Sponsored by Toon city
During my weekend in Ehime, a less known Prefecture on Shikoku Island, I had the opportunity to discover the small city of Toon, located 30 minutes away from Matsuyamashi Staion. I was particularly excited at the idea of visiting this part of the country because to me, discovering the countryside and its most remote areas is a good way to immerse yourself in what makes Japan so authentic.
Staying in a Ryokan in Toon
Whenever I think of traditional Japan, the first thing popping into my head are ryokan. Ryo… what? No worries, I was not familiar with this term either before coming here. A ryokan is simply a Japanese style inn, most of the times built with traditional construction material such as wood, bamboo or rice paper. You go to a ryokan to fully immerse yourself in Japanese culture, unwind and enjoy all the facilities such as hot spring baths.
Even though Toon is a rather small city, it abounds with treasures. As soon as I arrived there, I immediately checked-in my inn, Riraku. Located in front of a parking lot, it has the advantage of being close to a wide array of shops, such as the vast supermarket just a few metres from there. I know this may not be the kind of charming setting you were expecting when I mentioned an authentic stay. But worry not, you only need to walk about ten metres to find yourself in front of a gorgeous view on the rice fields and mountains. This is what Japan is all about: the perfect balance between convenience and tradition.
From the moment I arrived, I received a friendly welcome from the entire staff, who then gave me a tour of the place before leading me to my room. I have to say my expectations were fully met, with a peaceful atmosphere that only the Japanese know how to create. From the corridors to the dining room and the multiple rest rooms, the Riraku inn offers a nice setting, truly made for relaxation.
An exceptional onsen
Without waiting any longer, I decide to indulge in my favorite thing to do when staying in a ryokan: dipping in hot spring baths, called onsen. I was lucky enough to try several of them since I arrived in Japan, but trust me when I say onsens like this one are quite rare. On top of being open from 5pm to 1am (please go to the map at the end of the article to find all the details and practical information about the ryokan), the “Minara Tennen Onsen” of the Riraku ryokan in Toon is known for being one of the most famous baths in Japan, drawing from a hot spring that goes as deep as 1500 metres underground!
True to its reputation, Minara Tennen Onsen does not only offer one bath but eleven in total, each of them more beautiful than the previous one. From the indoor to the outdoor area, I could swim in a water filled with therapeutic benefits as hot as 40 degrees. However not a huge fan of hot baths in the middle of summer I preferred the small bathtub filled with cold water in which I basked for a good 15 minutes.
The most difficult part with onsens is coming to the decision of going out of them. That’s when intense relaxation turning into exhaustion started to get the best of me that I decided to go back to my room, in a contemplative state.
What better way to wake up than starting the day by a walk outside in the early morning? With the restaurant still closed when I woke up, I decided to make the most of my time there to wander around the rice fields and take in the landscape. I could spot a few traditional houses standing in the middle of the fields of Toon. Probably those of local farmers, whom I could already see working this early in the morning.
A Japanese style breakfast
At 7 o’clock, breakfast buffet was open perfectly with the gurgles in my belly. That’s when I headed to the restaurant to enjoy Japanese breakfast. In Japan, as most people know, it is common to seat on the floor, on small cushions, during meal time. I can’t really explain why but I find that rather friendly and cozy!
Unlike European breakfast buffets, you will be served here a multitude of healthy options, ranging from noodles to rice, as well as salads, soups and fresh fruits, to accompany meat or fish. Everyone is free to compose their own plate before taking a seat on the floor at a low table.
I would be lying if I didn’t mention I much prefer a sweet breakfast. That being said, I always try my best to eat as healthy as possible whenever I have the occasion. I took this buffet as an opportunity to fill my plate with various new flavors and to recharge my batteries for the day!
Discover the Botchan theatre
Early in the afternoon, I went to the Botchan theatre, located only five minutes by walk from the ryokan. One of the biggest advantages of traveling as a blogger is to discover and experiment some things I probably never would have on my own. And guess what? Attending a Japanese musical in a small independent theatre is one of those things!
As soon as I arrived, the owner and staff gave me a warm welcome before quickly explaining the history of the Botchan theatre. This small regional theatre, that opened back in 2006, presents plays inspired by local history and traditional Japanese culture. Given the fact that I cannot speak a word of Japanese (ok, maybe one or two but not more), a short summary of the play I was about to see was made to me so that I would not feel too confused.
As I have German roots in the family, I was glad to discover that the musical was telling a love story between a German soldier and a Japanese woman during World War I. Just what I needed not to feel too homesick!
A moving comedy
What’s magical with theatre is to be able to feel emotions without quite understanding the rest. I have overall never been a big fan of watching plays but to my biggest surprise, the quality of acting, the songs and the touches of humour of this musical have sincerely moved me! To top it all off, I even had the chance to meet the actors, who seemed as delighted as I was to pose together for a photo 🙂
If each and every one of my trips to the Japanese countryside have always left me with the same feeling, it is one of kindness and generosity of the locals. If you are looking to step off the beaten paths and experience places that are both peaceful and vibrant, consider making a stop in Toon, in Ehime Prefecture, where you will be undoubtedly welcomed with open arms!
Original text: Pierre Babin
Translation: Marion Pont