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Dōgo Onsen Honkan

The oldest hot spring in Japan, with a history going back over 1,000 years.

Dōgo Onsen Honkan

Dōgo Onsen Honkan offers visitors a choice of baths, lounges and refreshments at various prices. You can even have a private room. The baths themselves are very elegant granite basins, and the water is comparatively hot, with a slippery, mineral feel. With the higher-priced options, you can dress in a yukata and enjoy tea and snacks in the tatami-mat lounges. You can also go out onto the balcony and look down on the passers-by.

If you want to go inside without taking a bath, you can buy a ticket to visit the Yushinden, the Emperor’s elegantly appointed private bathroom. You can see the fine granite bath, the armchair throne, the alcove where detectives hid, and the Imperial toilet. You can also enter free to see Botchan no Ma, a little shrine to Natsume Sōseki, which was a private room said to have been used in October 1895 by haiku poet Masaoka Shiki and his friend Sōseki.


The building itself is a hodgepodge of elements from different times. The main three-storey structure is the oldest part of the Honkan. It dates from 1894. Buildings from before that time were becoming decrepit when Yukiya Isaniwa was made the first mayor of Dōgo Yunomachi. He realized the potential of Dōgo Onsen, and urged that budget be allocated to house the spring in a new building that could not be bettered for a hundred years.

The total construction cost was assessed at 135,000 yen. At a time when the initial salary of an elementary school teacher was 8 yen, the townspeople were appalled by the enormous budget, and opposition to the appropriation caused Isaniwa to fear for his life. Nevertheless, he persisted, and even donated his own salary to the cause.

The master castle builder Sakamoto Matahachirō was appointed to design and build the new Honkan. The planned wooden three-storied structure was very rare at the time. It’s topped with a small tower, the Shinrokaku, featuring bright red glass, and a drum to mark the hours of 6 am, noon, and 6 pm. The Honkan had three entrances, one for samurai and priests, one for common men, and one for common women. The symbolic white heron on the tower naturally faced in the direction of the three entrances.


Isaniwa also planned to extend railways to Dōgo from central Matsuyama and the port at Mitsuhama. Visitors on ships sailing the new Kansai route began to visit Dōgo Onsen.

In 1899 Sakamoto was hired again to build the Yushinden wing for the Emperor, and the new Tama no Yu bath.

In 1924, a single entrance building was found to be necessary, and the new South Building was also erected. The three original entrances were blocked up, leaving the white heron facing in a rather irrelevant direction.

A placard saying “Dōgo Onsen” is hung above the entrance to the Honkan. When the Shochiku movie “Tenyawaya” set in Dōgo Onsen was filmed in 1950, a sign made of plywood was added by the staff to make it obvious what the building was. This was supposed to be removed at the end of the shoot, but it was decided that it would continue to be popular with customers. The characters are by the Matsuyama-born painter Murata Hidetaka.

The Honkan is one of the models of the Aburaya building in the animation “Spirited Away” by Miyazaki Hayao. There’s no specific model for the Aburaya, an imposing layered structure of wooden construction, and it’s said to be inspired by numerous buildings. Nevertheless, the production staff are known to have stayed in Dōgo and sketched the Honkan, and many similarities are apparent.

Rickshaws can be hired in front of the Honkan for guided tours of varying lengths. If you understand some Japanese, this is a very enjoyable experience. The drum in the Shinrokaku is still beaten three times a day. Noon, or 6 pm is a good time to experience it.

Isaniwa is buried in the Sagidani cemetery overlooking Dōgo, and his bust in bronze gazes at the original Honkan building. Over one hundred years after Isaniwa realized his vision, the current mayor of Matsuyama has ordered that the Honkan is completely refurbished in its Meiji period style to make it safe from earthquakes, and to ensure that it lasts another hundred years. This work is expected to take seven years.


Name in Japanese: 道後温泉本館

Pronunciation: dōgo onsen honkan

Address: 5-6 Dogoyunomachi, Matsuyama, Ehime 790-0842

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