit of Japanese food but have never tried Shirasu until this trip to Ehime. Shirasu is a local delicacy of little sardine fishes which is exclusive to Ehime Prefecture. The fish is harvested on a daily basis and mostly cleaned by hand to maintain flavour.
The shirasu is frozen immediately so the flavours are sealed in, and the fish is sold in 1kg packets. Asahi Kyohan also sells shirasu ice cream, which tastes rather interesting. There’s a bit of savoury amidst the sweetness of cream and sugar; it’s an acquired taste.
EAT: Shirasu Don
Once you’re done with the tour at Asahi Kyohan, do try the Shirasu Don at the restaurant located within the factory. The rice bowl comes topped with a fresh and boiled shirasu, and a generous portion of ebiko (fish roe) for umami.
VISIT: Dogo Onsen
Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama is the oldest natural hot spring in Japan; more than 1000 years old. The natural mineral from the hot spring is reputed to rejuvenate the body and leave the skin supple.
Alternatively, try Mare Gracia Oomishima — an onsen spa that uses sea water and is known for its thalassotherapy. You get an option of four indoor onsens and two open-air bath – the latter comes with jacuzzi elements which I rather enjoyed.
Because of the minerals in sea water, your skin will feel more supple and soft. The aches on my neck and shoulders felt less apparent after a 30-minute session in the onsen.
Sea bream is a very popular fish in Ehime and often comes in the form of “taimeshi”, loosely translated to sea bream rice. This is an Ehime staple and a symbol of celebration as the locals believe sea bream brings them good luck.
There are two types of taimeshi in this prefecture – raw and cooked – but the raw version is unique to (southern) Ehime. It features sashimi sea bream on hot rice, and you get a bowl of raw egg with soy sauce to pour over the dish. The Gurunavi team mentioned that this is also called the “pirate’s dish” because it was easy to prepare aboard a ship.
VISIT: Hakata Salt
One may think that salt is just salt, but the folks at Hakata Salt Factory would certainly disagree. Hakata Salt is defined by its mildly salty taste, with a hint of sweetness from the minerals. The salt gets its characteristics from traces of bittern, a component of seawater used during production process.
Hakata Salt Factory ensures the salt produced contains the right balance of bittern to give their products a refined and superior taste. No chemicals are used in the production of Hakata Salt, making it one of the best salts producers in the market.
EAT: Salt Soft Serve at Hakata Salt
While you’re at the factory, don’t forget to try the soft serve made using Hakata Salt. This was delicious! The ice cream was smooth, moderately creamy and had just the right amount of salt for that “salted caramel” effect we’re all so familiar with. ;)
VISIT: Ichigo Farm for Strawberry Picking
While in Ehime, do try your hands on strawberry picking at Ichigo Farm – where you get to pick and eat all the strawberries you want within an hour. Admission fee is 1,400 yen per person (800 yen for children above 3 years old) and there are 10 different types of strawberries to try in this farm.
Mr. Yutaka Yasuda has been in this line of work for 65 years, and hires students from the nearby agricultural university to further improve the quality of strawberries. Only ripe strawberries are harvested and they were indeed the best I’ve eaten!
VISIT: Shiroimo Farm in Oshima
There is a chain of islands between Imabari in Ehime and Onomichi in Hiroshima, and Oshima is an island on the Ehime side. I was taken to a white sweet potato farm where I learnt how to harvest sweet potatoes which I brought back to Malaysia and baked for my friends and loved ones.
These are different from your regular sweet potatoes – less sweet with a firmer texture. I thought they tasted more like chestnuts rather than sweet potato. The white sweet potatoes also cost more than the average sweet potato; we paid about 300 yen for a mid-sized baked version in Ehime! So savour every bite please. ;)
STAY: Farmhouse in Western Portia
No trip to Japan is complete without fully experiencing a minshuku — a Japanese style bed and breakfast. During my last night in Ehime, I stayed in a farmhouse where the sleeping arrangement is tatami-style and food, freshly harvested and homecooked.
It was really quite the simple life and one that I wouldn’t mind experiencing again. Our host was gentle, pleasant and very accommodating, and she was a great cook too!
VISIT: Karari Fresh Park (Farmer’s Market)
Karari is a place where locals sell fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers and handcrafted items – all exclusively from Uchiko City. Do check out the spread at Karari Restaurant as the menu is prepared using seasonal local produce. The restaurant boasts a breath-taking view of the river and forest.
Address: 2452 Uchiko, Uchiko, Ehime prefecture
Opens: 8am till 6pm
VISIT: Tobe-yaki Pottery
The mountains near Tobe in Ehime are blessed with good quality pottery clay so pottery is a known Japanese craft in this prefecture. Typical designs have indigo blue details in the finest of brushstrokes and since these are handmade, they cost quite a bit more compared to those manufactured in China.
Like my previous trip to Japan, I got to see a lot more of what Japan really is and the amazing sights, food and culture it has to offer. It’s been an eye-opening experience (first up north and then, south) and one I’m grateful to end 2016 with. ;)
To get to Ehime, I flew into Tokyo Haneda International Airport from Kuala Lumpur and took a domestic flight from Haneda to Matsuyama (1.5 hours). You can also opt to take the Shinkansen from Okayama to Matsuyama Station (3 hours 20 minutes).
Quick facts about Ehime
Ehime was known as “Iyo”. After the Meiji Restoration in 1873, Iyo became Ehime Prefecture.
Ehime is located on Shikoku Island, the smallest island of Japan.
The biggest city in Ehime is Matsuyama.
Ehime produces one of the best oranges (mikan) in Japan due to the the soil condition and mild weather.
Shikoku in Ehime is Japan’s top producer of ceramic ware.