LEGENDARY DOGO ONSEN
When in Japan a visit to legendary Dogo Onsen (道後温泉) ought to be high on the list of things to do. This onsen (hot spring), together with Arima Onsen in Hyōgo and Shirahama Onsen in Wakayama, are Japan’s three greatest hot springs. Dogo onsen resides within main building called Honkan that is a “Sansoro” – or 3 tiered roof – style wooden main structure that was completed in 1894. It is a fascinating building for its architecture, ancient history, stunning visual presence and generous spirit. On its Centennial in 1994, it was designated by the government as an important cultural asset – making it the first onsen in Japan ever to recieve this rare honor.
LEGEND OF THE EGRET
Long ago, many egrets lived in Dogo. One day, an egret who injured his shin found a hot spring there. He soaked his shin every day in the hot water. Eventually the egret became well and flew away. People who watched this situation also soaked in the hot spring and their health improved. The news spread that the hot spring was beneficial for ones health, and the hot spring became popular. 
LEGEND OF THE GODS – TAMA NO ISHI
A long time ago, there were two small gods, Okuninushi no Mikoto and Sukunahikona no Mikoto. They came from Izumo to Dogo. Sukunahikona no Mikoto contracted a bad illness and his days were numbered. Okuninushi no Mikoto made Sukunahikona no Mikoto soak in the hot spring. Sukunahikona no Mikoto regained his health, and danced on a stone in the hot spring as proof of his vigor. At that time, his footprint was left, and there is now a stone called Tama no ishi that is exhibited at Dogo Onsen.
Towering high above the street level, within the red-framed Shinro-kaku on the top floor, is a hanging “clock” drum. The sound of this drum was selected by Japanese people as one of the top 100 soundscapes that they wish to preserve. It has a watchtower with red glass windows on the roof, where they beat a time-telling drum three times a day, in the morning and the evening, and at noon. Moreover, the Honkan has a special bath called “Yushinden”. It is the bath exclusive to the Imperial Family, which is only one of its kinds in Japan (a sightseeing tour provided). Take a bath, and sit back and relax in cotton yukata in a spacious tatami salon, or a private room with tea and sweets.
Hidden inside the Honkan (main building) are two variation of a hot spring. – the large Kaminoyu and smaller Tama hot spring. Located upstairs, the Kaminoyu onsen is a large, open area made for onsen-goers to change into a cotton robe balled a “yukata” . After a hot bath, relax while sipping tea and eating sweet cakes in one of the appointed room. The smaller Tamanoyu, is an elegant facility featuring private hot baths and famous for its Botchan Dango rice dumplings and refined setting.
Located east of the Honkan (main building), this beautiful Momoyama Era style structure was built-in 1899 to house a hot bath exclusively for the Japanese Imperial Family. Inside, you’ll behold stunning gold painted scrolls adorning the walls, a Korean style tree-tiered paulownia wood ceiling and other dazzlingly flamboyant features. The bath itself was fashioned out of the best “aji” stone available at the time. Come feast your eyes at this marvelous sight.
Visitors can enjoy soaking in the hot baths followed by relaxing in the traditional guest rooms. There a magical feeling is created for guests by the sounds of gushing water combined with atmospheric mist hovering just above the warm waters.
BOTCHAN KARAKURI CLOCK
This unique and monumental clock sits just outside the entrance to the shopping arcade and across the street from the train station. Adjacent to it is a shallow hot spring for soothing feet in. It is set to ring out at certain intervals, showing a mechanical display of many of the familiar characters appearing in Sōseki’s “Botchan” as it chimes. The clock rings at 6:00 AM, 12 noon and 18:00 in the evening.
DOGO SHOPPING ARCADE
The arcade is a long shopping arcade protected by a dome roof and connecting the Dōgo Onsen Train Station with Dōgo Onsen Honkan. Within the arcade there are are countless shops and restaurants representing the past and present of Matsuyama’s merchant trade. Local specialties are well-represented here including Imabari Towel shop and Mikan (orange) specialist 10 Factory. The shopping arcade is often inhabited by yukata-clothed visitors on a post-onsen stroll. Dōgo is largely engulfed in the suburban sprawl of modern-day Matsuyama, the area around Dōgo retains the feeling of a resort town.
INSPIRATION FOR MIYAZAKI ANIMATION “SPIRITED AWAY”
Dogo Onsen enter the annals of global popular culture recently as the model bathhouse of gods in Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece “Spirited Away” which both won an Academy Award and became the highest grossing movie of all time in Japan. In this animated, coming-of-age film by noted Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, 10-year-old Chihiro and her parents stumble upon a seemingly abandoned amusement park. After her mother and father are turned into giant pigs, Chihiro meets the mysterious Haku, who explains that the park is a resort for supernatural beings who need a break from their time spent in the earthly realm, and that she must work there to free herself and her parents.
…there is something magical in this place that captivates the imagination and lifts creative spirits to new heights
The narrative of the film resides within a mysterious bathhouse, home to a multitude of strange yet intriguing spirits. Miyazaki has stated in interviews that the fictional bathhouse was inspired by an actual bathhouse in his childhood hometown of Matsuyama – the Dogo Onsen. As a child he had imagined it to be filledn with hidden secrets and perhaps even haunted. In the film stairways exist without railings and secret boxes are communication devices for employees to send messages to the crazy old spider creature that lives in the furnace. Watching the film it can all seam so surreal. Standing alone outside the Dogo Onsen at night looking up at its mult-colored, glowing windows one can sense some of those magical qualities Mizyazaki expressed in Spirited Away.
APPEARANCE IN CLASSIC JAPANESE NOVEL BOTCHAN
Dogo Onsen also appeared in another classic Japanese novel called Botchan (1906). Written by renowned novelist Natsume Soseki (夏目漱石) while employed as a teacher in Matsuyama, Botchan contains a mention of a “wonderful onsen” called Dōgo Onsen. The author’s face appeared the Japanese 1000 yen note. Soseki’s friend and mentor, Masaoka Shiki (正岡子規), was a native of Matsuyama and one of the four great masters of haiku.
Dogo Onsen is the oldest and most famous onsen in Japan, with a history stretching back over 3,000 years. One legend of Dogo Onsen suggests the springs of Dogo were discovered during the age of the gods, when a heron placed its injured leg into the hot water and was miraculously healed. The heron motif is everywhere inside the building and also outside – standing at the very top. Tama no ishi, the round rock from which the onsen waters flow, is the source of the symbol for Dogo. According to legend, Prince Shotoku (574-622) the annex Yushinden was built so that the Imperial Family could enjoy Dogo in privacy. There is also an exhibition room that features artifacts from the various stages of Dōgo’s history.
,  from author Akimasa Watanabe’s book Matsuyamajo to Dogo Onsen
SPECIAL NOTE: A massive renovation project on a scale that happens only once a century, with completion forecast for 2024.
Dōgo Onsen Honkan (道後温泉本館)
ADDRESS: 5-6 Yunomachi, Dōgo, Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan
TEL: +81 089-943-8342,