The entrance to the famous Dogo Onsen.
The white egret on the roof.
The old stone baths.
The resting area for the imperial bath.
The north side of the building with the old entrances still visible.
“Keep an eye out for the egret – it’s everywhere,” says Kenshi Katano, an employee at Dogo Onsen. “You’ll see it in the emblems and designs around the building. There’s even one on the roof.”
According to legend, a white egret pointed to the natural hot spring bubbling up at Dogo in Matsuyama over 3,000 years ago. Onlookers saw the egret dip its injured leg into the healing waters and cure itself. This marked the beginning of Dogo Onsen, the oldest onsen hot spring in Japan.
The main building, or honkan, was built in 1894 and caters for the thousands of bathers and visitors that flood through its doors every day. Approximately 800,000 people visit the baths every year, working out at roughly 2,000 per day and 8,000 on national holidays.
You might recognize the building. It directly inspired the hot spring featured in Miyazaki Hayao’s highly acclaimed Ghibli animation ‘Spirited Away’. According to Katano, there was a surge in visitors after the film received global attention. It also features in the famous Michelin Guide.
As we approached the main ticket counter, Katano guided me around the outside of the building. He pointed to the egret on top of the watch tower on the roof.
“Do you see the way it faces?”
I could see the perched statue of the egret faced away from the busy entrance – it was pointing north.
“The old entrance was on the north side of the building, you can still make out the old entrances to the different baths,” explained Katano, pointing out evidence of Dogo Onsen’s transformation through the ages. “They still sound a taiko drum from the watchtower three times a day; at 6am when the onsen opens, at midday and at 6pm. It’s a tradition from a time when people didn’t carry watches.”
As we walked farther, we came to the eastern entrance – built and maintained for the exclusive use of the Japanese Emperor. My ticket to Dogo Onsen included a tour of the Imperial bath. Although it’s a famous part of the building, the bath has only been used a handful of times. Nevertheless, the decadence of the gold and silver leaf shoji screens and the reinforced hardwood ceiling to stop potential assassins were impressive. It was interesting to hear the ritual of imperial bathing, including how the emperor wears a thin silk gown when he bathes.
Next it was my turn to experience the famous waters for myself. As I washed and entered the stone bath, the water did feel different. The stone baths made from a special granite sourced from Kagawa were unlike any of the usual hot spring baths you see in Japan. The water left my skin feeling smooth and rejuvenated.
Afterwards I learned from Katano the waters in Dogo are blended, not heated. In many parts of Japan, spring water is heated in boilers before circulating to the bath. But in Dogo, the water is a blend of 18 natural hot springs, all rising up from the earth with temperatures ranging from 20 degrees to 55 degrees. The spring water is blended to a comfortable 42 degrees before flowing into the baths. The gentle alkalinity of the water also means it’s safer for people with sensitive skin.
You can buy options to enjoy traditional Japanese tea and snacks as you relax on the tatami in a yukata gown after your bath. There’s a choice between the open relaxation floor, or, for a little extra, a small private tatami room. Whichever you choose, taking time to unwind after your bath is one of the joys of the experience.
As if to add an extra dimension to this adventure, the world famous Japanese photographer and director Mika Ninagawa is holding a temporary exhibition in the window panels. Famous for her vibrant use of color and floral patterns, she doesn’t disappoint at Dogo. The bright colors give an interesting modern twist to this otherwise highly traditional setting.
I noticed Dogo Onsen is actively creating grand art projects and installations. Walk through the popular shopping arcade outside and you’ll see photographs and artworks on display at various times of the year by prominent artists.
A clear example of Dogo Onsen’s artistic and creative direction is their newly opened bathhouse ‘Asukanoyu’. Only 100 meters away from the main building, this tastefully designed hot spring was created with a view to recreate Dogo Onsen as it had been during the Asuka Period (592CE to 710CE).
They invited top craftsmen and artisans from across the region to fashion new and sometimes experimental installations, while using traditional materials and methods. The beautiful intricate designs on the Japanese washi-paper banners that stretch across the entrance hall are all the more astounding when you hear they naturally remove excess moisture from of the air.
The bath itself was a recreation of the baths at Dogo. Although there was a splash of the twenty-first-century. Every once in a while, a moving projection mapped image of birds, clouds and sky appear and shift on the main wall.
Asukanoyu also caters for those who went on the Imperial bath tour and yearn to experience it for themselves. They created two exact replicas of the Imperial bath chamber, which you can reserve to soak in private. They even provide you with a modern version of the Imperial bathing gown.
I felt immersed in history when I bathed in Dogo. As I reclined into the warm water, I felt a strange feeling of connection with the past and the future. A feeling of connectedness with the countless people who journeyed to these waters through the ages and to those who would come for centuries into the future. It was an experience to savor and one not to miss on any trip to Shikoku and Matsuyama.
Photographs & Text by Tom Miyagawa Coulton
Hours: 6am to 11pm
Address: 5-6 Dogoyunomachi, Matsuyama, Ehime
Hours: 7am to 11pm (reservations can be made 3 months in advance)
Address: 19-22 Dogoyunomachi, Matsuyama, Ehime
Give us your Like
Setouchi Finder Editorial Dept.
> Speaking of Setouchi, the must-eat item is seafood! – A selection of 7 spots where you can try fresh seafood.
