Dogo Onsen: A Timeless Retreat in the Heart of Matsuyama

Dogo Onsen: A Timeless Retreat in the Heart of Matsuyama

Located just east of downtown Matsuyama, Dogo Onsen is your perfect getaway in the city, where both locals and tourists flock to soak in the famous mineral-rich waters of Japan. This hot springs haven has long been a favorite spot, even attracting imperial visitors in days gone by. Once you spend some time here, you'll quickly understand its appeal.

The onsen itself feels like a wonderland, surrounded by blooming flowers, vibrant greenery, and striking architecture that grabs your attention and holds it. Across Japan, onsens are more than just baths; they are treasured for their health benefits, providing essential minerals and nutrients.

If you're in Matsuyama and seeking a place to relax and rejuvenate, Dogo Onsen offers just that. It's not just about the baths, it's about enjoying every moment in a setting that feels like a warm hug from nature.


Dogo Onsen


Dogo Onsen Honkan, the Symbol of Dogo Onsen

Dogo Onsen Honkan stands as a proud symbol of Dogo Onsen, renowned as Japan's oldest hot spring. The centerpiece here is Kami-no-Yu, a historic site that embodies tradition and community. Unique among Japan's bathhouses, Dogo Onsen Honkan was designated a National Important Cultural Property in 1994, yet it continues to function as an active bathhouse rather than just a museum piece. In recognition of its cultural significance, it earned a top rating of three stars from the Michelin Green Guide Japan in 2009.

The current building, a beautiful three-story wooden structure, was renovated in 1894 under the direction of Isaniwa Yukiya, the first mayor of Dogo Yunomachi. He envisioned a thriving future for Dogo, a vision that has clearly been realized. Over the years, additional renovations and expansions, including the construction of Yūshinden in 1899 and updates to Yojo-yu in 1924 and 1935, have shaped its present look.

Designed by Sakamoto Matahachiro, a skilled craftsman from a lineage of master carpenters who also worked on Matsuyama Castle, the building integrates traditional Japanese architectural methods with Western techniques. It's a stunning showcase, topped with a square cupola called Shinrokaku, which boasts windows made of giyaman glass and a roof featuring a sculpture of an egret, a nod to the legends surrounding Dogo Onsen.

Visiting Dogo Onsen Honkan is like stepping into a living piece of history where every corner tells a story, inviting visitors to connect with Japan's rich cultural past while enjoying the warm, soothing waters of the hot springs.


Dogo Onsen Honkan


A famous Onsen with 3,000 years of history

Dogo Onsen holds the title as Japan's oldest hot spring, with a rich history spanning 3,000 years. Mentioned in ancient texts like the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, it was even praised by Prince Shotoku who likened it to a paradise on Earth. Over the centuries, Dogo Onsen has attracted countless notable visitors and even inspired characters in Natsume Soseki's novel "Botchan." It's said that the silky waters of this hot spring can work wonders on your skin.

The heart of this historic onsen town is the Dogo Onsen Honkan, a bathhouse that has been a wellness retreat since it opened. Aside from the luxurious main bathhouses, there are also complimentary foot and hand baths dotted around, letting everyone soak up a bit of this heavenly spot without spending a yen.

Dogo Onsen Honkan is not just a bathhouse; it's a cultural icon, built in 1894 in honor of Emperor Meiji. This structure stands as a symbol of loyalty to the royal family, despite Matsuyama's distance from the traditional centers of Japanese power. Today, it's also famously known for inspiring the setting of the animated film 'Spirited Away' by Hayao Miyazaki, drawing thousands of fans each year eager to see the real-life inspiration for the film's enchanting bathhouse scenes.

Visitors can enjoy almost all the baths, except for the Yushinden or imperial section, which is open for guided tours. Here, you can see where emperors once relaxed and rejuvenated. The guides, always eager to share their knowledge, will even show you the emperor's private toilet, unused but always ready. It's a place where history and storytelling blend seamlessly, creating a memorable visit that feels both grounding and magical.


Meet the 'Spirited Away' scenes for real - Dogo Onsen


Things to Do in the Area

Dogo Onsen isn't just about soothing hot springs; it's a full-on adventure steeped in culture and history. Here, you can wander through the same paths once walked by emperors, find serenity in a Buddhist temple, and take in the lush natural beauty that surrounds you.

1. Dogo Onsen Honkan

This grand building on the east side of the main area is a sight to behold. Built in 1894 during the Meiji Period, it's crafted from beautifully stained wood and tiles, with intricate engravings done by local artisans adorning its exterior. Inside, there's a private Yushinden, previously a space for the Imperial Family to host their guests.

Today, you can tour this historic section and see where past dignitaries relax. The hot springs here are divided, with separate areas for men and women to enjoy the rejuvenating waters. Upstairs, you'll find rooms with tatami mats where you can eat, ponder, or just unwind, surrounded by stunning views.

Dogo Onsen Honkan welcomes visitors from 6 AM to 11 PM every day, offering a timeless slice of Japanese culture and relaxation. Whether you're soaking in the hot springs, enjoying a quiet meal, or just absorbing the rich history, there's something deeply satisfying about spending time here.


