Matsuyama has long been home of Japan’s most famous bath house, the three-storied and labyrinthic Dogo Onsen. According to the locals, the hot spring has been used for nothing less than 3000 years. And what is sure is that the place is mentioned in the Nihon Shoki, Japan’s oldest chronicles dating back from year 720. The bath house, now surrounded by the many high buildings of the neighboring hotels, is known to be one of Miyazaki’s inspiration for Spirited Away‘s huge spa resort. And the place is one of the two onsen to be found in the Heisei 100 landscapes.
Just like in Spirited Away, the Dogo Onsen is a busy bath house, with long corridors, small traps and huge doors, majestic granite bathtub and running employees. The difference are to be found out of the building, in Shikoku’s biggest city, Matsuyama. First, the Dogo Onsen Honkan is not as big as the fictional “Aburaya”. And the place is surrounded by many high hotels, not as beautiful as the Dogo.
The labyrinthic Dogo offers 4 different plans, which are described at the entrance:
- The 410 yen plan, offering only access to the main public bath on the first floor, Kami-no-yu;
- A 840 yen plan offering the same and the possibility to have a rest in the common space of the second floor, where tea and snacks are served;
- A 1250 yen plan, which allows to bath also in the more sophisticated Tama-no-yu, where mikan soap and shampoo are available;
- A final 1550 yen plan, including a longer time in the Dogo (80 minutes instead of 60) and the access to a private resting room. Instead of rice snacks, the plan offers Japanese sweets (some Botchan dango).
The level 3 and 4 plans also allow to visit a private bath built more than a century ago for the imperial family (but used for the last time in 1952). The current building of the Dogo Onsen dates back from 1894.
The Dogo Onsen area is an interesting one, with the numerous guests of the surrounding hotels walking around in colorful yukatas. The convenient way we find to enjoy the unique atmosphere of the place was to stay in Dougoya, which is one of the smallest but most authentic accommodation around. About 5 minutes walking from the Dogo, the former Showa area ryokan opened again some years ago but keeping a nostalgic feeling.
And aside offering seven beautiful and affordable rooms (from 5000 to 6500 yen per person), the place is home of contemporary artworks by the Japanese duo Doppel.
The result of the traditional/contemporary fusion of the place is great, as seen in the “Art room” photos, where a peacock is waiting for the guests.
How to get there?
Dogo Onsen Honken is in the center of Matsuyama, a 20 minutes ride from the JR station using line 5 of the local tramway (160 yen). Reaching Matsuyama from Tokyo involves reaching Okayama, from where the JR Shiokaze Limited Express is running to Shikoku’s biggest city (6,5 hours for the whole trip and about 20000 yen).
Another solution is to travel with night buses, which are running directly from Tokyo to Matsuyama (about 12000 yen, even less with low-cost companies).