Name: Julio Perez Jr.
A literature lover, writer, translator, and graduate from Columbia University. Julio is currently seeking opportunities in New York. Follow his enthusiasm for Japan, literature, and board gaming on Twitter @brittlejules.
Location in Japan: Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture
Name of city/restaurant/venue: Dogo Onsen
Dogo Onsen is a very famous bath house with a history of over a thousand years. It is one of my favorite places in Japan because of its connection to Natsume Soseki, my favorite Japanese author who lead me to become fascinated with Japanese literature and culture. In his comical novel Botchan, the titular character moves from Tokyo to Matsuyama to become a Junior High School teacher. Feeling out of place in a very different city, Botchan finds solace in visiting Dogo Onsen as often as he can. He comes to love it so much that he goes so far as to pay for the first class treatment each visit. Today you can choose from several courses granting you access to different baths in the onsen, some being more exclusive than the others, as well as snacks and a small private room to relax in with your friends. You can even sample Botchan Dango, one of Matsuyama’s meibutsu (famous products), three sweet rice flour dumplings on a stick usually colored green, yellow, and brown. You can also take a tour of the Imperial Baths, a now unused section of the onsen built exclusively for the royal family in 1950, and finally there is a room dedicated to Natsume Soseki featuring information, photos, and a bust of the author.
The novel Botchan is based on Soseki’s own experience teaching in Matsuyama and it was out of his love for Dogo Onsen that was featured so prominently. I had the privilege to work as a teacher in Kyoto through the JET program, and on my holidays I took the opportunity to visit Dogo Onsen. Natsume Soseki and Botchan were central to my undergraduate thesis on translation, so visiting the Onsen was a trip I had eagerly been planning since I first arrived. I was thrilled to discover that Matsuyama city is very proud of its appearance in Botchan. The characters and Natsume Soseki himself can be found all over the city, people dress as the characters, Botchan souvenirs are sold, and there is even a Botchan themed clock near the arcade where you can see the Botchan automata perform a short scene at the start of each hour.
As I have already mentioned, Dogo Onsen has a long history outside of its appearance in classical literature. Its waters are believed to have healing properties and this power is attributed to ancient times with a legend of a white heron being discovered healing itself in the waters of the onsen. To this day the white heron is a symbol of Dogo Onsen and a statue of one can be seen on top of the building. Also, if you have seen Hayao Miyazaki’s award winning Spirited Away, then you are already a little familiar with Dogo Onsen. The appearance of the bath house in the animated movie is based on the façade of Dogo Onsen’s main building.
Matsuyama is a wonderful city rich with history. I recommend staying near Dogo Onsen and visiting famous sights such as one of the few remaining original Japanese castles, Matsuyama-jo, or several Buddhist temples and Shrines like Ishite-ji and then finishing your day with a relaxing bath at Dogo Onsen.
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