Japan consists of four large islands. The most important island is Honshu, where all the famous cities and industry are concentrated. Hokkaido is the Northern island, large and sparsely populated, only really mastered by the Japanese in 19th century. The island of Kyushu in South West is historically important for Japan, as many major events in Japan’s history took place there. Indeed it is projected that humans came to Japan via Kyushu in the first place. And finally the island of Shikoku to the South of Honshu, the smallest of the four, mountainous, the least industrially developed, probably having preserved the most authenticity of old Japan. Out of these four islands, I visited three – I skipped Hokkaido as it was already quite cold there. On Kyushu I went to Fukuoka and Kagoshima, whereas on Shikoku I visited the town of Matsuyama.
Matsuyama is famous in Japan for its public onsen called Dogo-onsen. It is considered the most ancient onsen in Japan. On the streets of Matsuyama you often see the Japanese travellers in yukata kimonos with a tiny basket slowly heading towards Dogo. I stayed in Matsuyama in a simple ryokan which even had its own onsen, but the admission to Dogo was also included in the price of the night. With great pleasure I therefore visited Dogo several times.
This is how it looks. You cannot make photos inside, but it has to be said that this onsen is truly wonderful and very traditional. There are even some special rooms purpose built for the emperor in case he decides to visit.
Matsuyama is also known for its castle, which was the last castle in Japan built (or rather restored) in the feudal times, before the Meiji restoration which put an end to the feudal order. At the end of 18th century the Matsuyama castle burned down, and only by the middle of 19th century did the local lord accumulate the funds to rebuild it, just before the restoration. The castle occupies the commanding point atop a mountain. As you climb it, you pass these gates:
Looking over Matsuyama:
From the tallest tower of the castle you can observe the platform atop the mountain:
And Matsuyama itself. Somewhere there to the left in front of the ridge is Dogo-onsen.
The castle atop the platform:
The main tower:
A funny well is found in the castle interior. A plate next to it announces that there are several legends about it: 1) that it is bottomless, 2) a giant bat lives in it, 3) it is full of gold coins put there to clean the water, 4) it is connected with the tower by a tunnel. With typical Japanese seriousness it is concluded that neither of these legends are correct. I was imagining how serious Japanese scientific team is checking the globe from the other side to see if by any chance there is no bottom of the Matsuyama well.
An unusual garden at the foot of Matsuyama castle mountain, built around stone geometrical patterns:
As always in Japan, all is in wonderful harmony with nature:
Shikoku island is also famous in Japan because of its route of 88 temples. The pilgrims take this route around the whole islands visiting every temple, which requires about three months, although nowadays many delegations cut the trip time by using a bus. This is one of 88 temples, Ishite-ji, very close to Dogo-onsen:
A statue of Buddha observes the temple from the mountain:
Inside the temple:
A wonderful park, called Dogo-park, right next to Dogo-onsen. Once there was a feudal castle in this park too.
Ryokan where I stayed was very simple and very traditional. I had a feeling of entering a magical world when I came there:
Internal courtyard on a sunny morning:
Old clock in a corridor:
In this ryokan a very simple Japanese breakfast was offered. It consisted of Japanese green tea, miso soup…
…rice, very sour plums and Japanese pickles. A typical breakfast – nothing sweet and lost of sour and salty!
So I was forced to go to a café in the main gallery and order this sophisticated addition to my breakfast. This is sweet potato and some ice cream with a strawberry. A capucchino too.
This is the bill. I understood nothing!
Back to ryokan, its small onsen was available to men and women according to the timetable:
This is the dressing room:
Typical Japanese attention to detail:
I too visited the onsen wearing the yukata kimono:
The small onsen itself. I photographed it during the day, so no water in it:
And just to give an idea of the route to Shikoku. The bus crosses enormous bridges between the islands:
And the very particular Japanese bus, where every row of seats is separate: