I'm more than happy to start my day off on a literal high point, but as we tackle the steep incline up to Matsuyama's hilltop castle, I am beginning to doubt our chosen method of arrival.

It's an unseasonably warm day in this coastal city in northwestern Shikoku, the capital of Ehime Prefecture. Despite our early start, it feels as if the temperature has crept up 10 degrees just in the time it took to cross the sprawling parkland at the base of the castle. Our decision to forgo the chairlift that whisks most visitors to the summit now feels a bit unwise.

Soon, however, the path we're following curves up into the woods, bringing a blessed bit of shade. It switchbacks through a forest of long-needled pines and eventually deposits us below Koraimon Gate, the doorless entryway (and recognized Important Cultural Property) to one of Japan's few remaining original castles.