Although it’s said that the novelty wears thin fast, the best time to visit Uwajima is for one of its bullfights, or tōgyū, the bovine equivalent of sumo wrestling. Some accounts date the sport back four hundred years, while others pinpoint the origins in the nineteenth century, when a Dutch captain made a gift of bulls to the town, after local fishermen came to his ship’s aid during a typhoon. The bulls, weighing in at up to a tonne and treated like pampered pets by their owners, lock horns and struggle either to push each other to the floor or out of the tournament ring. The fights are held five afternoons a year (Jan 2, the first Sun in April, July 24, Aug 14 and the fourth Sun in Oct; details at w www.tougyu.com) at the Tōgyū-jō, a white-walled arena in the hills above the city. Get there an hour early to soak up the atmosphere and watch the bulls being paraded around the ring. The bouts are very good-natured and the enthusiastic crowd is welcoming and friendly. Tickets cost ¥3000 and can be bought on the day at the arena.

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