Long-established sento on Hatonomachi-dori street
There is an area between Mitokaido street and Bokutei-dori street in Higashimukojima which miraculously remained after the Great Tokyo Air Raids. Bokutei bustled with cherry blossom viewers in the Meiji era (1868 – 1912) and with visitors to the entertainment district after the Second World War. Pre-war Showa era buildings still remain as they were in this narrow street. The lives of working women and human events in this town were written about by many novelists, such as Nagai Kafu(1) or Yoshiyuki Junnosuke(2), and were also used as a theme for movies. Hatonomachi (pigeons’ town) remained as the name of a shopping street in this area.
Matsunoyu, established before the war, is run by Hiroyuki Takeuchi, his wife Masako and their second oldest son Kotaro. Masako’s grandparents, who were successful in the sento business and came to Tokyo from Nanao in Ishikawa prefecture at the beginning of the Showa era, bought Matsunoyu after the war. Masako, who spent her childhood in this town, married Hiroyuki who is from the same town as Masako’s grandparents. Masako worked at various sento in Kanasugi, Kameari and Ryusen, and came back to Matsunoyu ten years ago.
The building, which was built in Showa 35 (1960), retains traditional wooden sento architecture, with a small inner garden featuring a pond, a changing room with an oriagetenjo(4), a bathroom decorated with painted wall pictures or painted tiles, and a tall semi-cylindrical steam vent, although the entrance hall and Bandai(3) were later remodeled.
On the back wall in the bathroom, there is a painted picture of the Tateyamarenpo mountain range with the Hokuriku shinkansen bullet train, just before it started operating, which was drawn in cooperation with Toyama City. Pictured tiles drawn by Sousen(5) the painter of Kutaniyaki(6) can also be seen there. On the tiled wall surrounding the men’s and women’s bath tubs, there are pictures of a pond in a garden with carp swimming in the waterfall. On the wall separating the men and women’s bathrooms, on the men’s side women in the nude are depicted relaxing on a rocky stretch at the seaside, whereas on the women’s side there is a picture of a scroll of a colorful kachofugetsu(7) waterside scene.
There are two traditionally-made bathtubs full of hot water. One is deep with a high temperature and the other is shallow with a low temperature. They are changed daily in turn to a medical herbal bath. Matsunoyu’s specialty is soft hot water, which is groundwater boiled with wood chips.
There used to be a house rented by Koda Rohan(8), the great Meiji era writer, on the corner of Bokutei-dori street. Although the house was removed and relocated to Meijimura(9) in Showa 46 (1971), a commemorative children’s playground, with descriptions of Rohan’s life and work, was opened in the spring of 2014, on the nearby site of another of his old residences. Matsunoyu is 15 minutes’ walk from Tokyo Skytree. Why don’t you have a bath there after having a stroll around the traditional crafts shops, such as chopsticks or wooden battledore, or the shops of art crafts done by young artists?
Address: 1-10-18 Higashimukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Open: 15:30 – 24:00
Access: 5 minutes walk from Tobu line Hikifune station
Text and photographs: Akira Fuse
Translation: Yoshie Hutchinson, Language Volunteer Co-talk (LVC)
(1)Nagai Kafu – the pen name of the Japanese author, playwright, essayist and diarist, Nagai Sokichi (1879-1959)
(2)Yoshiyuki Junnosuke – a Japanese novelist (1924-1994), who received the 31st Akutagawa prize
(3)Bandai – traditional elevated seat at a public bathhouse, to collect the entrance fee and watch over the changing rooms
(4)Oriagetenjo – coved ceiling whose centre is flat
(5)Sousen – the most popular painter of Kutaniyaki tiles
(6)Kutaniyaki – Kutaniware pottery
(7)Kachofugetsu – the beauties of nature
(8)Koda Rohan – the pen name of the Japanese author, Koda Shigeyuki (1867-1947).
(9)Meijimura – open air museum for preserving and exhibiting Japanese architecture from the Meiji period. It is located in Inuyama City, Aichi prefecture.
“Matsunoyu”, unfortunately, closed down in September 2014. However, from the point of view of reading an article which introduces an historical background, and to preserve a record, we have decided to publish this article.We appreciate your understanding.