Dogo Onsen 道後温泉
This is the view that inspired Miyazaki's 'Spirited Away'.
The pedestrianized streets in Dogo Onsen are a joy to walk.
The entrance to the famous Dogo Onsen, that inspired Miyazaki
An Iconic Hot Spring
The most famous hot spring in Japan annually receives more than one million visitors: welcome to Dogo, attended by the imperial family and a source of inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki.
Northeast of Matsuyama lie the seven springs of Dogo Onsen, probably the oldest in Japan: people have bathed here since at least the eighth century. The buildings that house the onsen date back to the late nineteenth century: pretty timber structures, topped by egrets, amid a busy area, visited by bathers who walk casually in yukata down the pedestrianised street.
It is the mayor's neighborhood that had the Dogo Onsen Honkan built, its main building (1894), in the idea of a seaside town of Matsuyama. Built of wood with a Meiji flair, this imposing three-story building conceals a labyrinth of corridors, balconies and lounges. The yushinden, imperial bath, added to the old structure in 1899, has a separate entrance and bath.
Therapy and inspiration
According to legend, a couple of egrets, one wounded in the leg, bathed in the springs of Dogo, and emerged completely healed. Therefore the waters of Dogo Onsen are said to have therapeutic properties. This story may be truer than it sounds when you know that the Japanese only started bathing in hot springs after seeing animals in them first. The fence and the top of Dogo Onsen are decorated with small white egrets, recalling the origins of the bathroom.
The place has inspired many writers, poets and filmmakers. The most famous is probably Soseki Natsume, who describes Dogo Onsen in one of his most famous novels, Botchan. It is honored everywhere in town: an old car and the old Matsuyama station perfectly recreate the atmosphere of the 1906 novel.
The poet Masaoka Shiki, a cursed Japanese poet who died of tuberculosis at age 35, also wrote some haiku about Dogo Onsen. Native to Matsuyama, a museum is dedicated to him in Dogo Koen park.
Finally, Hayao Miyazaki has said he was inspired by the famous wooden building to draw the bathhouse of his equally famous animated film Spirited Away.
Soap and towels are not included in the price of using the baths: remember to bring your own, or rent them on site for ¥50. There are four options for accessing the baths: the first just gives access to the kami-no-yu ("bath of the gods", ¥300), the second includes the rental of a yukata, access to the kami-no-yu and a snack (¥620).
Two other options allow you to enjoy the tama-no-yu, a second, more private bath: the opportunity to have tea and dango mochi after bathing (¥980 - ¥1200), or even enjoy a private lounge on the third floor of Dogo Onsen.
A tip: avoid the end of the afternoon (as well as weekends and holidays), because this is a time when many Japanese tourists come to bathe, and the baths get crowded!