Dōgo Onsen’s History, Quality, and Charm

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History of Dōgo Onsen: Japan’s Oldest Hot Spring

Legend of the Egret

Legend of the Egret

“Legend has it that an egret with an injured leg often came here to soak its legs in the hot spring waters gushing from the rocks since ancient times. Eventually its injury healed, and that is how this place came to be called ‘Sagidani’ (egret valley).”
The Yoyogungo Rigenshu, a compilation of local lore completed in 1710, includes the story of an egret with an injured leg that discovered a hot spring gushing from the rocks. The egret returned to the hot spring every day to soak its injured leg, and after a while the leg completely healed and the egret flew away as strong as ever. The people who saw this thought it very strange and when they too began bathing in the water, they found that it relieved fatigue and speeded recovery from illness. From that time on, bathing in the hot spring became a widely popular practice.
The legend tells how Dōgo Onsen was discovered by the egret and how people adopted the custom of bathing in the onsen after seeing the egret’s miraculous recovery. In later years, to commemorate that legend, a stone was placed here called the “Sagi Ishi” (egret stone), which is now preserved at Hōjōen square in front of Dōgo Onsen Station.

Legend of the Tamanoishi

In the surviving manuscripts of Iyo no Kuni Fudoki is recorded the legend that when the two divinities Ōkuninushi no Mikoto and Sukunahikona no Mikoto visited Iyo, Sukunahikona no Mikoto became very ill. When Ōkuninushi no Mikoto carried Sukunahikona no Mikoto on the palm of his hand and soaked him in the water of Dōgo Onsen, Sukunahikona no Mikoto immediately recovered, and to prove that he was healthy again he danced upon a stone. That stone came to be called the Tamanoishi, and today it is enshrined at the north side of the Dōgo Onsen Honkan.

Legend of the Tamanoishi
Asuka period:Legend of Prince Shōtoku’s visit and poem about Nikitatsu

Asuka period:Legend of Prince Shōtoku’s visit and poem about Nikitatsu

It is said that when Prince Shōtoku visited Dōgo Onsen together with the monk Hyeja and Katsuragi no Omi in 596, he was so impressed by the beautiful scenery and the quality of the hot spring that he had a monument erected at Yu-no-Oka to commemorate his visit. During his visit the camellia were in full bloom, and Prince Shōtoku compared the scene of the healing hot spring benefiting all people equally as being like a Buddhist paradise.
“At Nikitatsu we waited for the moon before boarding our boat. Now the tide is in at last. Come, let’s get to rowing.”
It is said that Nukata no Ōkimi read this poem when the ship carrying Empress Saimei set sail from Nikitatsu port. In addition to Empress Saimei, there are also records of visits to Dōgo Onsen by many other members of the imperial family, including Emperor Jomei and Prince Naka no Ōe.

Heian period: “The Bathtubs of Iyo”

Among the popular songs of the Heian Period known as zōgei zaibara, the folksongs sung in the area around Dōgo Onsen include references to “the bathtubs of Iyo.” There is also reference to “all the bathtubs in Iyo” in the famous Tale of Genji, and in the capital, Kyoto, the expression “the bathtubs of Iyo” came to be used to mean a large number of something.

Heian period: “The Bathtubs of Iyo”
Kamakura period: Ippen Shōnin and the yugama

Kamakura period: Ippen Shōnin and the yugama

It is said that in 1288 Ippen Shōnin, the Buddhist monk who founded the Jishū sect at Hōgonji Temple in Dōgo, wrote “Namu Amida Butsu,” the name of Amida Buddha in 6 characters, on the cap of a yugama waterspout at the request of Kōno Michiari. That yugama still exists today and is enshrined in Dōgo Park as the Yugama Yakushi.

Edo period: Operation of Dōgo Onsen by Matsudaira Sadayuki

Matsudaira Sadayuki became lord of the Matsuyama domain in 1635, and the following year he began expanding the facilities at Dōgo Onsen. It is recorded that separate baths were established for samurai and priests, for women, and for male commoners, and that there were a 15-sen* bath, a 10-sen bath, a curing bath, and also a bath for horses downstream.
*1 yen was equal to 100 sen

Edo period: Operation of Dōgo Onsen by Matsudaira Sadayuki
Meiji period: Renovation of the Dōgo Onsen Honkan by Isaniwa Yukiya

Meiji period: Renovation of the Dōgo Onsen Honkan by Isaniwa Yukiya

After Isaniwa Yukiya became the first mayor of Dōgo Yunomachi in 1890, he began renovating the Dōgo Onsen Honkan, which had fallen into disrepair. There was considerable opposition to his plan, and a group opposing the renovation even barricaded themselves inside Hōgonji Temple in protest. Isaniwa argued that, “Only if we build something that will continue to be unrivaled even 100 years from now will it be of any value,” and through his unwavering commitment to make Dōgo prosperous, the major undertaking of renovating the Dōgo Onsen Honkan was completed in 1894.

Properties of Dōgo Onsen: For beautiful skin

Properties of Dōgo Onsen: For beautiful skin

Alkaline hot spring water is very gentle on the skin, making it ideal for spa and beauty treatment.
For optimum effect, the hot spring water of Dōgo Onsen is direct from the source with no reheating or added water.
Dōgo Onsen is one of Japan’s few onsen with hot spring water direct from the source with no reheating or added water.

Charm of Dōgo Onsen: The Shinrokaku and Sora-no-Sanpomichi

The Shinrokaku and the Tokidaiko

The Shinrokaku cupola atop the roof of the 3-tiered Dōgo Onsen Honkan is fitted with giyaman glass windows. The Tokidaiko drum suspended from the ceiling is sounded on 3 occasions each day to mark the time of day. The drum is struck 6 times at 6:00 a.m., 12 times at noon, and 6 times at 6:00 p.m. Adding to the special onsen atmosphere, the sound of the Tokidaiko has been designated one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan.

The Shinrokaku and the Tokidaiko
Sora-no-Sanpomichi

Sora-no-Sanpomichi

Located on Kanmuriyama, the small mountain south of the Dōgo Onsen Honkan, the Sora-no-Sanpomichi (“Walk in the Sky”) offers panoramic views of the Dōgo Onsen Honkan and Dōgo Yunomachi, both during the day and at night.

See introductions to the public bathhouses.