How about a weekend trip to Dogo Onsen, Japan's oldest and most famous hot spring, which is relatively close to Tokyo. Only about 180 minutes from Tokyo by air and bus, this tattoo-friendly historic onsen, which is touted as the only Michelin 3-star facility in the Shikoku region is a great place to visit for the weekend. Even with the ongoing seven-year restoration from 2019 to 2026, the onsen is worth visiting.
Important Cultural Property Still In Business
With a history of 3,000 years, Dogo Onsen is known as one of Japan's three oldest hot springs, along with Arima Onsen (Hyogo prefecture) and Shirahama Onsen (Wakayama Prefecture). The symbol of Dogo Onsen is this unique wooden picturesque building, the "Dogo Onsen Honkan"a public bathing house dating from 1984.
5 minute walk from Dogo Onsen Station, which is another reason why Dogo Onsen is so popular
Reconstructed in 1894, the wooden three-story building has an impressive tiled roof and a majestic appearance. Standing in front of it, you will have a strange feeling that time has stopped here.
Inside the building, there are two types of bathrooms, three types of restrooms, and the "Yushinden," a bath exclusively for the imperial family, each of which is intricately connected, creating a maze of structures that is one of the characteristics of the Dogo Onsen Honkan.
At night, the lights in the building leak out, creating a magical moment
In 1994, the bathhouse became the first public bathhouse to be designated as an important cultural property in Japan for its excellent architecture and preservation. The onsen is temporarily closed for one day in December for cleaning, but other than that, it is open for business every day.
Here's the full view! Surprisingly, the onsen is located inside an ordinary town.
The hot water drawn from 18 sources is adjusted to an appropriate temperature of about 42 degrees Celsius at a separate bathhouse, so you can directly feel the effects of the source. The quality of the water is soft and smooth on the skin, making it suitable for skin beautification and continued bathing is said to cure aches and pains.
An egret with an injured leg is said to have found the Dogo Onsen as it came to soak its legs to heal the injury
4 Bathing Courses
Since there are no lodging facilities in the Dogo Onsen Honkan, it specializes in day trip bathing. In the main building, there are two baths, "Kami no Yu (Bath of the Gods)” and "Tama no Yu (Bath of Spirits)", and three restrooms, and you can choose from four different bathing courses. The two indoor baths each have their unique atmosphere.
Kami no Yu at men's bath (top photo) and Tama no Yu at men's bath (bottom photo)
There are two types of lounges to chill: a large hall shared by men and women, and private rooms. The main building's large hall is attractive, and the private rooms are great for families and couples who want to have some cozy family time.
If you choose a bathing course including the lounges, free drink and a complimentary snack is being offered.
Kami no Yu Downstairs 410 yen, only for using Kami no Yu downstairs
Kami no Yu 2nd floor 840 yen, only for using Kami no Yu and 2nd floor large lounge and includes a rental yukata
Tama no Yu 2nd Floor 1,250yen, can use to take a bath at both Kami no Yu and Tama no Yu, can use small lounge on the second floor and includes a rental yukata and a towel
Tama no Yu 3rd Floor 1,550yen, can use to take a bath at both Kami no Yu and Tama no Yu, can use lounge on the third floor and includes rental yukata and a towel
※The cheapest ticket, Kami no Yu Downstaris is great for those who just want to take a bath. The other plans allow you to use the lounge so you can chill after taking a bath.
Hours of operation are from 6:00 to 23:00 for the "Kami no Yu Downstairs" only, and from 6:00 to 22:00 for the other plans. Due to ongoing restoration from 2019 to 2026, the opening hours may change.
Please check the Dogo Onsen Honkan website here for the closing time of ticket sales.
There is a time limit of 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes depending on the course.
Good for first visit: Kami no Yu 2nd Floor Course
This course is the best choice for first-time visitors to Dogo Onsen Honkan, as it allows you to use the retro bathrooms and rest rooms that give you a sense of the scale of the Honkan. The procedures may vary but on the day of the interview, here is how the staff guided the visitor.
First, purchase a bathing ticket at the ticket booth next to the entrance.
Take off your shoes and put them in the shoe box, show your bathing ticket at the ticket gate, and the staff will show you the route.
As soon as you enter the hallway, you will see the entrance to the "Kami no Yu" (Bath of the Gods). But before going to take a bath, the staff took the visitors upstairs.
Found a strange folded mirror in front of the stairs
After going up the stairs, a large lounge that those who purchased the "Kami no Yu, 2nd Floor"ticket can use is located.
