Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s main four islands, and thus often forgotten. The region is known to move a bit of a slower pace than the rest of Japan, having great farm land and more traditional values.
By far the most famous spot on the island is Dogo Onsen Honkan, the emperor bath house. Found in the city of Matsuyama, in the North west of the island, the bath house was built in 1894 to honour Emperor Meiji. The bath house showed that even though the island was disconnected from Kyoto geographically, they were still loyal to the royal family.
The bath house is now more famous for the part it played in inspiring the animé film; ‘Spirited Away’. Being one of the most famous Japanese animated productions ever, thousands of fans are drawn to the location every year. You can examine the ornate bath house, and feel just as Director Hayao Miyazaki must have felt when he came up with the idea for the Aburaya bathhouse that appeared in the film.
Visitors to the location can use any of the baths apart from the Yushinden or imperial section. You can however take a tour of the imperial section seeing where the emperors used to bathe, relax and revitalise themselves. The tour staff are incredible friendly and are very eager to show off everything the bath house has to offer, especially the emperor’s private toilet. It has never been used but the guides will assure you that it is ready for action should the need arise.
The baths inside are gendered, and can get quite busy as this is a popular location. Outside the main building various salesmen compete for customers, selling tickets that allow access to the building. You can pay for just the tour, a basic bath, or a more luxurious bath.
The bath house is separated into levels of exclusivity. The first floor is an old-fashioned bath made of stone and, whilst bigger, will have more customers inside. These baths are known at the ‘Kami no yu’, or bath of the Gods. The second floor houses smaller baths known as the ‘Tama no yu’, or bath of the spirits. Here you can have a little more privacy. Also on this floor is a large communal tatami room where people can relax after their bath and look out at the city of Matusyama through the large balcony. One the third floor is a rest space where visitors can eat or take a nap.
A great gift to buy for your friends back home is soap. You can buy official Dogo Onsen soap from a unique vending machine inside the bath house that is sure to impress your Japanese friends. But if you are more interested in ‘Spirited Away’ rather than the site historical and cultural significance then you can head to the official studio Ghibli shop right outside.
In fact, there is a large number of shops leading up to the bathhouse. There are cafes, souvenir shops, and specialist food stores, all capitalising the tourist who come to see Dogo Onsen Honkan. The most popular shop by far is the Studio Ghibli shop that sells official merchandise aggrandising all of your favourite characters from ‘Spirited Away’ and more.
Dogo Onsen is a great place to visit, weather you want to bath inside or not. There is loads to do at this one fantastic location.
- First floor bath is 410 yen for 60 minutes
- Open from 6AM to 11PM
- Second floor bath is 840 yen for 60 minutes plus access to the tatami room
- Open from 6AM to 10PM
- Just a tour of the emperor’s section is 260 yen
- A Tour plus a bath on the second floor and a rental towel is 1,250 yen
- A tour plus a bath on the second floor, a rental towel, and Japanese snacks on the third floor is 1,550 yen
- Dogo Onsen Honkan is a short walk from Dogo Onsen Station, where three local tram lines terminate
- From JR Matsuyama Station, take tram line 5 for 20 minutes
- From Matsuyama-shi Station, take tram line 3 for 15 minutes
- All trams cost 160 yen in Matsuyama City
- You can fly from Tokyo to Matsuyama in 1 hour and 25 minutes.
- Take a ferry from Yanai, Yamaguchi for 2 hours and 30 minutes
- Or drive or take a bus across the Honshu Shikoku bridge and continue on through Kagawa prefecture