Matsuyama (松山; ) is the capital of Ehime prefecture on the island of Shikoku, Japan. It is known for being the home of Dōgo Onsen (道後温泉), possibly Japan's oldest and certainly most famous hot spring, located only a few kilometers from the town center.
Author Soseki Natsume wrote his classic novel Botchan while living here and working as a teacher. Although the area does not come off well in the Edo-phile's description, the town nevertheless celebrates the connection with a variety of displays, as does Dogo Onsen.
Nonstop air service is offered into Matsuyama from major airports such as Tokyo Haneda, Nagoya Komaki, Osaka Itami and Fukuoka, as well as from Okinawa. Buses connect the airport to the Matsuyama train station in about 20 minutes (¥300).
Matsuyama is located on the JR Yosan Line. To reach Matsuyama by rail from the Japanese mainland, take a San'yo Shinkansen train to Okayama, and transfer to the Shiokaze limited express, which will get you to Matsuyama in about three hours (¥6630).
The Ishizuchi limited express connects Matsuyama with Takamatsu on the eastern end of Shikoku (2 1/2 hours, ¥6010). The Uwakai and a few other limited express services run from Matsuyama to Uwajima (75 minutes, ¥3410). Be careful, as many limited express trains in Shikoku combine or divide with others at certain stations, so be sure you're in the correct part of the train.
Local trains during the day will take much longer, and will probably not leave you with ample time for sightseeing.
By overnight train service from Tokyo, take the 10 PM Sunrise Seto train to Sakaide (坂出) station, the first stop after crossing the long Seto-Ohashi bridge, and the station before Takamatsu. After a 40-minute wait (during which you may be able to get a bite to eat), take the Ishizuchi limited express to Matsuyama, arriving at 10 AM. The Sunrise Seto is one of the few overnight trains in Japan with a shower on board. You can use the shower for a small fee, or for no charge, depending on your accommodation type. But, if you don't like being limited to six minutes worth of water, just bathe yourself at Dogo Onsen instead!!
Note that during Holiday periods, the Sunrise Seto runs directly to Matsuyama after reversing direction at Takamatsu.
The Sunrise Seto may be a bit more comfortable than the other overnight option:
A daily overnight bus service, the Dream Takamatsu Matsuyama runs from Tokyo station, leaving at 10:20 PM and arriving just before 9 AM the next morning. (12 1/2 hours, ¥9400 one way, ¥17000 round-trip.
Ferry services connects Matsuyama with various locations on Honshu and Kyushu. Ferries depart from the ferry terminal, Matsuyama Kanko-ko (松山観光港). To reach the ferry terminal from Matsuyama Station, take the private Iyo railway line from nearby Otemachi (大手町) station. At the terminating station, Takahama (高浜), take the shuttle bus to the port.
- Ishizaki Ferry operates daily boat service to Hiroshima, with some boats stopping in Kure (呉). The Superjet Hydrofoil service departs every hour, on the hour, from 7:00 to 21:00. The ride takes 70-80 minutes to reach Hiroshima and costs ¥6300 each way. Slower ferries depart on different schedules between 6:50 and 19:55 (10 per day), reaching Hiroshima in about 2 1/2 hours at a cost of only ¥2700 each way.
- There are also two daily Ishizaki Ferry services to Moji and Shimonoseki, departing at 7:50 and 15:10. The boats arrive in Moji at 10:30 and 17:50 respectively, with arrival in Shimonoseki 10 minutes later. The fare is ¥8500 each way, with second-floor Super Seats costing an extra ¥1000.
- Kansai Ferry runs overnight services from Beppu, stopping in Matsuyama enroute to Kobe and Osaka. The ferry departs at 22:40 and arrives in Kobe at 6:50 and Osaka at 8:40 the next day. The morning ferry to Beppu departs at 6:55, arriving in Beppu at 10:25.
- In addition there is an overnight Kansai Ferry service to Kokura in Kitakyushu, leaving at 21:55 and arriving at 5:00 the next day, at a cost of ¥4000 each way.
- Diamond Ferry runs one day service and two night services to Kobe. The day boat leaves at 11:45, arriving in Kobe at 21:00. The overnight boats leave at 20:30 and 22:40, arriving at 5:30 and 6:50 the next day, respectively. There is also a morning service to Oita, departing at 7:50 and arriving in Oita at 11:15.
For the Kansai and Diamond Ferries, the cost is ¥3000 each way to Beppu and Oita, and ¥5900 each way to Kobe and Osaka.
Ferry Timetable Information (in Japanese)
The streetcar, abolished in most Japanese cities, is still in use in Matsuyama today, and is the main method of getting around the city. The flat fare is ¥150 per trip; a one-day pass for the streetcars costs ¥300. There is also a special streetcar named the Botchan Densha, which is a recreation of the old steam powered street cars. Do not be fooled however, as the Botchan Densha isn't powered by steam all, rather a diesel engine.
