Less than 20km north of Uwajima, the small country town of UWA-CHŌ (宇和町) makes a very pleasant half-day trip from Uwajima. The highlight is the excellent Museum of Ehime History and Culture (愛媛県歴史文化博物館; Tues–Sun 9am–5.30pm; ¥500). Inside this ultra-modern building sticking out from the hillside is ample space for the spectacular displays inside, which include full-sized replicas of buildings, including a Yayoi-era (330 BC to 300 AD) hut, a street of Meiji-era shops and a small wooden temple. In the centre of the museum is a folklore exhibit, which includes examples of the fabulous portable shrines, costumes and other decorations used in local festivals, such as Uwajima’s Warei Taisai. TV screens also show videos of the festivals.
The train station for Uwa-chō is Uno-machi, less than twenty minutes from Uwajima by the hourly limited express. The museum can be reached by an infrequent bus (¥150) from the stop about five minutes’ walk south of the JR station, along Route 56. To walk up the hill to the museum takes around twenty minutes. On the way, you’ll pass the other reason for visiting this town, a street of well-preserved, white-walled houses known as Naka-chō, which is also the name given to this part of town. Along here is Kaimei School (開明学校; Tues–Sun 9am–5pm; ¥200), a lovely and well-preserved example of a Meiji-period school and one of the oldest extant in western Japan; there’s also a temple and a church house you can look into. Opposite the old schoolhouse is the Uwa Folkcraft Museum (宇和町民具館; Uwa-chō Mingu-kan; Tues–Sun 9am–5pm; free), an immaculate museum that contains a wide range of interesting items that were once in daily use in the town, from bamboo swords and deer costumes used in local festivals to record players and dioramas depicting life during the Edo period.
You can pick up a simple map-cum-guide to the town’s sites in English here, as well as a special ¥400 ticket offering entry to the school, the nearby Memorial Museum of Great Predecessors at Uwa-chō Sentetsu Kinenkan (宇和町先哲記念館; Tues–Sun 9am–5pm; ¥200), and the Rice Museum at Uwa-chō Kome Hakubutsukan (宇和町米博物館; Tues–Sun 9am–5pm; ¥200) on the other side of town. If you’re in a hurry, the latter two can be safely skipped, as there’s little in the way of English explanations, though the rice museum is housed in a lovely 109m-long wooden school building. To reach this street, walk straight ahead from the station through the arch and turn right at the pedestrianized shopping street. Take the first left and then follow the road as it forks right.
For lunch there’s a takeaway sushi joint and a coffee shop offering light meals in the small branch of the Takashimaya department store on the main road, a minute’s walk from the station, but your best bet is the Ristorante Station, which serves pizza and Yebisu beer and is bang opposite the station.