Natsume Soseki and Dazai Osamu would have been satisfied too
After he graduated from university Takaaki Yoshimoto, a post-Second World War leading intellectual lived in Ohanajaya and worked for ten years at Toyo Ink Manufacturing in Aoto. He used to visit sento here and there when he was suffering from writer’s block. Dazai(1) said “Master Soseki(2) shouted at a stranger sitting next to him in the sento when he splashed hot water over him, but I just shrank away”. Yoshimoto was impressed that someone like Dazai would act this way, as Yoshimoto himself argued with an old man who criticized him for putting cold water in the bathtub for a baby. After all, Yoshimoto was like Soseki.
Sakaeyu was established in 1956 by Takashi Mameta, the first owner of this sento, who was from Noto, after he had worked and learned the sento know-how in Tokyo. The second generation owner, Naofumi (born in 1949) is from Kakegawa. He graduated from school in Nagoya, and after working as a salesman for Toyota, he joined Marusan, famous for its soya beans, selling sports drinks. He used to travel around sento with a soap salesman, who was selling sento goods, and do you know what? He sold himself: he married Mieko Mameta, the second oldest daughter of the founder of Sakaeyu.
The current building was renovated in 1984. Whilst the main building was left untouched, a front lobby was created and the wooden lattice style decoration on the changing room ceiling was replaced by a round modern shape. However, the picture of a nude woman etched into the floor to ceiling glass barrier separating the changing room and the bathroom, dates from when the sento was built, and is a valuable heritage. Another of this sento’s notable features is a standing shower booth, of which there are six each in the men’s and women’s bathrooms. As there are curtains attached to them, you can shower in privacy, without worrying about the person in the adjacent booth. Because the window facing the garden is large, you can view the sky between plants through the clear glass. On the back wall of the bathroom is a huge decorative photograph of a bamboo forest. There are two kinds of bathtubs: one is a square-shaped bubble bath and the other is round-shaped ultrasonic wave bath. Cold water from a well, which is 50 metres deep, is boiled and every Sunday it is also medicated.
Sakaeyu is the only sento remaining in the Takasago, Niijuku and Shibamata areas and bustles with customers, who come from far away. The owner, who by nature likes looking after people and is hard working, actively participates in “sento walks”, enka(3) chorus, flute concerts and physical exercise gatherings. The team work with his wife, Mieko, daughter, Miki, and their black shiba-inu dog, Genki-kun, is superb.
Address: 8-15-12 Takasago, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo
Open: 16:00 – 22:30
Access: 8 minutes walk from Takasago Station
Text and photographs: Akira Fuse
Translation: Yoshie Hutchinson, Language Volunteer Co-talk (LVC)
(1)Osamu Dazai – a Japanese author (1909-1948) who is considered one of the foremost fiction writers of 20th-century Japan.
(2)Soseki Natsume – a Japanese novelist of the Meiji period (1868-1912).He is often considered the greatest writer in modern Japanese history.
(3)Enka – a melancholic Japanese popular song