Matsuyama Dogo Onsen – a guide to the Japanese hot springs

Love the idea of an inviting hot spring? In this post, let Virginia of Chicoconut take you away to Japan’s oldest onsen and the inspiration for Ghibli’s film, Spirited Away. She gives a useful guide of what to expect and what you should do at an onsen so you can be ready for a therapeutic time.


Matsuyama Dogo Onsen – Japan’s oldest onsen which inspired the movie Spirited Away

I wasn’t expecting much when I booked my trip to Matsuyama, I must say that I ended up there very randomly because it was the only available destination I could book last-minute with my Willer Bus Pass (remember I was taking about booking things in advance?) and find accommodation. After a long night in a bus I arrived in the small town of Matsuyama (the population is around 500K, which in Japan counts as a small city), waited for the first streetcar to ride and finally reached the Sen Guesthouse. The guesthouse was clean, cozy and owned by an extremely kind and helpful American-Japanese couple.


Being in Matsuyama I found out there there was the oldest onsen in Japan, located in walking distance from my hostel. The idea of being naked in a hot bath, surrounded by locals who I can’t understand was a big barrier. After rethinking it over and reading numerous blogs on onsen etiquette I convinced myself that I should try it at least once.

How to survive the Dogo onsen:

1) Figure out which ticket you want to buy, you have the choice of two baths (both separated by gender):

  • kami-no yu bath (bigger bath: 410 Yen for entrance only, 840 Yen for entrance + yukata + lounge access)
  • tama-no yu bath (smaller bath: 1250 Yen entrance + yukata + 1h lounge access, 1550 Yen entrance + yukata + access to private room)

I would suggest to all the shy people like me to choose the smaller bath, which is usually less crowded. The private room is nice if you’re in a group, otherwise the public lounge is good enough! Usually with the more expensive ticket you have access to the big bath too. I was lucky enough to have the bath mostly to myself (we were max 3 people).


2) Leave your shoes in the shoebox in the entrance

3) Enter through ticket gate, follow the path to your bath: don’t worry, even if it’s all written in Japanese the staff will show you the right direction when they see the ticket!

4) Arrive at the lounging room, take your yukata & towel: you will come back to the lounge once you’re done bathing

5) Go to the dressing room, leave your clothes into the locker and enter the onsen: only take your little towel with you, you won’t need the yukata

6) Before entering the bath wash yourself throughly: it’s very important for the Japanese to wash themselves before entering the onsen since the water doesn’t get changed and they want to preserve the bath for their next generation. For this reason you are not allowed to wear a bikini. The towel is not allowed into the water, I usually tied it around my hair – many people just put it on their head. If you’re feeling too hot go out, shower and enter again. Remember that if you dry yourself up with the towel, you shouldn’t go into the water before rinsing off the towel rests on your skin. The water is very hot!

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7) When you’re done with bathing take a shower, exit the bath and put on your yukata – then go back to the lounge where you left your ticket. There you’ll get tea and a biscuit and can relax before getting dressed and going out.


8) Enjoy a tour of the onsen: I had a really nice old guy bringing me around and a piece of paper explaining the various rooms where the emperor and his family used the bath (or the toilet). The guide didn’t speak english, but the small leaflet was translated very well.

Reasons to go to an onsen:

  • it’s part of the local culture and definitely a must-do if you go to Japan
  • even if it’s summer (I went in July) it’s refreshing to take a bath and you’ll feel amazing afterwards
    if you’re lucky you have the whole onsen to yourself (ask at the hostel when the busy times are and avoid those)
  • it will help you overcome your shyness and it’s really not that embarrassing
    the dogo onsen is THE oldest onsen in Japan and it has inspired the movie Spirited Away (which is a must-see if you haven’t seen it yet)

If you still feel uncomfortable, at least try the feet and hands onsen which are distributed around town & free of charge. You’ll only to carry with you need a small towel to dry off.


For further reference:

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