The "Himedaruma" doll, an artifact of Dogo, was placed in the hall. She looks like a guardian deity, but is a little scary.
Follow the directions to take a seat at the lounge and receive a rental yukata, and the staff will explain the bathing route. Shampoo, soap, and towels are not provided at Kami no Yu, so if you need them, rent them at this time.
Rental yukata had a symbol of Dogo Onsen printed
Fruit citrus soap, good for souveniers too
Once the instructions are done, it's time to take a bath. To go to the women’s bath at Kami no Yu, there is another route. In the corner of the room across the corridor from the lounge down a rather steep staircase, visitors will find themselves in the changing room of the women's bath of Kami no Yu.
The Dogo Onsen Honkan (main building) has been repeatedly expanded and remodeled, so there are various "back routes". It makes you want to explore
Despite its wooden exterior, the women's bath of Kami no Yu is mainly made of stone. The walls are decorated with Tobu ware pottery panels depicting egrets, who are said to have discovered Dogo Onsen, and the legendary gods Okuninushi-no-mikoto and Sukunabikona-no-kami.
The water is tasteless and odorless, soft against the skin, and the temperature is just right, making it comfortable to stay in forever.
After enjoying the hot spring, change into yukata and go back up the stairs to the lounge. There is a women's changing room on the way, where you can get ready and dry your hair.
From June to September, the open shoji windows let the breeze blow softly through, like a natural fan. The staff brought a cup of complimentary tea and some sweets.
In the lounge on the second floor, drinks such as milk and tangerine juice, as well as famous Dogo sweets such as "Botchan Dango (multi-colored Japanese dango sweets)” are available to purchase.
Original goods to remember your trip are also available.
This is the overview of the Kami no Yu 2nd floor course. Once experiencing this course, visitors can spend the rest of their time in the lounge or visit the other facilities in the Dogo Onsen.
Explore and Unravel the Hisotry of Dogo Onsen
On the second floor of the main building, in addition to the bathrooms and the lounge, there are many other spots that remind you of the history of Dogo Onsen. In the "Exhibition Room," which is open to all bathers free of charge, there are hot water cards that were once used as admission tickets, list of the famous people who visited, tea utensils, and many more.
The Yushinden, Japan's only bathhouse built in 1899 for the exclusive use of the Imperial Family, is worth a visit. The admission fee is 260 yen, but free for those who purchased the Tama no Yu course.
The beautiful fusuma paintings, the "throne room" surrounded by gold leaf, the special ceiling that prevented enemies from attacking from the ceiling, and the small room where the guards hid, the craftsmanship of the time shines through.
A bathtub made of high-grade Aji stone is quite deep and impressive
One of the private rooms on the third floor, "Botchan-no-ma" is said to have been used by Soseki Natsume, Japan’s regarded novelist. He is said to be a regular guest at Dogo Onsen.
Not open to the public, but the rooftop "Shinrokaku" has a suspended drum that is beaten a certain number of times at a certain time, and it is said to have been selected as one of the 100 best soundscapes in Japan to preserve.
At night, the red Giyaman glass in the windows gives off a mysterious glow.
Relatively Vacant Hours 7:30 AM to 10:00 AM!
Since it is a popular spot, aren't you wondering how crowded it is?
Normally, weekdays are relatively empty, but it gets crowded around 6:00 a.m., when the restaurant opens, and around 3:00 p.m. and into the night, when hotels start checking in. If you want to take it easy, the best time to visit is from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
However, during consecutive holidays, summer vacation, year-end and New Year's holidays, and art events, it is expected to be crowded regardless of the time of day, so please plan ahead and allow plenty of time.
Please note that crowds may vary depending on the day.
Right in front of the Dogo Onsen Honkan (main building), there is an arcade called "Haikara-dori," which is lined with souvenir stores and restaurants. There are also many restaurants that offer take-out menus for walking around, so you can take a stroll after bathing or adjust your time when it is crowded.
Tsubaki no Yu sister to Dogo Onsen Honkan
Tsubaki no Yu is a sister onsen to the Dogo Onsen Honkan. It is conveniently located in the middle of Haikara-dori Street, which connects Dogo Onsen Station to the Dogo Onsen Honkan. The fee for Tsubaki-no-yu is only 400 yen. There is no course, and it is a more casual bathing experience than the the other, making it a perfect place to stop by for a morning bath or on your way home.