Soak in the oldest and enchanting historical Onsen
If you’ve been staying in Japan for some time now, most likely you have been to onsen. For those who are onsen lovers it won’t be complete without soaking into the oldest and most famous onsen in Japan – Dogo Onsen. A wooden structure back in Meiji period, used as public bath. With minor renewal the place have been preserved to maintain its original form even its complex indoor structure that is noticeable right after you enter the enchanting place. Since it is built in the ancient times, unlike today’s organize onsen, the system for bathing inside Dogo is quite confusing. But the intricate process is one of the best part of the experience.
Dogo Onsen is very accessible because it is right in the center of Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture. There are plenty of hotels, and ryokans (japanese hotel) around the area. In front of Dogo onsen is a shopping arcade. Dogo is famous in the old times as frequently visited by the imperial family and the great Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki who authored the “Botchan”. Inside the three story bath house, one room has the photos of the famous novelist and his works. There is also a foot bath and watch tower near the area, the huge clock produces sound three times a day.
How to Get There:
→ four minute walk from Dogo Onsen Station
→ from JR Matsuyama Station, take tram line 5 (20 minutes, 160 yen)
→ from Matsuyama-shi Station, take tram line 3 (15 minutes, 160 yen)
Most of the people visiting Dogo Onsen stay for a night or few nights in the ryokans or hotels near the onsen. Most hotels provide bath towel, sleepwear yukata and geta (slippers) that can be used or changed to before going to the Dogo onsen or wander around the vicinity. Or anyone can enter the place with plain normal clothes.
BATHING IN DOGO ONSEN
1. Leave your things in the hotel. Change to yukata. Bring your toiletries (some hotels provide basket bag for toiletries). Use the wooden slipper (geta).
2. Walk to Dogo Onsen. In front of Dogo is a shoutengai a shopping arcade with restaurants, different stores selling souvenirs.
3. Tickets are sold at the ticketing window just beside the building’s entrance. The onsen closes at 11 in the evening but tickets are sold until 9 in the evening only.
⇒bath area on the 1st floor (quite crowded)
⇒ no access to the upper tatami snack rooms
⇒rental towel and soap – additional 50 yen
♦Another three choices (includes rental yukata use to change before/after bathing while eating the snack in the respective floor rooms.)
⇒ 840 yen = basic bath in the first floor followed by tea and senbei (rice cracker) on the 2nd floor tatami room
⇒ 1,250 yen = tama-no-yu (water of the spirits) separate smaller bath, followed by tea and dango (sweet dumplings) on the 2nd floor tatami room
⇒ 1,550 yen = tama-no-yu (water of the spirits) separate smaller bath, after bath snack (tea and dango) in a private tatami room on the 3rd floor.
In case you’re confused about which path to follow, Soseki Natsume writes in Botchan that it’s always wise to go 1st class.
4. With a purchased ticket guests use the wide entrance to get inside the shoe locker area. Shoes are placed in a small locker that requires a 100 yen deposit but refunded during exit.
5. The bath areas are separated by gender, while the waiting area or snack room is shared depending on the purchased pass. The place is filled with Japanese and English signage but order can be quite confusing that is why guide staff are all around the place directing guests.
6. ♦for the basic bath only
⇒proceed to the kami-no-yu changing room, use the free lockers as storage
⇒proceed to kami-no-yu bath area (wide but crowded)
♦ｆor the 840 and 1,250 yen batｈ
⇒proceed to 2nd floor receive the yukata
⇒return to the changing room posted as kami-no-yu or tama-no-yu
⇒after bathing, use the yukata dress and proceed upstairs (2ndflr) for the tea and rice cracker
♦for the highest price (allowed time is only 1 hour and 30 minutes that includes bath and snack)
⇒proceed on the 3rd floor, a staff escorts guests to their own private tatami room. Inside is a kotatsu table, closet for storage, towels and yukata
⇒change clothes to yukata
⇒proceed to the tama-no-yu bath
⇒after the bath, enjoy the tea and special dango (dumpling) in complete privacy while gazing down the street view and structure of the building.
5. Regardless of the ticket price purchased, every visitor is entitled for a tour inside the onsen and the other parts of the rooms. A Japanese tour guide explains further details about the artifacts and functions of the other rooms and private baths which was last used by the royal family. Another room also show case the works of the famous author Soseki Natsume.
Located at the east side of the main building is the Yushinden – a bathroom only reserved for the exclusive use of the imperial family. Though is it not already use for bathing this days, the guests are allowed have a glimpse of the impressive old style bath room.
Even on weekdays there are still a lot of visitors especially at night. Be the first to use, alone, the tama-no-yu bath by visiting early in the morning and indulge in the grandeur of Dogo onsen as you begin to create images of the past and examines every corner of the place. Though tama-no-yu bath seems to be plain in structure, the preserved old small-spaced bath area gives a feeling as if being vacuumed back 3000 years ago.
I really recommend paying a visit and trying any onsen in Japan especially those that connects to the history like Dogo Onsen. Because these practices and places might one day come to an end or be forgotten.
check Snagonism ‘s japanese entry ⇒ Dogo onsen