Spirited Away is an award-winning Japanese animated film that tells the story of a young girl named Chihiro Ogino. The plot follows her as she enters the world of the Kami spirits that are a central element of traditional Shinto folklore. Much of the action takes place in a traditional onsen inspired by the famous Japanese Dōgo Onsen bathhouse.
Thanks to its status as a volcanically active nation, Japan is blessed with hundreds of hot springs that locals and tourists alike enjoy for their relaxing and restorative qualities.
No trip to Japan would be complete without a visit to a traditional hot spring bathhouse (onsen, 温泉), so why not include a trip to Shikoku Island and experience the sights and delights of Dōgo Onsen?
What is Dōgo Onsen?
Dōgo Onsen hotspring (道後温泉) is one of Japan’s oldest hot springs, with a history that traces back at least 1000 years!
It is famed for the Dōgo Onsen public bathhouse which was built in 1893 and still stands today.
The traditional wooden bathhouse consists of three levels and is topped by a watchtower with spectacular red glass windows that light up at night. The roof is topped with a proud metal heron.
Inside, it has maze-like hallways and steamy bathrooms spread across two floors.
On the first floor, there are two baths reserved for men and one for women. The Kami-no-Yu ‘water of the gods’ is the larger of the public baths and features beautiful tiles decorated with the mascot of the onsen, the heron.
The Tama-no-Yu ‘water of the spirits’ bathhouse on the second floor is built from granite and marble and offers a smaller, more intimate onsen bath experience.
Dōgo Onsen boasts a special bathing room called Yushinden that is reserved for the emperor and his imperial family. It was built in 1899 when the imperial family visited the onsen.
Gyokuza no Ma
If the emperor wanted to have some time to himself, he could even take advantage of the Gyokuza no Ma bathroom that is reserved for him only.
Dōgo Onsen’s role in Spirited Away
Dōgo Onsen was an inspiration for the design of Yubaba’s bathhouse onsen in the film Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し).
This multi-award-winning Japanese animation was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and animated at the famed Studio Ghibli. Thanks to its impeccable design, imaginative artwork, and innovative story, the film regularly tops ‘best film’ lists.
It follows the adventures of a ten-year-old girl Chihiro Ogino, who finds herself immersed in an alternative reality dominated by the Kami spirits of traditional Japanese folklore.
The movie follows Chihiro as she tries to free her parents from the spell of the witch Yubaba, who turned both of them into pigs. Much of the movie takes place in Yubaba’s bathhouse, where there are multiple scenes of traditional Japanese bathing rituals.
The movie ends with Chihiro successfully rescuing her human parents and returning to her normal life, leaving the magic of Yubaba’s bathhouse behind.
If you’re a fan of Spirited Away, Dōgo Onsen is a must-see during your trip to Japan.
So you want to experience Dōgo Onsen?
A bath at Dōgo Onsen is a great way to immerse yourself in modern Japanese culture that has its roots in traditions that are hundreds of years old.
There are many ways in which you can enjoy Dōgo Onsen, based on four different pricing options.
The basic experience allows you to use the main bath on the lower floor for as long as you want.
If you’re willing to pay more for your experience, you can use a bath on the second level and experience the exclusivity of a private tatami room, a traditional Japanese-style interior room. This includes a delicious cup of matcha tea and the sweet rice dessert called a Botchan Dango which will be waiting for you after your bath.
Although the Yushinden and Gyokuza no Ma are reserved for the imperial family, you can take a tour of this exclusive space within the bathhouse, but you will pay a premium for the privilege.
Just remember to book your visit and try to avoid the peak times when the bathhouse is particularly crowded. This is usually early in the morning before people head off to work and early in the evening before dinner.
It is also a good idea to make yourself familiar with the etiquette of attending a Japanese bathhouse so that you and your fellow bathers can avoid any embarrassment and get the most out of your visit.
How do I get to Dōgo Onsen?
Dōgo Onsen is located in the city of Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. It sits in the heart of the city’s tourist district and is just a 5-minute walk from the Dōgo tram stop.
Catch the # 5 tram from JR Matsuyama Station and you’ll get there in around 30 minutes.
Catch the # 3 tram from JR Matsuyama-shi Station, which will take you around 15 minutes. Both tram trips cost 170 yen.
If you’re interested in a more authentic journey, you can catch the Botchan, a traditional local steam train. Although it will take longer to reach the onsen, it will be a wonderfully immersive experience.
Getting to Matsuyama
If you’re in Tokyo, the easiest way to get there is on a direct flight between the cities. It will take around 1.5 hours and will cost between 5,500 and 16,500 yen.
If you’re a fan of train journeys, you can also travel from Tokyo to Okayama and then switch services for the final leg to Matsuyama.
The journey will take between 6.5 and 7.5 hours but it will take you through some spectacular rural Japanese landscapes. It will cost around 20,000 yen but some of the cost will be absorbed if you have a JR rail pass.
What are the Dōgo Onsen bath prices?
For 420 yen, you get to enjoy the Kami no Yu bath for up to an hour.
For 840 yen, you can enjoy the Kami no Yu bath, rent a yukata (浴衣) bathrobe, and access a public tatami room on the second floor to relax and enjoy tea and snacks. You can stay for an hour.
For 1,250 yen, you can enjoy the Kami no Yu bath and the Tama no Yu bath, rent a yukata and take a tour of the imperial Yushinden and Gyokuza no Ma facilities.
For 1,550 yen, you can enjoy all of the benefits of the Level 3 admission for 80 minutes and access the private and exclusive tatami room on the third floor. Here you can enjoy the famous Botchan Dango sweets and matcha tea.
What else do I need to know?
The onsen is open between 6 am and 11 pm every day (except for one day in December when it is closed for cleaning).
As of January 2019, Dōgo Onsen has been undergoing renovations which are expected to be completed in December 2024.
During this time, you can still use two small baths on the first floor; however, the others are curently closed until renovation is complete.