Nihon Shokken Shokubunka Hakubutsukan
One of the weirdest places you can visit in Ehime has to be the head office and factory of Nihon Shokken, a food production company proudly proclaiming on their website that they ship the largest amount of liquid seasonings in Japan.
Their factory is located in the outskirts of Imabari. In a large and heavily industrialized harbor area, full of shipping containers, loading cranes and nondescript industry buildings and offices, you’ll eventually come across a huge replica of the Belvedere Palace, built in the eighteenth century and one of Vienna’s most well-known world heritage sites. But the palace in Imabari isn’t filled with art from masters such as Gustav Klimt.
Instead, this castle has a museum focusing on food culture, with most of the focus on how the company produces their sauces. If you’re more into salad dressings and yakiniku sauces than art, and currently are considering a trip to either Vienna or Imabari, we guess it just got much easier to choose where to go now.
This castle was in fact built to celebrate the 35th anniversary of this successful company, that today is one of the giants in its field, with branch offices and distributors all over the world. It’s construction costs are supposed to have surpassed 8.5 billion yen, when it finally opened for business in October 2006.
Nevertheless, if you ever find yourself in Imabari, perhaps after traversing the Shimanami Kaido, this quirky factory and museum might be worth a visit. What struck us during our visit was the high amount of detail that has gone into the construction of this place. The facade is full of intricate details, and the garden that surrounds it is quite nice too, even though the rest of your surrounding consists of heavy industrial buildings. Wandering around here makes you feel like you’re somewhere in the middle of Disneyland, Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and a movie set with a bit of bubble-era shamelessness sprinkled on top. Unsurprisingly, this location has been used for some of the commercial movies produced by Nihon Shokken as well.
If you want to enter the inside during one of their factory tours, it’s best to make an advance reservation. Also, please note that it’s only open during weekdays, and the entrance fee is 1,000 yen. If you just want to have a look at the garden and the exterior of the palace, which we consider to be the most interesting aspect of this place, the guards will probably let you in during the weekends too. However, there doesn’t seem to be a clear policy about this. Check the official website (Japanese only) for a schedule with the opening dates: http://www.nihonshokken.co.jp/enjoy/index.html
If you’re in Imabari, you most likely already have access to a bicycle. The Nihon Shokken Shokubunka Hakubutsukan is located about 30 minutes by bike from central Imabari. No public transportation options are available, and a taxi ride from JR Imabari Station takes about 15 minutes.