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Guide To Matsuyama Castle & Dogo Onsen

Visiting Matsuyama Castle and the famous Dogo Onsen is one of the best traditional and cultural experiences you can have on Shikoku Island.

Matsuyama is the main city on Shikoku Island in Japan, and most travellers come through for one to two nights on the way to other places, like starting the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. I arrived in Matsuyama on the ferry from Hiroshima in the evening.

This is what I got up to on the first full day there the next day. I managed to see the best of what the city has to offer, and this is what I suggest for things to do in Matsuyama. I’ll write this post with the assumption you have one full day.

The great thing about Matsuyama is the three main things to see are in the centre and only a maximum of one hour of walking between them.

Matsuyama City is known for its hot springs, historic sites, and the famous Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest hot springs in Japan.


Matsuyama

Matsuyama castle.
Matsuyama City as seen from the castle.

If you haven’t booked a place to stay yet then you can find places to stay in Matsuyama here.


Matsuyama Castle

Matsuyama Castle, along with Dogo Onsen, is one of the main things to see in the city so should be first on your list.

The castle opens at 9:00 a.m. and closes around 4:30 p.m. It’s best to go in the morning or midday so you don’t have to rush at the end. The castle is centrally located and easy to get to.

Firstly, some facts about the castle to give you some background for visiting.

Matsuyama Castle is one of Japan’s twelve “original castles,” meaning that the main tower of the castle has survived since the Edo period without undergoing reconstruction. The castle is situated on Mount Katsuyama, giving panoramic views of Matsuyama City and the Seto Inland Sea.

Matsuyama Castle was originally constructed in 1603 by Kato Yoshiaki, a daimyo (feudal lord) of the Iyo Province. The castle has a rich history and has undergone several renovations over the years.

The main tower, also known as the donjon, is a five-story structure. The castle’s design is characterized by its unique black colour, which is the result of the use of dark wood and black tiles. The castle’s architecture reflects the defensive strategies employed during the feudal era.

You can reach the castle by walking or taking a cable car or chairlift up the mountainside. The ascent lets you enjoy the surrounding nature and scenery.

I loved walking up there, but if you don’t want to walk the Matsuyama Ropeway is a good means of reaching the castle. It starts from the base of the mountain and takes you to a point near the castle grounds, and is a good option if you have trouble doing the walk up there.

Matsuyama Castle is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing if you happen to be visiting during the spring season. The castle grounds and the surrounding area are adorned with cherry blossoms.

The castle is considered a symbol of Matsuyama and plays a significant role in the cultural heritage of the region.

Matsuyama castle
On the way up to Matsuyama Castle.

It’s a nice steady climb up along the castle’s lower ramparts until you reach the top and the main castle building.

Matsuyama Castle
Matsuyama Castle.

Once up on top, you will get great views across Matsuyama city.

The castle itself is one of the best I have personally seen in Japan, having visited many. It’s one of my favourites.

Matsuyama Castle

Spend at least a few hours wandering the castle grounds.

Matsuyama Castle

At Matsuyama Castle, you not only have the opportunity to explore the historical architecture and exhibits within the castle but also to enjoy the scenic beauty of the surrounding area


Dogo Onsen

Dogo Onsen is one of the oldest and most historic onsens in all of Japan, and you could visit Matsuyama just to experience it. It is also the perfect way to relax after a day exploring the castle and temple.

Firstly, like the castle, here’s some background on Dogo Onsen.

Dogo Onsen Matsuyama

Dogo Onsen is one of Japan’s oldest and most famous hot springs and has a rich history and cultural significance, it’s known for its traditional bathhouses and association with the classic Japanese novel Botchan by Natsume Soseki.

Dogo Onsen has a history dating back over a thousand years, making it one of Japan’s oldest hot springs. It is mentioned in ancient texts and has been a popular destination for centuries.

The Dogo Onsen Honkan is the main bathhouse and a symbol of Dogo Onsen. It is a wooden, three-story building with a unique, nostalgic charm. The Honkan has different bathing areas for men and women, including a communal bath and private baths.

The architecture of Dogo Onsen Honkan is a blend of traditional Japanese design and influences from the Meiji and Taisho eras. The building has been designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government.

One distinctive feature of Dogo Onsen is the three-storied tower on the main building known as Yushinden, which was built as a private bathing area for the Imperial Family.

