Japan’s fourth-largest island of Shikoku is home to some of the country’s most spectacular and undeveloped scenery. The island is also the setting for an ancient walking trail, the challenging Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage. The route connects 88 Buddhist temples and covers more than six hundred miles.
Pilgrims, known as O-henro, traditionally did the journey on foot over many weeks, staying at Shukubo temples which provided overnight lodging.
A castle town turned small city, with a charming old-fashioned streetcar system and nostalgic shopping arcades, Matsuyama offers a glimpse into post-war Japan's resurgence, retaining a feeling most modern Japanese cities have since lost. Dogo Onsen, home of the famous Dogo public bathhouse, is located just north-east of Matsuyama city, beyond the hilltop castle. Believed to have a history stretching back almost three thousand years, Dogo Onsen is the oldest spa in Japan. The main public bathhouse is a grandiose wooden structure and the first public bathhouse in Japan designated as an Important Cultural Asset, an accolade bestowed on its 100th anniversary.
There are two main legends attached to Dogo Onsen. The first tells how many years ago, flocks of herons lived here. A white heron with an injured leg bathed the injury in hot water which gushed from a crevice in the rock. Thanks to the thermal water’s healing powers, the injury was healed, and the heron could fly away. The second narrates the story of two gods travelling to Dogo Onsen when one of them fell ill. His companion bathed the suffering deity in the thermal water, and he recovered. Happy to regain his health, the god danced on a stone at the hot spring, leaving a footprint in the rock. The rock is now called Tama no Ishi (Round Rock) and still available to see. Dogo Onsen is the only hot spring in Japan featuring a special private bath for the exclusive use of members of the Imperial Family.