A gallery of painted Mt. Fuji
When you hear the word sento, it instinctively brings to mind an image of Mt. Fuji painted on the wall. Usually, you would find one mountain painted on the center of the back wall, or on either side of the men’s and women’s bathing rooms. But this sento has three. One, found on the high wall of the changing room side (facing the back wall of the bathing room), is a lapis-blue Mt. Fuji that looks as if it is floating above a herd of clouds with its base spread wide on both sides—a style that the painter, the late Toshimitsu Hayakawa, was particularly good at. Others by the same artist used to be found on the back walls of both the men’s and women’s bathing rooms, but these have been changed by Mizuki Tanaka in 2013 into painted versions of award-winning photos of Mt. Fuji. The one in the men’s bath seems to sparkle when the room is lit up in the evening, as if it is reflecting town lights on the lake surface. The other in the women’s bath stands against clouds colored crimson by the sunrise. These two paintings represent the dawn of a new style of painting.
Harue-cho, or Harue town, was named in 1938 by taking one kanji (Chinese character) each from the names of two villages, “haru” (spring) from Tsubaki-mura, and “e” from Ichinoe-mura, an adjacent village on the west side. Harue-cho started out as a new rice paddy area cultivated in the Edo-era by the Tajima family, whose tenant farmers still remained even after the end of World War II.
The IwasakiIwadate family, who runs this bath house, was also originally a farming family that goes back to the Edo-era. As can be inferred by their trade name that includes the title of “Motona” they are a venerable family that has a history of having served as the town’s mayor. Harueyu was established in 1964 at a corner of this village by Yoshio Iwadate who was born in 1929. The founder had to overcome many extremely difficult challenges, because he had no prior experience in this business of running a bath house. His son Kazuo, born in 1954, inherited the business when he was 29 years old as the second-generation owner, after quitting his previous job as a company worker. However, since the founder, Yoshio, is still very much involved, Kazuo cannot yet be called his own master.
The building, with a two-tiered chidorihafu(1), has remained unchanged since the time it was built. The bandai(2) was renovated into a lobby and front desk in 1993. In front of the changing area is a wide, L-shaped garden. The bathtubs are of the traditional style, with one deep tub and one shallow tub against the far wall. The deep bathtub lets bathers be immersed in the water when they sit in it, and is equipped with a jet that emits ultrasonic bubbles. The shallow bath, shaped horizontally long, has bubbles coming out of the bottom of the tub. The water is a mix of equal parts of tap and well water, and is heated with gas.
“Harueyu-mae Ginza-dori,” a street that was created at the founding of Harueyu, was once lined with 22 shops. Kazuo has inherited the traditions of this area going back to the Edo period, and serves a variety of roles in the local community. He is also an amazing sento owner who does everything by himself—from heating the bath water to working the front desk. The painting of Mt. Fuji on the high wall of the changing room side is there because Kazuo thought that the people sitting in the baths with their backs to the painting on the far wall should also be able to see Mt. Fuji on the other side as well, and had asked the painter to paint it there. And this is how it has been since 16 years ago.
Address: 3-36-29 Harue-cho, Edogawa-ku, Tokyo
Open: 15:00 – 21:30
Access: 15 minutes walk from Mizue Station
Texts and photographs: Akira Fuse
Translation: Hiromichi Tatsuno, Language Volunteer Co-talk (LVC)
(1) Chidorihafu: A triangular roof seen in traditional Japanese architectures.
(2) Bandai: Traditional stand for collecting entrance fees and watching the changing rooms.