After visiting the Takaraso Hotel, it was time to hit Matsuyama City’s star attractions.

The 道後温泉 (Dōgo Onsen) itself! One of the oldest hot springs in Japan, even mentioned in the 万葉集 (Man’yōshū) – the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry, compiled around 759 AD.

The Dōgo Onsen was the favourite retreat of famous Japanese writer Natsume Sōseki (1867–1916), when he was working near Matsuyama as a teacher in what was at the time rural Shikoku. In Sōseki’s loosely autobiographical novel Botchan, the eponymous main character is a frequent visitor to the springs; the only place he likes in the area.

It was also the inspiration for the bathhouse in Studio Ghibli’s Oscar-winning Spirited Away!

Just in front of the onsen is a shopping arcade, selling traditional local goods.

Literally nothing was 1,080 yen.

Naturally, with the Spirited Away connection, there was an entire store of Ghibli souvenirs inside.

Quite literally となりのトトロ!

And, one slightly precarious chairlift later…

…松山城 (Matsuyama Castle)!

A flatland-mountain castle built in 1603.

I actually arrived an hour before closing, but still had enough time to climb the main keep.

On New Year’s Day, 1784, the castle tower was struck by lightning and burned down completely. The current tenshu was built between 1820 and 1854.

The castle survived the Meiji restoration, but parts of it were destroyed by bombing from American forces during WWII.

Since 1966, the city of Matsuyama has been working to restore the castle.

The Botchan Karakuri Clock, which comes alive every hour with music and figurines of characters from the novel. I actually had no idea that it did anything beyond tell the time, but – by happy coincidence – arrived at 8pm on the dot, just in time to see the show.

After visiting the castle, I’d gone back to the hotel for my towels and toiletries…

…so that I could enjoy the experience of actually bathing in the Dōgo Onsen that evening!

There are a range of courses available through the maze of stairways, passages and bathing rooms in the main building.

I opted for the one which admits bathers to use two of the men’s springs downstairs, before switching to a yukata for for tea and sembei crackers on the middle floor.

The main bath on the first floor is called Kami no Yu (Bath of the Gods), while the smaller but more distinguished Tama no Yu (Bath of the Spirits) is on the second floor.

For obvious (naked stranger) reasons, I couldn’t take photos of the baths themselves, but here’s one I found online!

While Dōgo is largely engulfed in the suburban sprawl of modern-day Matsuyama, the area around the onsen retains the feeling of a resort town, with guests from all over the country wandering the streets in yukata robes after their bath.

One day in, and Matsuyama was fast becoming one of my favourite cities in Japan.

  1. Marc-André says:

    How did I miss this post!!! I love matsuyama and Dogo. One of my relatives is teaching English in Matsuyama itself. 🙂

    We are planning to visit her again in March, can’t wait! And Dogo Onsen is on our list of must do’s hehe

  2. Markus McD says:

    I find Japanese architecture to be fascinating! The shots of Matsuyama Castle made me think of you being a ninja from Tenchu, running along the rooftops haha!

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