Looking for Sento – 5 (2013.8.2) Yutopia 21

The ever-popular bathhouse in the ever-changing Kameari district

In the Edo Period, Kameari was one of the farming villages along the Mito-kaido road (1). It’s less widely known that the area was also home to many large factories for companies such as Hitachi in the pre-war and post-war period. There were many shopping districts and cinemas which attracted show business people from the entertainment centre of Asakusa who moved to the area. There was even an apartment building known as the “Entertainer’s Apartments” in Kameari. The renowned actor, director and comedian Beat Takeshi ( Takeshi Kitano ) lived in the district as a newly-wed.

Exterior appearance of Yutopia 21

Exterior appearance of Yutopia 21

The father of the current proprietor was a native of Sanjo City, Niigata prefecture and learned the bathhouse business in Kanda in Tokyo before becoming independent. He managed bathhouses in Mejiro and Asakusa before taking over Fujimiyu, in front of Kameari station, in  April 1940. The current proprietor, Toshio Sakai, was born in August of that year. Fujimiyu, which escaped damage during the war, was rebuilt in the traditional wooden style in 1961. As the Heisei Era began in 1989 the bar and restaurant area around the station was rebuilt; Fujimiyu also received a makeover and was reborn as a bathhouse fit for the 21st. century, renamed Yutopia 21.

Taking a break with Marron-chan(dog) just before opening

Taking a break with Marron-chan(dog) just before opening

When you enter the changing room from the front desk area you are greeted by a cooling breeze from the three-bladed fan on the light brown latticed ceiling. On the back wall of the bathroom is an amusing mosaic tile painting featuring three Kappa ( water sprite ) girls swimming with a dolphin, a turtle and a flying fish. There are two kinds of baths. One is a medicated bath containing the herbal mixture “Hojuyu” (2) and the other, which contains minerals from natural stones (3) is called “Bakuhansekiyu”. The latter has seated jet baths and lying-down style baths, with a water cooled pillow, which induce a comfortable sleep. There is also a dry sauna and cold bath available for an additional fee. The underground water is heated by scrap wood or gas, depending on the day. Patrons can enjoy the subtle difference in the condition of the water.


amusing mosaic tile painting of Kappa girls

Regular customers queue up outside at opening time and the busy customer traffic continues into the evening. Company workers returning home on the last train are the final visitors before the bathhouse closes at 12:30. After cleaning and tidying up it’s often dawn before the proprietor can sleep. Belonging to the same generation as baseball legend Sadaharu Oh, the proprietor is sufficiently robust to work thanks to playing school baseball in his youth and for the local team into his fifties.

Recently, a popular comic book “Kochikame”(4) has made Kameari a famous tourist area with statues of the main characters. The continued teamwork of the proprietor and his wife serves their customers as ever in this ever-changing town.

Yutopia 21
Address: 3-30-12 Kameari, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: 03-3602-5574
Open: 16:00 – 24:30
Closed: Sunday
Access: 1 minute on foot from Kameari Station, JR Joban Line

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

Note –
1) Mito-kaido – one of the main roads of the Edo period connecting Edo( Tokyo ) and Mito.
2) Natural stones – porous granite porphyry or quartz porphyry. 
3) Hojuyu – The name of a bath additive composed of nine medicinal plants (Asian ginseng, Cnidium rhizome, etc) handed down in traditional Chinese medicine, which is said to be good for lovely skin and fine health.
4) Kochikame – The Japanese abbreviation for “This is the police box in front of Kameari park, Katsushika“.