After spending a day in the Matsuyama Castle and the city center, we reached the better part of our stay in the city – The Dōgo Onsen.
Why is Dōgo Onsenspecial? It is, to me, for these “tri-factors” –
First, it is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan with over 3000-year history. The hot spring has a record in literature back to the 600 A.D.; and it’s been the most visited, historic and popular hot spring area in Japan.
Second, it has a deep connection with the one of the most influential Japanese writer, Natsume Sōseki (who in fact was printed on the 1000 yen-dollar notes). Born in Matsuyama, the Dōgo Onsen bathhouse was the Natsume’s favorite retreat, and his famous autobiography – “Botchan” took place in Matsuyama, which explains why the figure of the characters in this book are displayed everywhere in the area.
Lastly, the Dōgo Onsen served as the backdrop of Natsume’s novel stories; the public bathhouse – also served as an inspiration for Miyazaki’s animated film “Spirited Away”. The entire hot spring area was the blueprint of the blockbuster, and the bathhouse is definitely the icon of a traditional, hot spring experience.
The Dōgo Onsen is situated with close proximity to the Matsuyama city area and its conveniently connected by tram. We found a very nice hot spring hotel in the district – Chaharu. It has a very nice hot spring on the top floor, which connects to the roof-top outdoor hot spring area. The hotel is basically the tallest building in the area, and I did enjoy very much the peace and quiet soaking in the hot spring, looking over the city lights and feeling the crispy spring Japanese breeze.
The tram station itself embraced charmingly the classic Meiji-time style and that’s the starting point of the steam automotive -“Botchan Ressha” 坊っちゃん列車, a train display allows visitors taking photos next to the train.
Next to the station, there’s an outdoor public hot spring to soak your feet; the clock tower chimes hourly and the “Botchan” characters come to live at the musical performance.
“Botchan” characters – the figures are displayed everywhere.
Walk along the shopping street. I was pleasantly surprised by the snacks and desserts that they were selling. We were visiting in spring-time and Tangerine flavor “Omiyage” (Locale souvenirs) were overwhelming – cookies, cakes, juices, grilled fish, snacks, sweets….. Personally, I love citrus flavor and all of them tasted perfect. So fresh. We bought some fresh tangerine as a late night snack after dinner as well.
Last but definitely not least, the Dōgo Onsen bathhouse was the highlight of the area. It is just a bathhouse, not a ryokan (hotel); for an old-school Japanese bathing experience, a small fee of 400 yen offers you the access of the public bathing area on the ground floor, an extra (800yen) for the access to the lounge on the second floor and have a tea after-bath, for 1200 yen, you could access to another public bathing area on the second floor or 1500 yen – you get to visit the private resting lounge. (Also, there’s an entrance fee for viewing the Natsume’s resting lounge – the Botchan room on the second floor) (bring your own towel for the bath or you may need to rent one).
We stayed in the nearby hot spring hotel, Chaharu, the entrance to the bathhouse was probably more about “looking” at the interior and had an experience of what it’s like. We did dressed in out bathrobes and outdoor slippers and walked around the area :P.
But this was not the end… the next day we explored a little bit further to the ishite-ji (Shrine), which is part of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Have you heard of the Shikoku Pilgrimage? It is a multi-site pilgrimage of a total of eighty-eight temples (四国八十八箇所) once started by the Japanese Buddhist monk Kūkai. It was considered an important part of Japanese religious practice and until now, lots of believers (or pilgrims) would still dress in a distinctive sedge hat, white suit and a wooden stick (金剛杖) to walk through the 1200 km trail that was once done a thousand years ago. The shrine was probably not much, but the story behind it was quite powerful… with strength and faith, human beings overcome everything.
Nearby the hot spring area was the Dōgo Onsen park – which is also a popular cherry blossom viewing location. Luckily we did visit there during the full bloom and the locals waste no time celebrating the festivals under the beautiful trees.
Continuing our journey (which I recommend others, too.), we left the hot spring area in the afternoon and headed to Hiroshima by ferry.
There’s a shuttle bus at the bus stop right next to the tram station, and it took us ~ 45 mins to get to the Matsuyama terminal. Speedboat took us from Matsuyama port to Hiroshima in less than 1.5 hours.