> A selection of 7 cafes and restaurants in Setouchi with superb scenery and views of the sea.
> A tranquil garden full of Japanese beauty and a huge carpet of green moss. / Gallery Teahouse Kokemushiro (Seiyo-shi, Ehime)
> 3 places for barhopping in Yokogawawhich carefully selected by a “hard-drinking” writer / Nice Yukari, Gohan-ya Haru-chan, and Trois Copain
> Please fully enjoy local sake brewed in Tokushima at the shop where you can “buy and drink.” / Taro Saketen (Tokushima-shi, Tokushima)
> A century-old Japanese house which an Onomichi merchant used as a villa has been renovated for accommodation. / The house rental “Kujira Bekkan” (Onomichi-shi, Hiroshima)
> An inn where you can find “ordinary Kobe” / Guesthouse MAYA (Kobe-shi, Hyogo)
> This could be the best choice for your stay in Awajishima! How about having a family trip while staying at a hot spring resort where you can get a great ocean view? / Hotel New Awaji Group (Sumoto-shi, Hyogo)
> Come and see, rail fans! A new base for a circular sightseeing tour in Shikoku, which is produced by JR SHIKOKU./ 4S STAY Awaikeda Sta.(Miyoshi-shi, Tokushima)
> Books, a bar, and international exchange!? 3 selections of hotel and guesthouses which have attractive little perks in the center of Hiroshima / (KIRO Hiroshima -THE SHARE HOTELS-, EN HIROSHIMA, and 36HOSTEL)
> Visit historic spots in the city center of Hiroshima on foot and learn about the history of peace (Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima)
> This is the ultimate soothing trip – feel the sense and the heart of Japan in Uchiko Town and Ozu City in Ehime.
> Beauty exists in every detailed corner of your eyesight! 8 spots where you can see wonderful views of Setouchi and its beautiful islands.
> Visiting the well-known “power spots” where mystical energy flows! This northern drive route visits temples, shrines, and cultural heritage sites in Tottori, Shimane, and Yamaguchi
> A continual stream of natural beauty which will make your heart tremble! The eastern drive route covers the best viewing spots in Okayama, Hyogo, and Tokushima
> Let’s enjoy a liberating new Setouchi voyage by “SEA SPICA”!
> The last report on the shipbuilding of “SEA SPICA,” the high-speed sightseeing cruiser for island hopping in Setouchi -Vol.5. STU48 members attended the launching ceremony. / West Japan Railway Company 【PR】
> A report on the shipbuilding of “SEA SPICA,” the high-speed sightseeing cruiser for island hopping in Setouchi -Vol.4. STU48 members paint the ship’s logo! / West Japan Railway Company 【PR】
> A report on the merging of the superstructure and the base of “SEA SPICA,” the high-speed sightseeing cruiser for island hopping in Setouchi Vol.3 by members of STU48 / West Japan Railway Company 【PR】
> A report on the shipbuilding of “SEA SPICA,” the high-speed sightseeing cruiser for island hopping in Setouchi. Vol.2 shows you the “Reversal Procedure” where the ship is turned over. / West Japan Railway Company 【PR】
> Shimanami Kaido - Cyclist's Paradise
> Onomichi U2 and the Giant Store – the perfect partners for enjoying the Shimanami Kaidō
> Eating, Cycling & Getting Warm : Akiyoshidai Karst Road (Mine City, Yamaguchi Prefecture)
> Kasaoka Island Hopping by Bike : A perfect 2-day trip! (Okayama)
> A Rare Lighthouse & Spelunking!? Traversing Ogijima by Bicycle! (Ogi, Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture)
> “ONOMARU SHOUTEN” is the shop which has all of Onomichi’s fascinations. / JR Onomichi Ekisha (Onomichi-shi, Hiroshima)
> Kobe Shopping: 3 Distinct Local Brands to Bring Home（Kobe, Hyogo）【PR】
> Experience the ancient way of salt making on Kamikamagari-jima Island on the Tobishima Kaido in Aki-nada! / Kamagari Ancient Salt Making Remains Restoration Pavilion & “Amabito-no-Moshio” (Kure-shi, Hiroshima)
> “Meika Shitatsuzumi, ”a Japanese sweet from Yamaguchi which is soft, pleasant and melty on your tongue / San-in-do (Yamaguchi-shi, Yamaguchi)
> Let’s enjoy taking a walk down the shopping street near Matsuyama Castle./Matsuyama Ropeway Shopping Street (Matsuyama-shi, Ehime Prefecture)
See more articles about "Others"OthersList
Kobe City Himeji City Amagasaki City Akashi City Nishinomiya City Sumoto City Ashiya City Itami City Aioi City Toyooka City Kakogawa City Ako City Nishiwaki City Takarazuka City Miki City Takasago City Kawanishi City Ono City Mita City Kasai City Sasayama City Yabu City Tanba City Minamiawaji City Asago City Awaji City Shiso City Kato City Tatsuno City Inagawa Taka Inami Harima Ichikawa Fukusaki Kamikawa Taishi Kamigori Sayo Kami Shinonsen
- Okayama Pref.
- Hiroshima Pref.
- Yamaguchi Pref.
- Tokushima Pref.
- Kagawa Pref.
- Ehime Pref.