The area around Dogo Onsen is characterized by traditional ryokan (Japanese inns), shops, and cafes. You can take a stroll through the charming streets and experience the atmosphere of a historic onsen town before bathing in the onsen.

The onsen is a very old and traditional building.

dogo onsen matsuyama
Dogo Onsen.

Dogo Onsen is said to be one of the inspirations for the bathhouse in one of Japan’s best animation movies Spirited Away.

dogo onsen

Inside the chamber, you can relax after soaking in the baths.

Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama

Enjoy a Dogo craft beer afterwards. It’s a beer that you’re supposed to drink after visiting the Dogo Onsen.

Besides the Dogo Onsen Honkan, there is another bathhouse called Tama no Yu, which is a more modern facility offering additional bathing options.

Dogo Onsen offers a unique blend of history, culture, and therapeutic bathing experiences.


Ishite-ji Temple Matsuyama

On the way from the castle towards Dogo Onsen area visit the Ishite-ji Temple. It will take you around 45 minutes to one hour to walk there from Matsuyama Castle, or 20 minutes from Dogo Onsen.

Ishite-ji Temple, officially known as Ishite-ji Shingon Sect Zen Buddhism Temple, is one of the 88 temples on the Shikoku Pilgrimage. The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a famous pilgrimage route that covers 88 temples on the island of Shikoku.

The temple has a long history, and it is believed to have been founded in the 8th century by the Buddhist monk Gyoki.

The main hall of Ishite-ji, known as the Hondō, is an impressive structure with traditional Japanese architectural elements. The temple grounds also include a pagoda, a bell tower, and other auxiliary buildings.

To reach the main hall, you typically ascend a set of stone steps. The climb is symbolic of the spiritual journey and challenges faced by pilgrims on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

Ishite-ji Temple is associated with Matsuyama Castle through a legend. According to the legend, the lord of Matsuyama Castle prayed at Ishite-ji for victory before a battle.

The area around Ishite-ji is often vibrant with the presence of pilgrims, and shops and facilities catering to their needs.

It closes at 5:00 p.m.

Quick Tip: If you want to learn more about Japanese legends and folklore then the book The Book of Yokai is one of the best you can get.


Isaniwa Shrine

Isaniwa Shrine is only 5-10 minutes walk from Dogo Onsen so go there after visiting Ishite-ji Temple. Isaniwa Shrine is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the Shinto deities associated with agriculture, particularly rice cultivation.

The shrine has a long history, dating back to its founding in 1667 during the Edo period. The main hall (honden) of Isaniwa Shrine features traditional Japanese Shinto architecture. The vermilion-lacquered structures and the distinctive gabled roof are characteristic of Shinto shrines.

The entrance to Isaniwa Shrine is marked by a torii gate, a traditional Japanese gate that symbolizes the transition from the mundane to the sacred.

The shrine is surrounded by a peaceful forested area, providing a serene atmosphere. It’s not only a place of worship but also a cultural and historical site where you can experience the traditions of Shinto.

It closes at 7:00 p.m.


Shikoku Udon Noodles

udon noddles
Shikoku udon noodles with tempura.

Make sure this is on your list for dinner after Dogo Onsen.

The Shikoku region of Japan is famous throughout the country for its udon noodles, so Matsuyama makes a perfect place to have some.

In some preparations, udon noodles are served cold with a dipping sauce known as tsuyu. This dipping sauce is generally made with soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), and dashi (a broth made from fish and/or seaweed).

Udon noodles are not only a delicious and comforting food but also an integral part of Japanese culinary culture. They come in various styles, and the choice of udon dish can vary based on personal preferences and the season.

More advice on the famous noodles and other foods from Shikoku.


Things To Do In Matsuyama

If you’re visiting Matsuyama this will give you a good overview on how to spend your time there. Matsuyama Castle and Dogo Onsen really are 2 of my favourite places in Japan.

If you haven’t booked a place to stay yet then you can find places to stay in Matsuyama here.

Hiroshima and Miyajima Island (my post about them) across the sea are worth visiting if in this part of Japan.

Travelling around Japan can get pricey, so if you plan to move around a lot during your travels there think about getting a Japan Rail Pass to save money (you can get one with that link).

Recommended guidebook for Japan – Lonely Planet Japan


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