Kosugedon painted by elementary school children
A local legend has it that long ago the Arakawa River, whose name in Japanese means wild or savage, flooded. The villagers inhabiting the area were in grave danger until a giant snake appeared and used its body as a bridge across the torrent, allowing the people to flee to safety in Senju on the opposite bank. The snake, known as Kosugedon, perished in the flood but the locals managed to retain a single scale which they dedicated to a shrine in the hope of it being their eternal protector. Third year students from Nishi Kosuge Elementary School enthusiastically painted pictures of the folktale on a Social Science field trip.
The bathhouse, founded in the early days of the Showa Period (1926-89), was taken over by the first owner , who was a native of Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture, in 1939 and renamed Kusatsuyu. His daughter Kinuyo Tanaka (born in 1944) married childhood friend Toru (born 1940) and the couple have been managing the bathhouse ever since.
The building is surrounded by a wall with roofing tiles and was rebuilt in 1954. Above the entranceway is a traditional irimoya (1) roof with a karahafu (2), while the interior features a variety of designs. The men’s changing room faces onto an extensive garden that dates to the rebuilding of the bathhouse and features a tsukiyama (3) and a variety of plants and trees. An arched bridge made of hinoki (4) crosses a pond and leads to a kawaya (5). It’s a nostalgic scene of an outdoor toilet from olden days.
The baths are of traditional shallow and deep designs, both with water jets and water pillows. The good quality underground water is heated by fuel oil. The wall in the men’s side of the bathhouse is decorated with a painting of Kenrokuen garden in Kanazawa, while the women’s side features a view of Mount Fuji from Izu. The schoolchildren’s paintings can be seen on the building’s interior wall through the glass in the men’s side. A mosaic tile design separating the two sides shows a view of a coastal cape on the men’s side; on the women’s side are paintings of Bambi and other animals to amuse small children.
The bathhouse will open from 5:30pm from August of this year. In the morning and afternoon it’s a day service centre (Kenyukan) that ferries people to and from their homes. The proprietor hopes that the bathhouse “can be enjoyed at their leisure by the generations of people who grew up bathing in public bathhouses”.
Before the war the nearby Mito Kaido(6) was a congested thoroughfare used to transport vegetables from Kanamachi and Kameari into the capital; but not any longer. Vestiges of the neighbourhood’s former prosperity remain in the brickwork of the buildings and a traditional small candy store on the same corner as Kusatsuyu.
Address: 1-17-3 Kosuge, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo
Access: 10 minutes’ walk from Tobu line Kosuge station
Text and photographs Akira Fuse
Translation: Hatsuho Matsuyama, Language Volunteer Co-talk(LVC)
(1) Irimoya – Japanese style architecture with a hip roof
(2) Karahafu – Similar to the chidorihafu but the apex of the triangle is rounded and the sides are curved making it more decorative. It looks a bit like a recurve bow shape
(3) Tsukiyama – A small artificial mountain made using stones, earth and sand
(4) Hinoki – Japanese cypress. The wood is often used in bathhouses.
(5) Kawaya – An old style Japanese toilet
(6) Mito Kaido – A former highway from Edo (Tokyo) to Mito (Ibaraki prefecture)