All About Japan

3,000-Year-Old Baths: A Look Inside Dogo Onsen

Onsen Retro Japan Ehime Shikoku

Boasting a history of some 3,000 years, Dogo Onsen is Japan's oldest and most famous hot spring. It's located in the city of Matsuyama, which is on the coast of Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, facing the Seto Inland Sea.

The rejuvenating waters of the spring here are said to have healed a white heron, which bathed its injured leg until it was able to fly away. The white heron is now a symbol of this renowned hot spring, and people of all ages continue to come in the hopes of curing what ails them.

The present main building, called the Honkan, was constructed in 1894. In addition to baths for the public, its east side houses the Yushinden, a special area set aside for the Imperial family (the Emperor hasn't visited since 1950, however), The general public can access Kami-no-Yu on the lower floor, which offers a large women's bath with a fountain in the middle, while the men's area has two smaller baths of equal size. The second-floor Tama-no-Yu was formerly used by the imperial family and its attendants, and can now be accessed with a special ticket.

Prices range from ¥410 for 60 minutes in the downstairs baths (towel can be rented for ¥50) to ¥1,550 for 80 minutes of access that includes the second-floor Tama-no-Yu, a private relaxation room, towel, yukata robe, tea and snack. There's no inn at Dogo Onsen, so the facility is just for day visitors.

A drum in the onsen tower beats at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. every day, and the best time to go is in the morning before things get crowded. After you're done with your soak, be sure to check out nearby Matsuyama Castle, indubitably the best castle in Shikoku, and one of the best in the country!

Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (last entry generally 9 p.m.)