Is the Bandai a Tanuki (Racoon dog) or a Pot-bellied Woman ?
lIn Meiji 22 (1889), on a spot formerly used by the shogun for falconry, an elegant brick building looking like a castle dominated a wide area of Kanegafuchi, Sumida-mura, Minami-Katsushika-gun,Tokyo-fu.
This building was financed by cotton wholesalers, such as Mitsukoshi, Shirokiya and Daimaru, and was designed by Kingo Tatsuno, who designed Tokyo Station, and was built by Mannosuke Shimizu (the 3rd generation owner of Shimizu Construction). The Kanegafuchi Boseki Kaisha (the spinning company later known as Kanebo) factory was born, starting the huge Japanese textile industry on this land, the former Sumida-cho, which was to develop as the Kanebo town.
Tanukiyu (Racoon Dog Public Bath House) was established in Taisho 12 (1923) and was later handed over to the Tsuchimoto family, who were from Togimachi, Ishikawa-ken. The family had been successfully involved in sento (public baths) and even now is engaged in the management of famous sento, such as Inariyu in Takinogawa, Myojinyu in Minamiyukigaya and so on. Yukie, the current owner, is the daughter of the owner of Inariyu in Higashiyukigaya. 45 years ago she married Kunimasa (70), who worked in Myojinyu in the neighbouring town. 12 years ago, they took over Tanukiyu.
Tanukiyu is an old building, which miraculously escaped war damage. At the entrance is a sophisticated half Noren(1) which has the family crest design of ivy in the centre, with, in winter, a navy blue background and, in summer, a white background. The bathroom for women is larger than that for the men, which is quite unusual in Tokyo. The Oriage tenjo (coved ceiling), high windows and old style design still remain. There has been a tanuki-shaped ornament as a symbol of the bathouse in the garden in front of the men’s bathroom since the bath house was established and nowadays it is accompanied by a female tanuki-shaped ornament. On the back wall of the men’s bathroom there is a wall painting of Lake Motosu done by Kiyoto Maruyama, who is Yukie’s favourite painter. This painting continues along the wall until the outside wall. A painting of Mount Fuji adorns the wider women’s bathroom, indicating that this particular bathhouse gives priority to women. In the women’s bathroom there are two types of bathtub: one type is deep and the other is shallow. The shallow type is a bubble and electric bath, whilst the deep bathtub has a water jet current and two different types of seating. In addition, at the end of the bathroom there is a small warm medicinal bath, for which the contents are changed daily. From old times this area has been a place where good quality water flows out and well water is used in the baths which are heated using firewood.
According to an elderly person living in the area, at first this area consisted of only lotus fields, where even tanuki did not appear, and there were only four houses in the neighbourhood. As the woman owner sitting on the bandai(2) had a large stomach, the place was advertised as Tanukiyu in Tanuki Street to attract customers. Shortly afterwards Kanebo’s large company housing and rubber factory were built and Tanukiyu’s large women’s bath became popular. From opening time, when the lively regular customers come in, until late at night, when individual customers drop in on their way home from work “Taking good care of customers” is Tanukiyu’s family motto.
Kanebo has disappeared from the town, but the former employees miss the bathhouse atmosphere and still come.
Address: 2-21-8 Sumida, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Open: 15:30 – 24:00
Access: 6 minutes on foot from Kanegafuchi Station
Text and photographs: Akira Fuse
Translation: Yoshie Hutchinson (LVC: Language Volunteer Co-Talk)
(1)Noren – a traditional business curtain at the entrance
(2)Bandai – Fee collector’s elevated seat at a public bath house. In this case the title refers to the person sitting on the bandai.