The Shikoku Passport gives discounts for both Matsuyama Castle and Dogo Onsen.

Dogo Onsen

Dogo Onsen boasts a 3,000-year history and claims to be the oldest hot-spring spa in Japan. According to legend, the hot springs were discovered after a white heron healed an injured leg by soaking it in the thermal mineral waters. Located in the city's northeast, about a 20-minute streetcar ride from Matsuyama Station (take streetcar no. 5 to Dogo Onsen, the last stop), Dogo Spa can accommodate about 7,000 people in 34 hotels and ryokan, which means the narrow streets resound at night with the slap of thonged slippers and the occasional clatter of geta (wooden platform sandals) as vacationers go to the various bathhouses dressed in yukata (cotton robes). Friendly conversations start as tourists gather on the hour to see the Bochan clock (across from the historic Dogo Onsen streetcar station, built in 1895), an animated clock featuring characters from Natsume Soseki's novel, and soak their feet in the nearby foot bath, one of 10 foot baths scattered through Dogo Onsen. Be sure to stop at the Dogo Onsen Tourist Information Center, located at the entrance to the shopping arcade, on the right.


Most of the hotels and ryokan in Dogo have their own onsen, but I suggest that no matter where you stay, you make at least one trip to Dogo Onsen Honkan, 5-6 Yunomachi, Dogo (tel. 089/921-5141), a wonderful three-story public bathhouse built in 1894. A wooden structure with shoji screens, tatami rooms, creaking wooden stairways, and the legendary white heron topping the crest of its castlelike roof, this Momoyama-style building is as much a social institution as it is a place to soak and scrub. On busy days, as many as 4,000 people pass through its front doors. The water here is transparent, colorless, tasteless, and alkaline, helpful for rheumatism and neuralgia. At the very least, it makes your skin feel soft and smooth. The hottest spring water coming into the spa is 120°F (49°C); the coolest, 70°F (21°C). But don't worry -- the waters are mixed to achieve a comfortable 108°F (42°C).

Bathing in the ground-floor granite bath, however, is just a small part of the experience here. Most people come to relax, socialize, and while away an hour or more, and I suggest you do the same. Although you can bathe for as little as ¥400 for adults and ¥150 for children 2 to 11, it's worth it to pay extra for the privilege of relaxing on tatami mats in a communal room on the second floor, dressed in a rented yukata, drinking tea from a lacquered tea set, and eating Japanese rice crackers. If the weather is fine, all the shoji screens are pushed open to let in a breeze, and as you sprawl on the tatami, drinking your tea and listening to the clang of the streetcar and voices of people coming and going, you can imagine that you've landed in ancient Japan. To my mind, the entire scene resembles an old woodblock print suddenly come to life. Be sure to take a peak inside the Botchan Room, said to be the favorite room of novelist Natsume Soseki.

The cost of the bath, yukata, crackers, and tea for 1 hour is ¥800. Use of a smaller, more private bath and lounging area for an hour where tea and crackers are also served costs ¥1,200 and includes a visit to Yushinden . And if you really want to splurge for 1 hour and 20 minutes, you can rent a private tatami room on the third floor, which also comes with tea, sweets, and yukata, for ¥1,500. Children 2 to 11 years old pay half-price for all these fares. This differentiation in luxury probably dates from the early days when there were separate baths for the upper class, priests, commoners, and even animals.


While at the spa, be sure to see the Yushinden, special rooms built for the imperial family in 1899 for their visits to the spa and last used in 1952. You can take a tour of its rooms for ¥250 for adults and ¥120 for children.

The spa is open daily 6am until 11pm, but you must enter by 10:30pm. You must enter the second and third floors, both of which close at 10pm, by 9 and 8:40pm respectively; you must enter the Yushinden by 9pm.

A Nearby Temple -- After your bath, you may want to visit Ishiteji Temple, 2-9-21 Ishite (tel. 089/977-0870), about a 15-minute walk east of Dogo Onsen Station; from the station, walk under the neon archway and keep going straight east. Established in 728, it's the 51st of Shikoku's 88 sacred temples. Its main Nio-mon Gate, built in 1318 with a blend of Chinese and Japanese styles, is a good example of architecture of the Kamakura Period. You'll see statues of Kobo Daishi, as well as an old-fashioned arcade of stalls that seems little changed over the decades. Notice the huge straw sandals at the main gate; those with feet or leg ailments are thought to regain their health by touching them. You'll also see regular-size sandals at the temple, donated by older Japanese in hopes of regaining new strength in their legs (who knows, maybe they've been walking the pilgrimage). Behind the main temple is a tunnel containing stone statues representing the 88 temples of Shikoku; pausing in front of each statue is considered a short circuit to the actual pilgrimage, convenient for those who don't have time for the real thing but still hope for the pilgrimage's blessings. And by the way, all those paper cranes you see in front of the main hall were folded in prayer for world peace, a practice that started with the American invasion of Iraq. The temple is open 24 hours.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.