Sunday, October 2, 2016

Shikoku Autumn 2014 四国秋季之旅 - Dogo Onsen Honkan 道後温泉本館

Visited 21.11.2014 (Fri)

Inspiration for Spirited Away. Dogo Onsen is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan and by far the most accessible hot spring town I have ever been to - just hop onto the streetcar from Matsuyama JR Station (heading to Dogo Onsen) and alight at the terminus station. The most monumental and well-preserved building in this hot spring district has got to be Dogo Onsen Honkan, a public bathhouse which has been in operation for more than a century. Elaborate architectural features are exemplified in this traditional Japanese style 3 storey tall building. Spot the white heron watch tower (known as Shirokaku) on rooftop, white herons figurines on the fences and the symbol of Dogo Onsen, which depicts the bubbles that emerges from the hot spring waters, in different parts of the building. It was also said that the design of Yubaba's bathouse in Hayao Miyazaki's “Spirited Away” was inspired by this building. Being able to see this historic building in reality was indeed a dream come true for me and I more than ready to explore the interior further.

First try on Day 8 evening, but could not enter the building.
First try. After checking into our accommodation for the night, we made our way to Dogo Onsen Honkan to experience public bath just before dinner. To our dismay, we were informed by the ticket staff that they were not accepting any patrons as it was too crowded. At the same time, they could not foresee when this restriction would be lifted. Decided to try again the next morning. Realising that this is a popular place for both locals and tourists, we woke up at 5 am, packed out towels in the ratten basket provided by the hotel, braved the outside cold and arrived just before it opened its door for business. As expected, there was already a short queue formed outside the ticket counter, all like us eagerly wanting to enjoy the first soak of the day.

Came on Day 9 early morning just before it was opened for business.
Second try. The place felt like a maze - the rest area/hot spring to go to depends on which ticket you purchase. Bought the tickets for Kami no yu second floor (神の湯 二階席) which included snack and drink, served after the soak. Took off our shoes and locked them in the cabinets provided, showed our tickets to the staff, followed the signs to the second floor to the rest room where trays of yukata and seat cushions were arranged neatly in two rows on the tatami laid floor. After showing the tickets to the staff, we randomly selected our spots. Together with our valuables and towels, we made our way to the first floor where Kami no yu via another stairway from the rest room. There was a considerable size of people utilising the public bath (about 20 people and I believe that most of them were locals doing this as part of their morning routines) and this made the place felt very cramped, making it difficult to bath and enjoy the hot spring facility leisurely. Despite that, do pay attention to the interior of Kami no yu which is an art by itself - beautifully tiled with different shades of granite, a ceramic titled picture of two herons soaking/healing their legs in the hot spring waters and intricate engravings on the obelisk where temperature-regulated hot spring is continuously introduced into the pool. Headed back to the rest area where we sat down to enjoy our cup of green tea and biscuit, which also marked the end of my Dogo Onsen exploration.

Be mentally prepared. I can only say that the entire experience felt very hectic and rush. If only it was not so crowded (which I think is highly unlikely to happen), the public bath experience would have been much more enjoyable. Maybe I should go for the more expensive tier to see the difference next time?

Note: Towels and soap/showering gels are not provided in the premises - but can be rented/purchased at a fee.


Dogo Onsen Honkan 道後温泉本館
Operating hours: 0600 - 2400 hrs (for Kami no yu ground floor 神の湯 階下); 0600 - 2200 hrs (for Kami no yu on second floor 神の湯 二階席, Rei no yu on second floor 霊の湯 二階席 and Rei no yu on third floor 霊の湯 三階個室)

Admission fee:
Kami no yu ground floor 神の湯 階下 = 410 yen
Kami no yu on second floor 神の湯 二階席 = 840 yen, inclusive of snack and drink
Rei no yu on second floor 霊の湯 二階席 = 1,250 yen, inclusive of snack and drink
Rei no yu on third floor 霊の湯 三階個室 = 1,550 yen, inclusive of botchan dango and drink

How to get there?
From Matsuyama JR Station, board streetcar bound for Dogo Onsen (Route 5) and alight at the terminus station, Dogo Onsen. Walk under the covered walkway of Dogo Shopping Street (道後商店街) which leads all the way to Dogo Onsen Honkan.
Fare = 160 yen/trip.


Video: Scroll to 13:05 for the feature on Dogo Onsen Honten.

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