Dogo Onsen reserves bragging rights as being the absolute oldest onsen in Japan. Being located on the humble island of Shikoku, south of the main Honshu island near the west, it doesn’t receive as much spotlight as many other onsen towns in Japan. However, it’s still incredibly rich in history and beautiful in every possible way.
For those of you who have come across Dogo Onsen before, it’s most likely because you’ve been looking into what inspired the stunning visuals in Studio Ghibli’s movies, and thus came across the famous Dogo Onsen Honkan. This onsen is featured in some of the most prominent scenes in Spirited Away, the world-wide acclaimed coming-of-age fantasy movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Many fans of Japanese pop culture will make the effort to visit this place purely to experience the windy corridors of this famous onsen for themselves.
Aside from the Dogo Onsen Honkan, this little hot spring village offers a laid-back vibe that allows visitors to explore its streets on foot, sampling unique food, purchasing exciting souvenirs, and even riding the old-school rickshaw. Read on and learn more about this little exciting onsen town that’s definitely worth a visit!
How To Get to Dogo Onsen
From Tokyo, the easiest and quickest way to get there would be to fly to Matsuyama. You would be looking at spending between 5,500 yen to 16,500 yen (depending on the airline, but these prices are for Jetstar and ANA respectively), and flight times are only 1.5 hours.
Otherwise, you will need to catch the train from Tokyo to Okayama, and then switch to another train to Matsuyama. The entire trip would take between 6.5 hours to 7.5 hours, and will cost around 20,000 yen (either partially or fully covered by the JR Pass, depending on whether you take the Hikari or Sakura, or Nozomi line from Tokyo to Okayama).
After arriving at Matsuyama, you can take the local tram to finally stop at Dogo Onsen station.
If you want to do traditional activities in Dogo Onsen, you can book this tour in advance.
Where to stay in Dogo Onsen
As one of the most popular Ryokan in the Dogo Onsen area, we urge you to get your booking in if a truly authentic traditional Japanese-style accommodation is what you’re after. It comes complete with peaceful surroundings and yet is conveniently close to the main attractions (all within walking distance). The onsen itself boasts a gorgeous natural hot spring available to all guests, with all rooms fitted with woven tatami flooring and fluffy futon bedding. The shared bathrooms come with free toiletries, and guests can dine on a free simple Japanese buffet breakfast from 8:00am – 9:30am every morning.
Why Guests Love It: Most guests loved the traditional interior of the place – whilst it has retained its old-school charm, it’s been renovated to suit current tourism demands. The breakfast is simple yet explosive – definitely savour the quality of the rice and miso soup. It’s also an extremely clean onsen, for those who are a bit on the fussy side.
Book It Now: Ryokan Dougoya
Set right in the middle of Dogo Onsen, Yamatoya Honten is the perfect choice for those looking for convenience. It’s within close distance to a plethora of activities in Matsuyama, meaning you can explore the area easily during the day and be home in the afternoon before you know it. The accommodation itself hosts an onsite restaurant and a bar, multiple hot spring baths, a 24-hour front desk, and free Wi-Fi for all guests.
The bathrooms are private and come with free toiletries. The interiors are stunningly representative of an authentic Japanese inn, and the exteriors encapsulate olden Japan perfectly with their curved roofs and wooden pillars.
Why Guests Love It: The location was the most raved-on about topic amongst guests. The surrounding attractions are easy to get to and provide an opportunity for leisurely walks. There are also plenty of restaurants nearby so you won’t have to travel far for a delicious meal.
Book It Now: Yamatoya Honten
Dogo Onsen Honkan
As the main attraction at Dogo Onsen, you would expect a place like Dogo Onsen Honkan to be swarming with domestic and international tourists, snapping away in every corner and generally taking away from the magical vibe of somewhere as special as a 120-year-old hot spring. However, whilst it is true that it absolutely draws immense crowds throughout the year, Dogo Onsen still retains quite an impressive and charismatic vibe even to this day.
The onsen itself has an exterior that makes most people do a double-take. Three levels of wooden structural beauty, topped with a central watchtower that’s got red glass windows which light up at night, with a proud metal heron standing at the pinnacle of the roof. If you walk around the outside, you will notice that the onsen is made up of various complexities in structures throughout, but that just adds to its charm and unique beauty.
Inside, the winding corridors are reminiscent of scenes in Spirited Away, and the lively atmosphere will take you back to when you watched the movie as a child. There are two types of baths located on the first floor of the onsen: Kami-no-Yu (water of the gods), and Tama-no-Yu (water of the spirits). The former is decorated with tiles featuring herons and is the larger public bath, and the latter is built from granite and marble tiles, and is the smaller, less crowded section of the floor.
There are four different pricing options, with some including a snack and green tea in their package. If you’re looking at taking a tour of the preserved exclusive bathing facility that the royal family used to visit, you will need to pay the highest price.
- Address: 5-6 Dogoyunomachi, Matsuyama, Ehime 790-0842, Japan
- Access: It is a 5-minute walk from the Dogo Onsen Station.
- Hours: 6:00am – 11:00pm
- Price: Adults: 420yen, Child: 160yen
Dogo Onsen – Visit a Public Bath
This bathhouse was opened in 2017 by Dogo Onsen Honkan, offering a slightly more modern version of its predecessor. It’s been tastefully designed and built, and provides a flow-over opportunity for Honkan when it gets too busy, or if people prefer something more contemporary. Its price is a tad higher than Honkan (although not by much), but it does offer the option of booking a private bath if visitors are after a bit more privacy. There is also a pricing option that allows you access to the onsen as well as access to the second floor for some tea and relaxation in between.
