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Dogo Onsen, located in the city of Matsuyama, is one of the oldest and most famous hot springs in Japan. Its unique ambiance has enchanted visitors for centuries. To experience its legendary waters first hand, our writer visited Shikoku for the first time!
Dogo Onsen, located in the city of Matsuyama, is the most famous hot spring in Shikoku. The hot spring area is known as one of Japan’s Three Ancient Springs (*1) due to its appearance in Japanese mythology.
Have you ever wondered what a hot spring that has been enjoyed since ancient times would be like?
Our writer—a Tokyo photographer—paid a visit to Dogo Onsen Honkan, a legendary bathhouse in the Dogo Onsen area. She was excited to embark on her first trip to Shikoku!
This article features a first-hand account of her experience.
*1 Japan’s Three Ancient Springs: Hot springs noted in Japanese history since ancient times. These are Arima Onsen (Hyogo), Dogo Onsen (Ehime), and Shirahama Onsen (Wakayama).
Dogo Onsen Station is the nearest stop when accessing Dogo Onsen Honkan by train.
You’ll find a foot bath at the entrance of Dogo Shopping Street, an arcade that stretches north from the station square.
This spot is called Hojoen Square.
There is a peaceful aura around the foot bath; perhaps this is inspired by the Yamatai-koku (*2) figure engraved on the fountain.
According to legend, an injured white egret found a thermal spring flowing from rocks. The egret soaked its injured leg in the spring and completely cured its wound. This is the tale behind the birth of Dogo Onsen.
The Egret Stone, imprinted with the footprint of this mythical bird, can be found next to the foot bath.
*2 Yamatai: a country that existed in the Japanese archipelago between the second and third century.
You'll find Dogo Onsen Honkan on the far side of the shopping street. The Japanese-style building that houses the ancient hotspring has an immense presence.
While the bathhouse has a historical air, the building was actually reconstructed in the 1890s to become the impressive structure it is today.
There are two baths in Dogo Onsen Honkan. Kami-no-Yu is the larger bath, while Yama-no-Yu (*) is the smaller one. In addition to the bathing facilities, you can choose to relax in the lounge or enjoy tea and snacks.
This time, our writer chose the Kami-no-Yu Package (840 yen), which includes access to the bath, the lounge, yukata rental, and tea and snacks.
(*) As of August 2021, only entry to Tama-no-Yu is available due to ongoing repair work. The lounge is not open for use.
Without further ado, let’s head inside Dogo Onsen Honkan!
Our visit took place during an evening in early January. The interior of the bathhouse exudes a mysterious atmosphere with its dim lights and shoji sliding doors.
It's easy to see how Dogo Onsen Honkan became one of the inspirations for the bathhouse in Studio Ghibli’s animated film Spirited Away.
It almost feels like you’re passing into a parallel universe when you walk from the entrance to the baths. You can’t help but feel a mysterious, spellbinding presence.
Picture courtesy of Dogo Onsen Office
The women’s bath in Kami-no-Yu is shrouded in thick steam. It’s a simple layout that consists of a single oval-shaped bath.
The water flows freely from a colorless and transparent wellspring. The smooth water was gentle on the skin and didn’t cause any dizziness from the heat.
You can't help but imagine that a deity is bathing right next to you, like in “Spirited Away!”
Picture courtesy of Dogo Onsen Office
This tatami banquet hall is on Kami-no-Yu’s second floor lounge.
We ate our senbei rice cracker in a blink of an eye!
Our writer took her time in the hot spring, fluttering with excitement at bathing in such a famous onsen. After the bath, she enjoyed a delicious cup of tea and senbei rice cracker in the Japanese-style lounge.
She had an extraordinary experience while enveloped in a wondrous ambience.
Our writer left marveling that bathing in one of Japan’s Three Ancient Springs and enjoying tea and snacks was just 840 yen. This was a stark contrast to hot springs back home that cost as much as 1,500 yen.
Dogo Onsen Station looked even more romantic shrouded in the dusk; no wonder Dogo Onsen’s mysterious charm and reasonable price continues to draw visitors!
Main image courtesy of Dogo Onsen Office