A streetcar service connects JR Matsuyama station directly to Dogo Onsen. Buses run once an hour from the ferry port to the onsen.
- Matsuyama Castle, situated on a 130m tall hill in the center of the city. It is claimed to be one of only three existing original hilltop castles remaining in Japan. The main tower is an original wooden framed structure (like Himeji Castle, as opposed to the many concrete reproduction castle towers found in most of the rest of Japan (Osaka, Hiroshima, Kumamoto, etc).
- Isaniwa Shrine (伊佐邇波神社) is near Dogo Onsen.
- Devotees of the aforementioned Botchan may enjoy a related clock in the town square and the Botchan train, running the same route Soseki used to take from his house to the onsen.
Eight temples in Matsuyama are part of the 88 temple pilgrimage:
- Jōruriji (浄瑠璃寺)
- Yasakaji (八坂寺)
- Sairinji (西林寺)
- Jōdoji (浄土寺)
- Hantaji (繁多寺)
- Ishiteji (石手寺)
- Taizanji (太山寺)
- Enmyōji (円明寺)
Grab your towel and go bathing! Dōgo Onsen  is one of the oldest and best-known onsen hot springs in Japan, with a history stretching back over 1500 years. The springs are mentioned in the Man'yōshū (written c. 759), and according to legend even Prince Shotoku (574-622) used to partake of the waters. In the 1500 years since, an entire cluster of bathhouses, hotels and restaurants has sprung up around the original and offers plenty of hot-spring dipping opportunities.
Dogo Onsen Honkan (道後温泉本館) is the original bathhouse here. Set in a large, traditional Japanese house — the model for the bathhouse in Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away — it offers a number of different experiences depending on your budget.
Co-ed almost-naked stairclimbing
As you descend the staircase down to the baths, keep an eye out for an unusual sign:
Or, in English, "Climbing the stairs while naked is strictly forbidden".
- Simple no-frills entry into the Kami-no-Yu (神の湯, "Bath of the Gods") costs a mere ¥300, but that's all you get, you even have to bring your own towel and soap. For another ¥320 you're loaned a yukata robe and fed green tea and a few sembei cookies after your bath. The entrance process for this second level is a little on the confusing side though: you have to ascend the stairs and disrobe right there in the relaxation room, in sight of all the attendants and anybody in the street below who's looking up. But only down to your underwear -- after putting on your yukata, you go downstairs, strip away the last vestiges of your dignity, and enter the bath. (There are coin lockers if you need to store your valuables, at ¥100 a pop.) The bath isn't particularly spectacular, just two identical giant granite tubs in separate rooms, more often than not full of Japanese tourists. If you want a little more space to yourself, try visiting on a weekday afternoon, before the pre-dinner rush. The process repeats in reverse on the way back, except that you can lounge about in your yukata for an hour, sip on the tea (free refills). The relaxation room is on a breezy 2nd-floor balcony, nice and cool even on a sweltering summer day and with nice views of the yukata-clad tourists clip-clopping about the streets. The entire place is surprisingly traditional with few concessions to modernity, eg. not a vending machine in sight.
- Should you want to get away from the masses, you can fork out another ¥360 -- we're up to ¥980 now -- and enter the Tama-no-Yu (霊の湯, "Bath of the Spirits"). Tea and cookies are provided here as well, and you finally get to borrow a towel too. And if you cough up yet another ¥300, you can retire to a private room on the 3rd floor for changing and sipping tea for all of one hour and twenty minutes.
- Still not satisfied? Then you can book Botchan's Room, named after the protagonist of Natsume Soseki's famed novel of the same name, who used to lounge around the place when off duty (as Soseki did in real life). Prices are negotiable, but presumably not terribly cheap.
- And for even more luxury there's the Yushinden (又新殿), reserved for the use of the Imperial Family and so hallowed that a mere glimpse inside will set you back ¥210.
The main shopping areas are the covered street malls Okaido and Gintengai. At one end is Matsuyama Castle and at the other end is the large 10 story department store Takashimaya. Dogo Onsen is also connected to a covered street mall that features more traditional Japanese goods and local products.
Many bars and restaurants are available on Nibancho Street and Sanbancho Street just off of Okaido street. Try the local specialty, Botchan dango, which are tasty little multicolored balls of glutinous mochi rice on a stick.
Need a relaxing pint after your dip in the Dogo Onsen? Just go across the road to the excellent brewpub across the road from the onsen which serves an excellent German style lager, an excellent mild and a good stout.
- Matsuyama Youth Hostel, tel. 089-933-6366, . An excellent place to stay, run by an eccentric but affable couple who will, among other things, scan your aura on demand. Despite the name this is located in Dogo Onsen, not central Matsuyama, and should not be confused with the Matsuyama Downtown hostel, which is in Matsuyama. Beds starting at ¥3360. The hostel is an 8-minute walk up the hill from the Dogo Onsen tram terminus, next to the Isaniwa Shrine.
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