The Oldest Public Bath in Japan: Dogo Onsen

Written on October 30, 2010 by Wouter


Listing page for this sento.

The public bath at Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama City (Ehime Prefecture)  is said to be the oldest, as well as the most famous public bath in Japan still in operation, with a history going back as far as 3,000 years. That is not to say that the bath house is that old, but the hot spring that feeds Dogo Onsen was first mentioned as a place for bathing all those years ago. As you can imagine, quite a few legends are told about a place with so much history.

One says that the springs of Dogo were discovered when, during the age of the gods, a heron placed his injured leg into hot water streaming out of a rock and was miraculously healed. Another claims that when an ill god bathed in the hot spring, the god recovered and danced for joy. The heron motif is everywhere inside the building. Tama no ishi or Yudama, the round rock from which the healing waters sprang, is the source of the symbol for Dōgo, though it looks more like a chestnut to some. Quoted from Wikitravel

Dogo Onsen has long been a favorite holiday destination for the royal family. Prince Shotoku (574-622) regularly visited. In 1899 the annex Yushiden was built for the private use of visiting royals. The last time the emperor visited Dogo Onsen was in the 1970s, and the annex is now open to visitors.

spirited_away-241x300-1Spirited Away
Dogo Onsen was also the inspiration for the bath house in Miyazaki’s Spiritied Away, an animated fantasy-adventure film produced and released in 2001 by Studio Ghibli.

In the movie Dogo Onsen serves as the bath house for the spirits, and plays an integral part in the plot.

The book Botchan, written by Natsume Soseki in 1906 also features Dogo Onsen. It is this book that has been responsible for the steady stream of Japanese tourists that come and partake of the waters where Botchan once bathed.

Have you been? Tell us about your experience below.

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