A sento from Taisho era by the Tatekawa River
By the Tatekawa River
Around a cattle raiser’s house
Maple trees are budding
Magnolia trees are in bloom
Calves are roaming lively
In my childhood, a bottle of cold milk after a bath was one of the pleasures of going to a sento. Sachio Ito, the author of the above tanka poem(1), is a novelist famous for his sentimental love story Nogiku no haka (The Wild Daisy). Besides writing novels, he ran a dairy farm and produced milk by the Tatekawa River in Ojima, Koto-ku. He had difficulties in running the dairy business, but received support from his ailing literature teacher Shiki Masaoka, who liked milk. Sachio passed away in 1913, and around the same time, a new sento opened on the Kameido side of the river, opposite from Sachio’s farm.
Toyamayu was established by Sakuemon Yamabayashi who was from Kamiichi-machi in Toyama prefecture. He achieved success in the sento business and became a local name for his political and economical contributions to the local community. The present owner, Sakuji Yamabayashi (age 67), is the third generation. His wife, Tokie, grew up in Sunamachi and married him when she was 19 years old. Coincidentally, her mother also originated from Toyama prefecture, from the Uozu area. The first owner reconstructed the building after World War II, earlier than any other sento, when it was still difficult to find building materials; and that is the building we see today. At that time, as no other sento had reopened yet, customers came not only from the neighborhood but also from far and wide. The building went through a major refurbishment including the addition of pillars in 1965, and having had additional repair work done after that, it has been carefully maintained until today.
This sento is well known for a pair of large signboards with the letter “ゆ” (hot water) painted dramatically on it. These signs are found on both sides of the colored glass-block wall at the entrance. At the front of the shoe locker room, there is an old-fashioned vertically long umbrella-locker we seldom see today. On each side of the umbrella-locker are shoe lockers and the entrance to the men’s and women’s changing rooms.
The panoramic painting on the wall passing through the men’s and women’s bathing area is as wide as 11 meters and shows the Tateyama mountain range which lies in the hometown of the first owner. A Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train is also painted on the women’s side. The wall dividing the two areas has tile mosaics of a mountain range. Each area has two bathtubs. Half the main tub is a sitting bath with supersonic wave jet. The other tub is a medicinal bath offering different medicinal properties every day. This tub is usually filled with medicinal waters of cool colors in the summer, and that of warm colors in the winter.
The Tatekawa River served as an important transportation route in the Edo era, and was used as an industrial waterway during the Meiji era. Today, however, some zones of the river has been changed into parks or other sites, and high-rise apartments now stand in the place where Sachio’s house used to be. But this sento from the Taisho era is still full of energy, as it continues its business by the Tatekawa River where we can still find remnants from its days as a bustling factory town.
Address: 6-49-14 Kameido, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Open: 15:00 – 23:00
Access: 8 minutes walk from Kameido Station, JR Sobu line
Texts and photographs: Akira Fuse
Translation: T. Toyoda, Language Volunteer Co-talk (LVC)
(1)Tanka: Japanese five-line poetry of 31 syllables