Provincial city - Niihama
(Ehime prefecture, Shikoku)
by Shinichi Yamada
Niihama city, located on Shikoku Island, is surrounded by mountains on its east, west and north sides, and faces the Inland Sea on its north. The population of the city is about 120,000 and the city is the sixth largest city on Shikoku.
This article will introduce Niihama and the traditional culture of Niihama. It takes about 6 hours to travel to Niihama from Tokyo, and it is not easy to travel there from overseas. However, I would be very glad if through this short article you gain interest in Niihama and its regional culture.
History of Niihama (Sumitomo Group and Besshi copper mine)
In Japan, Niihama is known as the town where Sumitomo Zaibatsu (the predecessor of the current Sumitomo Group) established their foundation after they discovered the Besshi copper mine at the end of the 17th century. At that time, the Besshi copper mine was said to turn out the world's largest output of copper. Therefore, despite the fact that Niihama is inconvenient to get to, Niihama developed as an industrial city, and there are many main factories of the Sumitomo Group located in Niihama even now.
The mine itself is now closed, but there is a sightseeing spot built to commemorate it. We can learn about the mining history of the Besshi copper mine, and also enjoy the hot spring and local foods.
Traditional Festival (Taiko-dai Carnival)
The Taiko-dai Carnival, one of the three biggest festivals in Shikoku, is held every October and more than 100,000 tourists visit. "Taiko" means drum and "dai" means cart in English. The origin of Taiko-dai is unclear, but it is said that the cart that carries offerings in order to thank God for the blessings of nature. The carts are about 6600 lbs, 16 ft tall, and 40 ft in length. During the festival, 150 people carry it throughout the town while beating the drum placed inside of the taiko-dai structure, which is hollow. Each area of Niihama has its own Taiko-dai, and there are 53 Taiko-dai total in Niihama.
One of the highlights of the festival is called "Kaki-kurabe". Multiple Taiko-dai are gathered together and lifted with human power only. Each area competes for the strength and harmony of the bearers.
Sweets originated in Niihama (Hatada Marron Taruto)
Hatada Marron Taruto is like a roll cake covered in a citrus-flavored bean paste with chestnuts, wrapped in a sponge cake. It is said that the origin of this sweet is a torta (a roll cake wrapped in jam in Castella) which came from Portugal to Japan about 350 year ago. The jam was changed to bean paste, and current roll cake was developed.
This roll cake is a Japanese-style confectionery and has an elegant and rich taste. It is slightly sweet because of citrus flavor in the paste. It has been awarded the High International Quality Trophy in the Food products Selection every year since 2006.
Like various countries, each town in Japan has an individual history and culture. Niihama is not a famous city even in Japan, but I think my hometown is a wonderful city with its own culture. Did you get interested?