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Spirited Away to Dogo Onsen!

That voice in my head wants to share my experience at Dogo Onsen:

Tsubasa and I decided to take an overnight trip to Dogo Onsen (hot springs) in Ehime Prefecture! I wanted to visit another hot spring before it got too hot, but we couldn’t take too much time off, so we decided on a one-night trip to Dogo Onsen. It’s about a four and a half drive from where we live. We saw some beautiful scenery and even passed over Naruto Whirlpools! (We decided to stop by the whirlpools on the way home. So stick around, I’ll talk about them soon!)

It was slightly rainy and cloudy, but it turned out to be a perfect day. By the time we reached the hotel, the rain had stopped and there was a cool breeze. The hotel, Chaharu, was beautiful: light brown woods, a soft golden glow from the lights, and a gorgeous art piece in the center of the lobby greeted us. The staff was very welcoming and helpful, and we were swiftly led up to our room.

The room was a traditional “washitsu,” tatami-floor room. It was large, with a low table and “zabuton chairs,” or legless chairs. We set down our things and had only a brief rest before heading down to the hotel restaurant for a kaiseki dinner: a 7-course meal of the finest, freshest ingredients from the surrounding area.

Since Dogo Onsen is near the ocean, I knew fresh fish would be on the menu. Now, I’m not a big fan of fish. I’ll eat the occasional grilled salmon, or a white fish, but other than that I tend to stay away from fishy dishes- especially shellfish, I really don’t like the texture. (Side note: People tend to assume that because sushi is considered the pentacle of Japanese food we eat it all the time here in Japan, but actually we don’t. It’s considered a luxury, because good sushi is expensive.)

Luckily, despite the overwhelming number of dishes, I was able to eat most of it. My favorite was probably the “takikomi gohan,” or mixed rice, course. It was towards the end of the meal, so I was already quite full and wasn’t sure I could actually eat any more. I took one bite and was hooked. The rice was so delicious! It had chopped up onions, salmon, and other spices in it; just thinking about it is making my mouth water! Before I realized, I had eaten the whole bowl of rice… and here I thought I was full!

We decided to take a stroll through the nearby shopping district after dinner; we had to walk off some of those calories! It was a little late, so most of the stores were closing up shop. The few stores that were still open were mostly selling food; everything looked delicious, but after a 7-course meal we were so full! We decided to save eating more food for the next day without much argument.

After our quick stroll, we returned to our room (where the staff had moved the table to the side and laid out our bed rolls on the floor) to change into yukata before heading up to the hotel’s hot springs. The hotel’s hot springs were on the roof, and the late hour made for a quiet bath time. The men’s and women’s baths were separate, so I was all alone in the women’s bath. The windows overlooking the city were fogged up, but it was a very relaxing time despite the lack of scenery.

I washed my body clean (the first step to doing Japanese hot springs correctly), and stepped into the bubbling lake of hot water. Despite arming myself up with the shower water, it was still too much of a temperature difference that I couldn’t stand the hot water for very long. I sat on the edge and swished my feet around, enjoying the quiet. That’s what I love about hot springs: the hot water relaxes your body while the surrounding scenery and soft trickling sounds of water relaxing the spirit (especially since I had it all to myself!). For me, hot springs allow for reflection and rejuvenation. I sat thinking about the day, the coming week, the coming year; I thought about before Japan, my family (especially how my mom would hate sharing a bath with strangers!). Before long the hot water was making me sleepy, so I got out and redressed in my yukata. Needless to say, between the delicious food and relaxing bath, I slept so deeply and comfortably that night!

The next morning we checked out and went back to the shopping district to catch up on all the food we had missed the previous night. We ate like children: nothing but sweets! Mikan (Japanese orange) ice cream cones, black bean pastries, and custard-red bean paste pastries! So good!

After stuffing our faces, we visited the site of the remains of Yuzuki Castle. There was a small museum where a volunteer guide, a 78-year-old man, gave us the best tour. He explained that enemy soldiers destroyed the castle hundreds of years ago, but until that point it had been under the same family’s care for over 400 years. He was a spry 78-year-old and talked to us for a long time, and about things other than the castle- “Look people in the eye. Don’t hesitate to tell people how you feel. Discussion is the best medicine for good relationships,” he said. He was such an interesting person, with such a good spirit; we left with smiles on our faces and headed home.

About halfway home, we stopped by the Naruto Whirlpools in Tokushima Prefecture. There’s a bridge that crosses the large expanse of water directly over the whirlpools, and underneath the bridge is a long walkway that people can walk on and see the whirlpools directly beneath them! The walkway is open-air, with only a metal cage protecting you from tumbling into the ocean. The wind was ferocious and whipped our hair into our faces, reddening our cheeks. The whirlpools were directly beneath our feet once we got about halfway across! The Naruto Whirlpools are created by the conflicting salt currents of the Pacific Ocean and Seto Inland Sea. It was SO amazing to see the actual current of the water, and the actual swirls of the salt. It was even more amazing to see huge tankers to through the whirlpools! The area is quite shallow in places, so I was surprised that the ships were actually going through. Despite the windy whiplash, it was well worth the stop.

And then, home! It’s nice to go on vacation (if you can call an overnight trip a vacation), but it’s always nice to come home. I highly recommend Dogo Onsen and the Naruto Whirlpools as places to visit when coming to Japan! The awe-inspiring, stunning power of nature is humbling and well worth the visit.

© 2016 by That Voice in my Head - Meagan Finlay

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