Looking for Sento – 11 (2014.3.7) Atamiyu

Mr. Elephant’s octagonal roofed bathhouse

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Octagonal roof

Hosoda, Katsushika-ku, is just like a pocket, being surrounded by Takasago to the north, Koiwa to the south, Kamakura to the east and Okudo to the west. It is said that Hosoda village was set up in Genroku 8 (1695), when it was split from Magarikane village (the present Takasago). At the same time Hosoda Shrine was established as the village shrine and even now conveys a sense of history.  After the Second World War, as part of flood counter-measures Shinnakagawa river was dug, dividing both the village of Hosoda and the town of Okudo.

 Jasmine herbal bath

Jasmine herbal bath

A freight line (Shinkin Line), an unusual feature these days for Tokyo, runs parallel with Seseragi-dori street, which in the old days was a muddy ditch. “As this area was paddy fields, the croaking of frogs was noisy” says Yoshinobu Tsuji (70), the proprietor of this sento. Mr. Tsuji was born in Tokyo, but was evacuated to Hakui in Ishikawa-ken’s Noto peninsula during the war. He graduated from the Sailors’ School in Nanao and became the mate of a Kawasaki Kisen cargo ship, and for roughly seven years sailed the world. In 1970, when Atamiyu was built in Seseragi-dori street, Mr.Tsuji was entrusted with the running of the bathhouse by the owner and decided to leave the sea. As he was an absolute beginner, he went to Hikifuneyu for three months to learn the business starting with the basics, such as stoking the boilers.


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Mr. Elephant

The building itself is a wooden structure with a mortar finish, and has a western style “billboard architecture” front. Viewed from the side you can see a glass-fronted octagonal steam vent set on top of a square-shaped building. The changing room, which retains its traditional bandai(1), has white walls and a high funazoko-tenjo(2) ceiling. An unusual feature for the Kanto is the bathtub, which is oval-shaped and situated in the centre of the bathroom. A statue of an elephant stands on the partition between the shallow and deep sections of this bathtub, and the bubbles emanating powerfully from around its trunk mixes air with the hot water to the right degree. Herbs, such as lavender, jasmine etc., in the hot water for the bath are changed daily. The paintings on the rear wall depict European scenery; in the men’s bathroom the painting is of a lakeside castle with Alps in the background, whilst the women’s bathroom has a riverside windmill and swans. Both are depicted on the walls with chip tiles up to the arched ceiling. The lighting from the glass windows and the colourful glass blocks on the exterior wall are outstanding. As the taps are located on three walls, the bathroom can be used comfortably.

Atamiyu’s concrete chimney can be seen from far away. The bathhouse is popularly known by children as Mr. Elephant’s Bathhouse. Recently, as bathhouses in the neighbouring towns disappear, more customers are coming from far away to Atamiyu by bicycle, and the proprietor and his wife, Eiko, welcome them from the Bandai.

Address: 1-8-18 Hosoda, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: 03-3659-8368
Open: 15:00 – 23:00
Closed: Friday
Access: 10 minutes walk from Koiwa station

Text and photographs: Akira Fuse
Translation: Yoshie Hutchinson, Language Volunteer Co-talk (LVC)

(1)Bandai – Traditional elevated seat at a public bathhouse, to collect the entrance fee and watch over the changing room
(2)Funazoko-tenjo – Wooden ceiling shaped like the bottom of a boat with a high centre