Enjoy the sense of the seasons from an overflowing hot tub.
In Shibue Park at Higashi Tateishi, Katsushika-ku, there is a monument to Chigusa Celluloid, which started the manufacture of Kewpie dolls in Taisho 13 (1914). When the local industry was at its peak, there were 300 celluloid factories in Tateishi-Yotsugi. Masako Toyoda, is famous as the writer of “Tsuzurikata Kyoshitsu”, which was written in Showa 8 (1933), when she was a 4th grade student in Shibue elementary school. At that time, after her classes, she worked in the Kobayashi Daihachi factory painting the eyes and mouths of celluloid dolls to help with the household finances. When she went home, she passed along the road near Kotobukiyu.
The first owner of this sento was Masao Tochikura who was from Nishikanbara in Niigata prefecture. Before the 2nd World War, he ran Shionoyu at Minami-Senju, and after the war he bought Kotobukiyu for his business expansion. Now Yusuke and Mineko, 2nd generation family members, and Ryosuke and Yuri, 3rd generation members, run Kotobukiyu.
The building was rebuilt as a modern steel frame structure from the traditional wooden building in 1968. Following that, in the repair of the building in 2001, Yusuke ventured to place the bathtub along the outer wall, and in the garden, seen through windows, he placed cherry trees, wisteria, hydrangea, ears of rice, autumn leaves, and dried radish. This scenery of the time of the seasons could be enjoyed from the wide tub overflowing with hot water. In addition, he created an open-air rock bath (only on the men’s side) into which hot water pours from a barrel. However, at that time, as he could not get the necessary permit from the government to use it, it was classed as a pond. He also installed a sauna (free of charge) using radiant heat from volcanic karst stone. The scenic picture on the back wall is a mosaic tile picture of tropical fish swimming among water plants. The top of the wall is made of ceramic tiles. The hot water comes from groundwater heated by firewood, consisting of waste materials, such as pillars etc., which burn with less smoke. They set the temperature of the hot water at 43 degrees centigrade, because when it was previously set at 42 degrees people said it was tepid.
A sento tends to be an enclosed space, but Kotobukiyu, which has changed to a comfortable space where you can enjoy nature and relax, cut off from everyday life, reflects the owner’s thoughts regarding the relationship between a sento and its customers.
Incidentally, Noguchi Ujo’s children’s song (1923) said, “The dolls with blue eyes made from celluloid are born in America”; however, at that time Kewpie dolls imported from Katsushika were popular in the United States. So, locals said that the truth was “The dolls made from celluloid are born in Katsushika”.
Address: 4-19-14 Higashiyotsugi, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo
Open: 15:10 – 24:00
Access: 5 minutes walk from Yotsugi Station
Text and Photographs: Akira Fuse
Translation: Ryoko Yanase, Language Volunteer Co-talk (LVC)