A sento also frequented by high-rise condo residents
One of the greatest Showa-era novelists Kafu Nagai described this area as follows in his famous diary “Danchotei Nichijo”: “Other than clouds in the sky, all you see are steel frames of bridges and gas tanks.” Those gas tanks, which served as landmarks of the Koto area, belonged to the Fukagawa plant (in Sarue) and Sunamura plant (in Kitasuna) of Tokyo Gas and were located diagonally across from each other at the crossing point of Onagi-gawa canal and Yokojyukken-gawa canal. These ⅽylinder-shaped gas tanks, featured in a film directed by Fukagawa-born Yasujiro Ozu, were dismantled soon after the end of World War II. Daini Hisanoyu is located across the canal from this site, on the Ojima side.
The first owner of Daini Hisanoyu was born in Noto in Ishikawa prefecture. His older brother, who was running a different sento called Hisanoyu in Minamisuna, opened Daini Hisanoyu in 1950, and placed his younger brother, who had been apprenticing in the sento business, as its first owner. The current owner, Yoshitaka Hisajima (born in 1952), is the youngest child of the first owner. He joined the family business immediately after he finished schooling and took over his father’s job in his twenties, since his father was busy serving the needs of the local residents as the community chairman.
The structure of Daini Hisanoyu remains almost the same as when it was built. The hafu (gables) at the front of the building is embossed with the name of Hisanoyu. The entrance was changed to house a front desk and lobby during its major renovation in 1991. In the changing rooms, classical rectangular wicker baskets are still being used and you can also see wicker mats on the floor. In the garden in front of the men’s bath room is a stone-built pond with carps and a stone lantern behind it. It is delightful to enjoy this garden from the wooden deck as you cool down after bathing. The bath room has a medicinal bath with different herbs used by day, and a jet bubble bath equipped with water pillows and bubbles coming up from the bottom of the tub. There is also a sauna and a water bath. The painted scene on the back wall is of a valley with a suspension bridge done by the painter Morio Nakajima. Mt. Fuji is painted on the women’s bath room side, and the Kutani-ware tiles below it with designs of goldfishes are not to be missed. The tiles on the men’s side feature cute baby fawns.
Hot water is prepared by warming tap water with gas. The fuel used to warm the water has changed over the years, from firewood to coal and to oil. Nowadays however, more than half of the sentos in Koto-ku use gas. Gas is delivered to each household in Tokyo through a network connected to liquid gas plants in the Tokyo bay area (Yokohama, Kawasaki and Chiba), so you don’t see gas tanks in the city anymore.
The area surrounding Nishi-Ojima station has come to have an international feel after a junior high school in the area was changed to an international school run by an Indian organization. Daini Hisanoyu, run by the current owner together with his wife Tomoko, is an invaluable sento for the local community that is also frequented by residents of the high-rise condos situated across from it on the other side of Meiji-dori street.
Address: 1-36-6 Ojima, Koto-ku Tokyo
Access: 3 minutes walk from Nishi-Ojima Station
Texts and photographs: Akira Fuse
Translation: Language Volunteer Co-talk (LVC)