Enjoying a natural black hot spring in an open-air stone bath
In order to transport rice and vegetables from the provinces, as well as salt from Gyotoku in Chiba, Tokugawa Ieyasu constructed a canal connecting the Edo and Naka rivers. The area around the bansho(1) was lively with pilgrims on their way to and from Narita temple who frequented the many restaurants and small shops that flourished along the river banks. Tsurunoyu was established as a bathhouse for boatmen and travelers by a trader in seaweed harvested in the bay of Tokyo before the Edo Period Shogo Nakajima, the 10th. generation owner, says, “We still have the trumpet shell that was blown to signal the bathhouse opening”. In the Izumo Fudoki (2), written in 733, it is reported that Kuninomiyatsuko, a government official, bathed at Tamatsukuri Onsen in Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture as part of a purification ceremony.
Monkeys and other wild animals are known to immerse themselves in hot springs and the Japanese people’s fondness hot spring bathing may well date back into prehistory. Being able to enjoy a hot spring in the Metropolitan area is a precious thing.
The well water which had been used for 50 years changed colour, prompting an inspection; on investigation it transpired that the water contained iron and meta-silicates which allowed Tsurunoyu to be certified as a hot spring in 1995. The free-flowing black water of the open air bath surrounded by a Tsukiyama (3) creates the atmosphere of a hot spring resort at the end of a journey. The black water, heated slowly by kindling, heats the body marvelously and has earned a high reputation amongst the customers. The temperature in the open air bath is kept lower to allow anyone to enter it comfortably, whereas the bathtub inside is kept hot.
The bathhouse was ahead of its time in installing a sauna, while the cold water bath near the entrance also uses black water, in another pleasing touch. The bathhouse also features an electric bath, a relaxing bath and higher placed taps which the senior customers find easier to use.
There are none of the usual bathhouse etiquette posters on the walls of Tsurunoyu for the simple reason that the customers bathe with good manners. The dressing room and bathroom are tidy and every corner of every room is kept clean. Many happy, smiling children were enjoying the bathhouse; the owner said that many families visited on Sunday evenings.
In his Taisho Era bestseller Onsen Meguri (4), author Katai Tayama wrote,”The hot spring we reach at the end of a journey feels like home”. Tsurunoyu, found by strolling along the banks of Shinkawa, creates a similar feeling in us too.
Address: 2-11-16 Funabori, Edogawa-ku, Tokyo.
Open: 15:30 – 24:00
Access: 5 minutes from Funabori station on the Shinjuku line
Text and photographs: Akira Fuse
Translation: Aki Kono, Language Volunteer Co-talk ( LVC ).
(1)Bansho – a guardhouse
(2)Izumo Fudoki – an ancient report on provincial culture, geography, and oral tradition presented to the reigning monarchs of Japan,
(3)Tsukiyama – a rockery
(4)Onsen Meguri – a hot spring tour