Located in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture, Dogo Onsen is the oldest hot spring in Japan. The history of this public bath house dates back to more than 3000 years. The hot spring was mentioned in both the “Manyo-shu” and “Nihon-shoki” (the first and second oldest books in Japanese history, respectively). In Japan, water plays an important role and is an essential component of many purification rites associated with the Shinto religion. According to the legend, Okuninusi-no-mikoto (the God of Earth) and Sukunahikona-no-mikoto (the God of Medicine) took bath at Dogo Onsen and cured the illness. In the medieval times, monks and warlords used onsen (hot spring) to heal their diseases and wounds. Dogo Hot Spring has been associated with many great writers. It was the favorite retreat for famous novelist Natsume Soseki when he was working near Matsuyama as a teacher. In Soseki’s loosely autobiographical novel “Botchan”, the eponymous main character is a frequent visitor to the onsen, the only place he says he likes in the area. Soseki’s friend and mentor, Masaoka Shiki, a noted critic of the Edo Period’s Haiku artist Matsuo Basho, was a native of Matsuyama and his poems are prominently inscribed in many places around town. The area was also the inspiration for Miyazaki Hayao’s animated film “Spirited Away (Sen-to-Chihiro-no-Kamikakushi),” a magical story of an enchanted public bath house that hosts the spirits of everything from frogs to radishes; and the young, shy girl who gets trapped there. Visitors will see many guests taking a stroll around the town in the traditional “Yukata” robes and wooden sandals. In the neighborhood, there are historic temples such as Ishiteji and Hogonji temple, the Matsuyama Castle, the Shiki Memorial Museum, and streets lined with souvenir shops. “Iyo Kasuri”, traditional indigo-dyed weaved fabric from the Edo Period, and Tobeyaki pottery, a thick pure white porcelain dyed with indigo blue make good souvenirs to take home. Also, there are many restaurants around serving traditional dishes: “Tai-meshi”, a rice bowl dish topped with sea bream sashimi or a “Botchan dango”, which are tasty little multicolored balls of glutinous mocha rice on a stick. Dogo Onsen Honkan You wouldn’t have experienced the true Dogo Hot Spring if you haven’t visited “Dogo Onsen Honkan,” the most famous public bathhouse in this area. This Meji period style three-storey wooden building built in 1894 has the only bath house in Japan which has a special section for exclusive use of the Imperial family, “Yushinden.” Yushinden and the Emperor’s private lounge “Gyokuza no Ma,” are located in the annex with an exhibition room which features artifacts from various stages of Dogo’s history. Every morning at 6am, the big drum at the Shinrokaku Tower is beaten to announce that the bath has opened for the day and many people start their day in a hot spring. At Dogo Onsen Honkan, there are two types of baths: “Kami no Yu (hot spring of the Gods)” and “Tama no Yu (hot spring of the holy spirits).” Visitors can relax in the tatami lounge with tea and sweet dumplings after enjoying the bath. The lounges have a taste of old Japan; you can feel that you wandered into Miyazaki Hayao’s “Spirited Away” world.