Monday, May 08, 2006

And Onto the Next Island ... Shikoku

Our first stop in Shikoku was Matsuyama, the largest city on the island, with a population of around 470,000. While there, we checked out its two major attractions: Dogo onsen, and Matsuyama jo.

Dogo onsen, with its massive, beautiful public bath house, is everything I think a Japanese onsen should be. The building is over 100 years old, and it’s absolutely gorgeous, especially at night, with its dark wood and Japanese screens. Leading up to the building is a covered shopping arcade, with shops full of traditional Japanese items, including fans, prints, lacquerware, and onsen bathing needs. People staying at the surrounding ryokan inns totter about in their wooden geta and their loose cotton yukata. It all makes for an incredibly romantic scene.

That being said, it wasn’t one of our better onsen experiences. It became very clear very quickly that people from all over Japan come to this one bathhouse to be able to say, just as we now can, that they have bathed at Dogo Onsen. The system was confusing, as you could pay a number of fees for different levels of service, and the change rooms and baths were absolutely packed! To the point that we were almost touching one another while we bathed!

Jeff and I opted for the “mid-range” service. This meant that we were each given a yukata to lounge in after the bath. We also got to sit in a common rest area and enjoy some tea and snacks after the bath. Sounds nice, eh? Except for Jeff… with his long legs and his knee problems, he can’t sit “seiza” – on his knees. Meaning that he constantly had to worry about his yukata robe splitting apart and revealing his world!

So ya, been there, done that…!

The whole area around the onsen is very quaint. Natsume Soseki, a famous Japanese author, once lived in Matsuyama and frequented the onsen, so some sights around the onsen are modeled after his book, “Botchan”. This train actually runs (for the tourists’ sake, of course). Doesn’t this scene look so Niagara-on-the-Lake??

Finally, the other attraction we went to visit in the city, was Matsuyama castle. There are castles all over Japan, but most of them are concrete reproductions. This castle is an original survivor. Unfortunately, as would be the case, while we were there, the main part of the castle was covered in scaffolding! But Jeff still did his best to capture parts of the castle.

Finally, this is a samurai outfit that caught Jeff's attention in the castle. I wouldn't want to meet up with someone dressed like this! These were scary little dudes!

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