Bathe in one of Japan’s oldest hot springs and visit one of Japan’s 12 original castles! Matsuyama has unique history that will let you step back in time.
Shikoku is the smallest of the four main islands of Japan and Matsuyama is its largest city. Over the years, many of the smaller towns bordering Matsuyama merged to make the large city it is today.
We planned our trip mainly to visit Dogo Onsen, but were pleasantly surprised when our favorite part ended up being something else: exploring Matsuyama castle!
Matsuyama Castle – The “Impregnable Castle”
This castle was shockingly well-defended. An attacking army would have had an easier time climbing it’s 60-foot-high walls than taking the main path!
The best part about the originality of Matsuyama Castle is that its walls have been almost completely preserved, letting you experience what it would take to storm the castle.
Static defensive measures consist of those massive walls, a convoluted path to get through the castle grounds, and the numerous gates. Add in a contingent of defenders to fight an invading army, and it presents an incredible series of problems to overcome!
Here’s a list of everything that you’d need to do to storm the castle:
- Traverse the moat.
- Don’t get shot by the archers and gunmen manning the walls.
- Get past Otemon gate.
- Break down Tonashimon gate.
- Go through Kakushimon gate; beware the defenders around the corner at the hidden Tsutsuimon gate.
- Turn the corner through Taiko gate.
- Shichikumon gate…
- Ichinomon gate…
- Nininomon gate…
- Sanomon gate…
- Sujigane gate…
- Break down the door to the main keep.
Suffice to say, getting through unscathed would not be likely!
There are arrow/musket slits in the walls and gates to make it even more dangerous.
The grounds are expansive and boast beautiful views of both Matsuyama as well as the Seto Inland Sea, or Setouchi. This heavily-fortified castle is our favorite so far in Japan!
Over 1,500 years ago, legend has it that an egret – a bird similar to a heron – injured a leg and was healed after bathing every day in the hot waters of Dogo. People in the area followed suit, and the area has been famous ever since.
The local mayor decided to renovate the facilities in the late 1800’s, giving us the beautiful structure we see today.
Speaking of renovations, Dogo Onsen’s upper floors will be renovated from 2019-2026. Despite this, the first floor will remain open! The royal experience of the upper floors may be awesome, but there is something special about taking a normal, no-frills bath – in a 1,500-year-old onsen!
Never been to an onsen? Here are some basics so you can be ready:
- Pay for the onsen area you want to use at the front (rent a small towel or bring your own).
- Remove your shoes and place them in a locker at the entrance.
- In most onsens, men and women have separate baths – the staff will kindly point you in the right direction!
- In the changing room, store your belongings and clothing in a locker. At Dogo, you will wear the key around your wrist.
- At this point, you will be completely naked – don’t wear any clothing into the bath!
- You will have your small towel only; cover yourself with it as you wish, but remember that this is a time to rest and relax. No one is worrying about anyone else’s body, so don’t worry about your own, either!
- Before you get in the bath, you will need to wash yourself thoroughly in the washing areas next to the bath. This is very important, so here is the process:
- Sit on a stool in front of a shower/faucet. At Dogo, shampoo/body wash is provided.
- Tip: Know how to turn on the water with your eyes closed before you get all soapy. Some faucets use a lever, while others use a button.
- Scrub every single nook and cranny of your body, using the small towel as needed. Lather up and wash from your head to between your toes – don’t miss any spot in between!
- Rinse off super well – use the shower nozzle, or fill a bucket with water to dump over yourself. You are respecting others by getting totally clean, and that includes removing all soap suds.
- Head for the bath!
- Place the towel on your head, folded and balanced, and don’t let it enter the onsen water.
- Soak to your heart’s content!
- Remove as much water as possible before returning to the changing room.
This onsen was very pleasant, and an inexpensive way to experience ancient Japanese history!
Plan your trip
There are several ferries that will take you to Matsuyama from the mainland. We decided to drive from Iwakuni, and paid about $90.00 in tolls.
Prices for the ferry were more expensive: expect to pay $120 or more (this includes the driver’s fee, but passengers are extra).
Matsuyama is a wonderful city. Despite the metropolitan landscape as the cities have grown into each other, the castle experience and historic Dogo Onsen make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to classic Japan.
Let us know about your experiences at Matsuyama Castle or Dogo Onsen!