- Address: 19-22 Dogoyunomachi, Matsuyama, Ehime 790-0842, Japan
- Access: It is less than 5-minutes from Dogo Onsen station on foot.
- Hours: 6:00am – 11:00pm
- Price: Adults: from 610 yen, Children: from 300 yen
Again, Tsubaki-no-Yu offers a stylish and slightly more modern bathhouse option for those in the Dogo Onsen area. Its mineral-rich waters is said to make your skin as soft as silken tofu after a good soak, and it’s definitely not as crowded as the main onsen bathhouse. Its simple, gender-segregated layout makes it the perfect option for anyone looking for a no-frills onsen experience.
- Address: 19-22 Dogoyunomachi, Matsuyama, Ehime 790-0842, Japan
- Access: It is less than 5-minutes on foot from Dogo Onsen station.
- Hours: 6:30am – 11:00pm
- Price: Adults: 400 yen, Children: 150 yen
Dogo Onsen – Take a Tour of Yushinden
Back in history, the Imperial Family including the Emperor use to give Dogo Onsen Honkan a visit every once in a while. The onsen itself constructed a special bathing area specifically for the Imperial Family, and these days, visitors who purchase the right tickets can take a short guided tour of the facilities, which include a luxuriously decorated room with a coffered ceiling, and a restroom exclusive for the emperor’s use. In saying this, no emperor has used this room since 1952. Still, it’s a nice piece of history to be able to witness whilst you’re already there.
Price: 1,550 yen per person (includes access to private tatami room, access to Tama no yu, Kami no Yu, a towel, tea, dango, and a tour of the Emperor’s facilities)
Dogo Onsen – Explore the Dogo Haikara Dori Street (Shopping Street)
This shopping arcade is what you will walk along to access Dogo Onsen Honkan which is located at the end. It’s lined with multiple treats, snacks, souvenirs, and gift shops for you to peruse as you make your way through. Whilst it only takes around 5-minutes to get to Dogo Onsen Honkan, we endeavor that it’ll take you a lot longer if you account for the many times you’ll stop and browse trinket stores and sample senbei and generally explore the small strip. If you want the full experience, we recommend that you go for a long, hot soak in an onsen, change into the yukata provided by the onsen, and go for a stroll – the feeling will be liberating.
Access: The entrance is 1-minute from Dogo Onsen Station.
Dogo Onsen – Take a Leisurely Stroll Through Dogo Park
Dogo Park isn’t the most exciting attraction at Dogo Onsen, but it appears that almost all visitors to this quaint onsen town eventually take a stroll to this park at one point during their visit. It’s easily one of the most picturesque parks that you’ll come across in this region, with bridges built around certain areas and also with it being the grounds for (the now ruined) Yuzuki Castle.
During certain times of the year, festivities are held at this park which you can join in on the fun with, however, the park truly comes to life during the cherry blossom season, when it sprinkles down gorgeous petals all over the grounds. As you’re strolling through the park, stop by the pond and try to spot the turtles.
- Address: Dogokoen, Matsuyama, Ehime 790-0857, Japan
- Access: It is less than 5-minutes’ walk from the Dogo Onsen Station.
Dogo Onsen – Sample Some Local Delicacies
If you’re looking for some unique food experiences in Dogo Onsen, we recommend keeping an eye out for the following:
The locals claim that they make it best here at Dogo Onsen, and we wouldn’t beg to differ. This heart-warming dish is made from rice with sea bream. Depending on where you purchase the dish, the sea bream can either be cooked or served as raw sashimi on top of the rice.
Mikan Orange Ice Cream
Mikan is a sweet seedless type of orange that is mainly produced in Wakayama and Ehime prefecture. The locals have incorporated it into an ice cream flavor that’s sweet and satisfying, especially on a hot day
Senbei Rice Crackers
Along the end of the Dogo Onsen shopping strip, you will see multiple rice cracker stalls set up next to each other, each offering a variety of flavours and styles of crackers. Say what you want, but we’re under the impression that no one can really resist the sweet, salty, tangy flavor burst of a Japanese senbei. There’s just something so exotic and delicious about these crackers, like a thicker style of western crackers except the flavours go extremely deep. These rice crackers also make for awesome gift and souvenir options, so why not head into the store whilst you have a bit of time, sample the various flavours, and pick out a few to bring home?
Dogo Onsen – Take a Moment to Appreciate the Botchan Karakuri Clock
If you happy to be standing at the end of the shopping arcade at the beginning of the hour (any hour between 8:00am – 10:00pm), then stick around for some novel entertainment from the Botchan Karakuri Clock. On the hour, the clock will reveal characters from the Natsume Soseki novel ‘Botchan’, and play traditional music. To idle away your time, you can use the small footbath located next to the clock.
Dogo Onsen is quite a treat for either those looking for the original source of Hayao Miyazaki’s inspiration, or those looking for a unique onsen experience. Whilst the main hot spring itself is quite impressive, it’s the surroundings that truly make the experience as memorable as it is for the hundreds of thousands of visitors it’s already had, and the many millions more it will have.
And if you want to continue your trip in Shikoku, make sure to also visit the beautiful Iya Valley!