Day seventy-one: Botchan Dango
It was grey and drizzling when I arrived in Matsuyama, a mid-sized city on the island of Shikoku. Not the best weather for seeing sights, but perfect weather for taking a bath, which was just what I came to Matsuyama to do.
The approaching typhoon had already darkened the skies and washed away the pedestrians by the time I left my capsule hotel and hopped a tram bound for Dōgo Onsen, one of Japan's most famous hot spring baths. The theraputic value of the local waters has been recognized and harnessed for more than 1500 years at a number of different sites. The opulent Dōgo Onsen was built in the late 1800s and includes an especially luxurious suite of rooms reserved for the Imperial Family (and only used once!).
The spa has several levels and several different admission packages. The top-of-the-line ¥1500 ticket includes a private changing room, a loaner towel and robe, a tour of the Imperial rooms, entry into an exclusive bath, and a post-soak snack back in the changing room: a cup of tea and a tricolor botchan dango. The eponymous hero of Natsume Sōseki's 1906 novel, Botchan is Tokyo academic who finds himself a fish out of water when posted to a Matsuyama school; he finds solace in the local spas and in the sweet treat that now bears his name. Each of botchan dango's three skewered mochi balls is wrapped in bean paste of a different flavor: green tea, egg yolk, and red beans.