Dogo Onsen Honkan


2. Dogo Onsen Annex Asuka-no-yu

Opened in 2017, Dogo Onsen Annex Asuka-no-yu is a fresh take on traditional onsens, inspired by the ancient Asuka architectural style. This facility stands out with its striking white facade contrasted by dark wood accents. Inside, you'll find a blend of modern design elements, stone, wood, and tile, complemented by contemporary art that nods to the region's rich history.

The annex offers both private and public bathing areas, all designed for relaxation and comfort. At the heart of the building is a spacious lounge, designed to be open and inviting with lots of natural light flooding in.

Whether you're looking to enjoy a quiet soak or simply relax in a beautiful, airy setting, Asuka-no-yu provides a perfect blend of modern comfort and historical homage.

Dogo Onsen Annex Asuka-no-yu welcomes visitors from 6 AM to 11 PM every day, offering a modern yet soulful escape in the timeless city of Matsuyama.


Dogo Onsen Annex Asuka-no-yu


3. Enmanji – Love Temple

Nestled within the serene grounds of Dogo Onsen, Enmanji, known affectionately as the Love Temple, has been a cherished part of the community since the 9th century. As you step inside, you're welcomed by a majestic Buddha statue that sits proudly at the center altar.

It's believed that visiting this temple can bring luck in love and health, making it a perfect spot to visit with your loved one.

Enmanji – Love Temple is open every day from 8 AM to 6 PM.


Enmanji Temple


4. Isaniwa Shrine

Isaniwa Shrine makes a striking impression with its regal red facade and vibrant, colorful details, all hand-crafted by skilled local artisans. Dating back to 1667, this shrine exhibits the architectural splendor of the Momoyama Period and has been a spiritual site for over a millennium.

Recognized as an Important Cultural Property, Isaniwa Shrine is one of the only three remaining Hachiman-zukuri-style shrines in Matsuyama, built to honor Hachiman, the patron god of warriors.

The shrine welcomes everyone, offering a tranquil space for worship, guided tours, and even weddings. It is open from 9 AM to 5 PM daily, inviting visitors to connect with a piece of Matsuyama's rich cultural tapestry.


Isaniwa Shrine


5. Dogo Shoutengai

When you visit Dogo Onsen, don't miss out on a stroll through Dogo Shoutengai, the vibrant shopping arcade at the entrance to Dogo Onsen Honkan. This lively spot captures the essence of traditional Japanese market streets, filled with color and bright lights.

With over 60 specialty shops and eateries stretching across 820 feet (250 meters), you can find everything from regional gifts to traditional Japanese trinkets. It's the perfect place to pick up something special to remember your trip by.


Dogo Shoutengai


6. Sora-no-Sanpomichi (Sky Promenade & Footbath)

For a truly unique view of Dogo Onsen Honkan and Dogo Yunomachi, head up to Sora-no-Sanpomichi, located on the gentle slopes of Mt. Kanmuriyama just south of the onsen.

This sky promenade and footbath is an outdoor wonder that welcomes visitors both during the day and at night. Whether you're soaking your feet and enjoying the daytime scenery or gazing at the twinkling lights of the town below in the evening, this spot offers a magical experience that combines natural beauty with a touch of adventure.




7. Dogo Hot Springs Water Stone Receptacle (Yugama)

Located within the grounds of Dogo Onsen, the Dogo Hot Springs Water Stone Receptacle, known as Yugama, is a significant piece of history. This ancient stone, the oldest of its kind in Japan, was placed here around 1,300 years ago.

Even today, it continues to release natural hot spring water. The stone and its accompanying shrine are modest in design, yet they hold a deep cultural importance, believed to protect the city.

The Yugama is an accessible outdoor attraction that welcomes visitors both during the day and at night.




8. Dogo Park (Ruins of Yuzuki Castle)

Dogo Park, set on the hillside near Dogo Onsen, is a serene spot where nature and history blend beautifully. Known for its cherry blossoms, well-kept gardens, and the cheerful sounds of birds, this park is built around the remnants of Yuzuki Castle.

While the castle itself has mostly vanished, the atmosphere of ancient times lingers. Visitors can wander along stone paths, cross quaint footbridges over the central pond, or relax in grassy areas perfect for a casual game or reading a book in the shade. It's a peaceful haven for a leisurely day out.


Ruins of Yuzuki Castle


9. Minaguchi Brewery

Since 1895, Minaguchi Brewery has been a cornerstone of the local beverage scene, crafting sake and beer right near Dogo Onsen. Set in a traditional Japanese building with a striking white facade and dark wood accents, this brewery is the proud maker of Nikitatsu sake, a well-respected name in the area.

Here, visitors can immerse themselves in the world of brewing, discovering how local ingredients and water drawn from a deep well beneath the brewery contribute to the unique flavors of their beverages. During your visit, you're invited to taste various drinks and browse the gift shop for a special souvenir to take home.