Well, I can scratch another one off my list - visiting the city of Uwajima!
Anyone born and raised in Seattle as I was, will be immediately familiar with the Asian supermarket chain known as "Uwajimaya" (the "ya" is the Japanese character for store).
Founded in 1928 by a family from Ehime Prefecture, Uwajimaya now has several stores throughout the Pacific Northwest, including their flagship Uwajimaya Village complex in Seattle's International District.
As embarrassing as it is, I actually had no idea that Uwajima was a place name. I certainly had no idea that Uwajima was in Shikoku, let alone my very same prefecture.
Located exactly two hours from Matsuyama City by highway bus, Uwajima is a sleepy little city nestled in the southern tip of Ehime.
The city is most famous for its bullfights (known as "tougyu" in Japanese). This tradition, which dates back to the 17th century, has more in common with modern day sumo wrestling than it does with the flamboyant, red cape swirling Spanish spectacle.
Here, the bovine athletes are treated like royal celebrities. They dine on premium grass and drink sake. This is about as humane as bullfighting can get. There is a complete absence of injury, blood, and death. Still, I felt a bit uncomfortable watching these huge animals ram into each other over and over again. I'm sure that bulls probably do this naturally in the fields all the time. I'm probably just a softy when it comes to animals.
The local snack in these parts is "jakoten," a fried fishcake made from ground up pulp and bones. Though I despised jakoten with a passion upon first eating it, repeated consumption has led me to actually quite like the stuff.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say that frequent visits to Uwajimaya in Seattle helped spur my interest in Japanese language and culture (not to mention sushi intake). There are many gateways through which one can appreciate a foreign culture - I happen to think that food is one of the best. I did (and still do!) find perusing the aisles of foreign food ingredients and household items in Uwajimaya to be absolutely fascinating.
Forget the 88 temples...this was MY pilgrimage.