Looking for Sento – 26 (2015.10.2)  Yoshinoyu

Public bathhouse within one minute’s easy walk from Hikifune Station



Takeaki Enomoto (1) had a residence at Mukojima at the end of the Edo period. After the Boshin War (2) he translated the method of producing soap from Dutch to Japanese whilst in jail, using his knowledge of Dutch and chemistry since he had studied abroad in the Netherlands. His elder brother Taketomo began soap production, and one of his relatives, Arinobu Fukuhara, founded the drug and cosmetic company called “Shiseido” (3). The leather-making and oil-making industries rose around the Terajima slaughterhouse (4) to meet  the rapidly expanding demand in those days. At the end of the Meiji period, using the animal fat, the four biggest makers of soap (Kao, Lion, Shiseido, and Miyoshi) were also established in this area.

Throughout this time Yoshinoyu saw the scenery change on the opposite side of Hikifune Station, watching the Shiseido factory replaced by a high-rise apartment block.  In 1958 Shintaro Ito (born in 1917), who was from Nishi-kanbara-gun in Niigata prefecture, was the first generation member to own this bathhouse which had been in operation since before World War II. His successor Hiroshi (born in 1947) was a car mechanic, also from Nishi-kanbara-gun, who married Kazue, the eldest of Shintaro’s three daughters, and was adopted into her family in 1973. Currently their son assists them in running the bathhouse.


Changing room and latticed ceiling

The building was constructed in 1952, with the entrance and bathrooms being renovated in 1989. A mural on the shuttered entrance painted by the late Mr. Hayakawa (5) greets customers queueing up outside at opening time. The changing rooms with their low bandai (6) are simple and neat. The latticed ceilings are covered by cloth featuring the round patterns of a pair of phoenixes. The bathrooms are of the traditional Tokyo style. Lined up in the bathhouse are two traditional bathtubs giving customers a spacious feeling; one deep and the other shallow.  The deep sitting-style bathtub consists of ultra-sonic bubble jets and two water pillows. The shallow bathtub is wide, with bubbles and an electric current. In winter they are filled with five kinds of medicated water.


Mosaic tiled picture

The back walls of the bathrooms have mosaic tiled pictures, put in place in 1989. The one in the men’s bathroom depicts the Golden Gate Bridge, but its riverbank scenery also has the atmosphere of the Sumida-gawa River. The mosaic in the women’s bathroom depicts yachts on the ocean. Both pictures have the surface of the water positioned just above the real bathtubs.  They use the groundwater pumped from 28 meters underground and its quality is as good as the drinking water used for green tea. The fuel used is heavy oil, but scrap wood is used for the initial heating of the water because of its thermal power, which is important at that time.

Every year during the summer school vacation they hold a Fureai Parent-and-child (7) Bath Event. Children can learn the manners and the history of the public bath whilst enjoying themselves. On the way home from work people can stop off for a bath at Yoshinoyu, located in front of the station, and afterwards drop in for a drink at a nearby bar. It brings on the feeling that it has been a satisfying day.


Address: 2-5-16 Higashi-Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: 03-3611-0811
Open: 15:10 – 23:00
Closed: Wednesday (except on the 1st Wednesday of the month)
Access: 1 minute walk from Hikifune station on the Tobu Line

Text and photographs: Akira Fuse
Translation: Shoichiro Nishihara, Language Volunteer Co-talk (LVC)

(1) Takeaki Enomoto (1836-1908): Japanese warrior, chemist, diplomat, politician. He was a warrior and one of the admirals of the Tokugawa Shogunate at the end of the Edo period. After the Tokugawa Shogunate was defeated in the Boshin War, he was imprisoned for three years, but later released. Later he served in the new Meiji Government as one of the founders of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
 (2) Boshin War (1868-1869): The war between the Tokugawa Shogunate and the Kangun (government forces). As a result the Tokugawa Shogunate was defeated and the Kangun began the new Meiji Imperial Government.
(3) Shiseido (1872- ): One of largest cosmetic companies in Japan.
(4) Terajima slaughterhouse: The slaughter facility which existed adjacent to the Higashi-Mukojima district until Showa 12 (1937).
(5) The late Mr. Hayakawa: Toshimitsu Hayakawa (1936-2009), from Fukushima prefecture, was a renowned bathhouse mural artist.
(6) Bandai: traditional elevated seat at a public bathhouse to collect the entrance fee and watch over the changing room.
(7) Fureai Parent-and-child – Parent-and-child interaction.