A bath furnace ironworks re-established as a bathhouse in Susaki town
In the Edo Period the Fukagawa Hachimangu Festival parade of omikoshi or portable shrines, led by the Kiyari (1) and Tekomai (2) was so grand it was known as one of the three great festivals of Edo. The climax was reached with a parade along Daimon dori, where women hung out of the windows of brothel row houses. Over a hundred omikoshi took part. In 1888 the Nezu Yukaku(3) was forced to relocate owing to the construction of Tokyo University. It was moved to Fukagawa and renamed Susaki Bentencho Yukaku since it was sited on reclaimed land next to the Susaki Benten Sama (4) Shinto shrine. Until streetcars were installed at the end of the Meiji Period access to the island was by boat and rickshaw. At its zenith over 5,000 people lived there, with all the shops necessary for daily life. Of course there were hospitals and bathhouses.
The first proprietess, who ran an ironworks manufacturing bath heaters in Fukagawa Hiraicho, revitalised the Susaki area with Konparuyu after the war. “My mother’s the owner,” said Kiyohiko Kaneko, grandson of the original proprietor, “But I’m paying her rent,” he added with a smile. Following a business career in plumbing supplies for bath heaters and air conditioning he took over running the bathhouse in 2007. Although an expert in bathhouse equipment, he is quite young for a manager. A somewhat quiet man, he is perfectly complemented by his sociable wife, Tsukishima-born Mayumi and they make a grand couple, looking after their customers.
30 years ago the traditional wooden bathhouse was redeveloped into a four-storey apartment building, with the bathhouse occupying the ground floor. For a bathhouse inside a building the ceiling is high, giving a spacious feeling. The wall painting in the women’s bathroom is Fine Wind, Clear Morning and that in the men’s is The Great Wave off Kanagawa, both from Katsushika Hokusai’s (5) ukiyo-e series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. The paintings are composed of chip tiles which are capable of expressing the most subtle details. Each bathroom has two tubs set against the interior wall. The shallower one has an infrared lamp and emits bubbles from its central bottom area while the deeper one is a two-seater jet bubble bath. The hot water containing filtered minerals from natural stones called “Bakuhan Seki” (6) has the far-infrared effect. The temperature of the water is a relatively low and healthier 42 degrees. In the past when fuel supplies were meagre bathhouses in the metropolitan area obtained kindling from lumberyards in the Kiba area and still today they get firewood from Shin Kiba, where the yards relocated.
Utagawa Hiroshige’s (7) Fukagawa Susaki and Juman-tsubo is one of the most popular ukiyo-e prints among his One Hundred Famous Views of Edo series and depicts a sea eagle with spread wings aiming for its prey high above the winter landscape of Susaki. I conclude my stroll around the Fukagawa and Kiba area with a visit to the notable Edo site of Susaki Benten Sama. Crossing the Nishi Susaki bridge over the Oyoko river, I reach Konparuyu.
Address: 1-6-9 Toyocho, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Open: 15:00 – 23:00
Access: 5 minutes on foot from Kiba Station, Tokyo Metro Tozai Line
Text and photographs: Akira Fuse
Translation: Shoichiro Nishihara, Language Volunteer Co-talk (LVC)
1) Kiyari – Kiyari are work songs traditionally sung when people carried heavy lumber. In this case Kiyari means the members of a group who sing Kiyari songs while walking in the festival line.
2) Tekomai － Local girls who precede the omikoshi in a festival parade. At that time they were geishas. They wore men’s kimonos and carried metal staffs.
3) Yukaku – A red-light district where people enjoyed traditional Japanese entertainment by geishas or sexual services by prostitutes. Geisha did not solicit nor were they asked to do so.
4) Susaki Benten Sama Shinto shrine – current name is Susaki Shinto shrine, originally dedicated to protect local fishermen from accidents. Benten Sama is a Japanese Goddess who originated from the Hindu goddess Saraswati.
5) Katsushika Hokusai – a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e painter of the Edo period. He was born in about 1760 and died in 1849. Ukiyo-e is a style of woodblock printing developed during the Edo period.
6) Bakuhan Seki – porous granite porphyry or quartz porphyry.
7) Utagawa Hiroshige – a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e painter of the Edo period. He was born in 1797 and died in 1858.