Dōgo Onsen Honkan

activities / Health & wellness

Dōgo Onsen Honkan information

Location
Matsuyama , Japan
Address
5-6 Dōgo-yunomachi
Opening hours
6am-10pm, to 11pm for Kami-no-Yu
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The main building at Dōgo Onsen, Dōgo Onsen Honkan, was constructed in 1894, and designated as an important cultural site in 1994. The three-storey, castle-style building incorporates traditional design elements, and is crowned with a statue of a white heron in commemoration of its legendary origins.

Although countless famous people have passed through its doors, Dōgo Onsen Honkan rose to popularity following its inclusion in the famous 1906 novel Botchan , which was authored by Sōseki Natsume, the greatest literary figure in Japan's modern age. Even if you're well-versed in the ins and outs of onsen culture, Dōgo can be a bit confusing as there are two separate baths (and four pricing options) to choose from. The larger, and more popular of the two baths, is the kami-no-yu (Water of the Gods), which is separated by sex and adorned with heron mosaics. A basic bath costs around ¥300, while a bath followed by tea and senbei (rice crackers) in the 2nd floor tatami room costs around ¥620, and includes a rental yukata (light cotton kimono). A rental towel and soap will set you back a further around ¥50. The smaller and more private of the two baths is the tama-no-yu (Water of the Spirits), which is also separated by sex and adorned with simple tiles. A bath followed by tea and dango (sweet dumplings) in the 2nd floor tatami room costs around ¥980, while the top price of around ¥1200 allows you to enjoy your snack in a private tatami room on the 3rd floor. In case you're confused about which path to follow, Sōseki Natsume writes in Botchan that it's always wise to go 1st class.

Although there are English-language pamphlets on hand to clarify the correct sequence of steps, Dōgo Onsen can still be a bit intimidating if you don't speak Japanese. After paying your money outside, you should enter the building and leave your shoes in a locker. If you've paid around ¥300, go to the kami-no-yu changing room (signposted in English) where you can use the free lockers for your clothing. If you've paid around ¥620 or around ¥980, first go upstairs to receive your yukata , and then return to either the kami-no-yu or tama-no-yu (also signposted in English) changing room. After your bath, you should don your yukata and retire to the 2nd floor tatami room to sip your tea and gaze down on the bath-hoppers clip-clopping by in geta (traditional wooden sandals). If you've paid around ¥1200, head directly to the 3rd floor where you will be escorted to your private tatami room. Here, you can change into your yukata before heading to the tama-no-yu changing room, and also return after your bath to sip tea in complete isolation.

Regardless of which path you choose, you are allowed to explore the building after taking your bath. On the 2nd floor, there is a small exhibition room that displays artefacts relating to the bath house including traditional wooden admission tickets. For an extra around ¥210, you can also take a guided tour (in Japanese) of the private imperial baths, which were last used by the royal family in 1950, though they have been preserved for the public interest. On the 3rd floor, the corner tatami room (which was the favourite of Sōseki Natsume) has a small display (in Japanese) on the life of the celebrated author.

It can be reached by the regular tram service, which terminates at the start of the spa's shopping arcade. This arcade is lined with small restaurants and souvenir stores, and leads directly to the front of the Honkan.

Note that Dōgo can get quite crowded, especially on weekends and holidays, though dinner time is usually empty as most Japanese tourists will be dining in their respective inns. If you really want to escape the crowds, however, one minute on foot from the Honkan (through the shopping arcade) is Tsubaki-no-yu (椿の湯), which is Dōgo Onsen's hot-spring annexe, and is frequented primarily by locals. If you don't want a full bath, there are also nine free ashi-yu (足湯; foot baths) scattered around Dōgo Onsen where you can take off your socks and shoes and warm your feet. The most famous one is located in Hojoen Sq just opposite the station at the start of the arcade. Here, you can also check out the Botchan Karakuri Clock (坊ちゃんからくり時計), which was erected as part of Dōgo Onsen Honkan's centennial in 1994, and features figures that re-enact a scene from Botchan each hour from 8am to 10pm.