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Osen – Looking for Sento

「銭湯探訪 お銭の湯探し」ENGLISH VERSION

public bathhouse report

Osen – Looking for Sento

osen

Shiba-inu “Osen”

In Japan there is a custom dating from a long time ago where people go to the sento (public bathhouse) in the town. Sento were located every 200 metres or so in large towns. The sento was a place for not only washing the body and having a relaxing time, but also was a place where local people could interact with each other, and a place for teaching manners to children.

As people began to have bathrooms in their own houses, the number of people using the sento decreased and the number of sento fell; however, there are many attractive sento remaining.

Among the remaining sento there are various kinds, which you can choose from depending on your likes: from traditional structured ones to modern ones equipped with new facilities.

In this series, I will visit and introduce those sento located in Shitamachi Tokyo (Sumida-ku, Koto-ku, Edogawa-ku, Katsushika-ku, Taito-ku)and the Daiba district in Minato-ku, which each have their own unique history and culture.

While you are enjoying a walk in the town, feel free to visit the sento there, and chat with the local people and experience the unique culture of the Japanese sento. Just after having a bath in the sento, if you visit a local restaurant the taste of the food and beer should be exceptional.

“Shitamachi”
“Shitamachi” refers to the old parts of a town in which the culture of the common people and quaint old streets and houses remain. These areas each have their own unique history and culture.

Text and photographs: Akira Fuse.
Akira Fuse: after working at universities and research institutes in Japan and overseas, he became a director of Traditional Arts and Culture Support (TACS) in Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo. He devotes time and effort into preserving traditional arts and culture and it is his declared wish to care for sento culture.

  • For how to use the sento, please refer to the home page of the “Tokyo Sento Association”. Tokyo Sento (http://www.1010.or.jp/english/how-to-enjoy-sento)
  • The contents of these articles are an English translation of the series “Sento Tanbo・Osen no Yusagashi” (“Osen – Looking for Sento”), which appears in the Totoyomiuri Shimbun, a sister paper of the Yomiuri Shimbun.
  • The contents of these articles belong to the Totoyomiuri Shimbunsha. Reproduction without permission is forbidden.


Looking for Sento - 32 (2016.7.29) Toyamayu

Looking for Sento - 32 (2016.7.29) Toyamayu

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[...]
Looking for Sento - 31 (2016.4.1) Yakushiyu

Looking for Sento - 31 (2016.4.1) Yakushiyu

The third generation owner is a Meister of Kusuriyu Medicinal baths have been popular since the Edo era (1603-1867). In the Edo era, there were "Regenerated Hot Springs", using yunohana (1) brought from hot springs, and gotenyu (2), usin[...]
Looking for Sento - 30(2016.3.4)Tomonoyu

Looking for Sento - 30(2016.3.4)Tomonoyu

It was here the “soft water” Sento started   It seems that he wanted to build a Sento that would stack up against any museum. 26 years ago, a railroad diorama as big as 9 tatami mats, with its HO gauge (36.2mm of a railway width) and all[...]
Looking for Sento-29 (2016.2.5) Fujinoyu

Looking for Sento-29 (2016.2.5) Fujinoyu

Public bath founded by a timber merchant at Fukagawa   Mt. Fuji has been a religious object since ancient times. In Edo city there were so many Fujiko(1) that it was said there were 808 of them. But there were difficulties to make the religio[...]
Looking for Sento - 28(2015.12.4)Kotobukiyu

Looking for Sento - 28(2015.12.4)Kotobukiyu

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 [...]
Looking for Sento - 27(2015.11.6)Bentenyu

Looking for Sento - 27(2015.11.6)Bentenyu

Long-established Sento from the Meiji era along with Bentensama(1) Before the Second World War, there were more than 170,000 retail stores relative to the population of 6 million in Tokyo: one store for every 35 people. Assuming the average [...]
Looking for Sento - 26 (2015.10.2)  Yoshinoyu

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 w[...]
Looking for Sento - 25(2015.9.4)Harueyu

Looking for Sento - 25(2015.9.4)Harueyu

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[...]
Looking for Sento ‐ 24(2015.7.31) Daini Hisanoyu

Looking for Sento ‐ 24(2015.7.31) Daini Hisanoyu

A sento also frequented by high-rise condo residents One of the greatest Showa-era novelists Kafu Nagai described this area as follows in his famous diary “Danchotei Nichijo”: “Other than clouds in the sky, all you see are steel frames o[...]
Looking for Sento – 23 (2015.7.3) Tsurunoyu

Looking for Sento – 23 (2015.7.3) Tsurunoyu

Ultimate players’ holy place   Young men and women wearing sportswear, one after another, head for an impressive building which looks like a temple. Ultimate is a game like American football, however, this is a new sport using a plastic [...]
Looking for Sento - 22 (2015.6.4) Sakaeyu

Looking for Sento - 22 (2015.6.4) Sakaeyu

Natsume Soseki and Dazai Osamu would have been satisfied too After he graduated from university Takaaki Yoshimoto, a post-Second World War leading intellectual lived in Ohanajaya and worked for ten years at Toyo Ink Manufacturing in Aoto. He[...]
Looking for Sento - 21 (2015.5.7) Tanukiyu

Looking for Sento - 21 (2015.5.7) Tanukiyu

Is the Bandai a Tanuki (Racoon dog) or a Pot-bellied Woman ? lIn Meiji 22 (1889), on a spot formerly used by the shogun for falconry, an elegant brick building looking like a castle dominated a wide area of Kanegafuchi, Sumida-mura, Minami-Katsushik[...]
Looking for Sento – 20 (2015.4.3) Konparuyu

Looking for Sento – 20 (2015.4.3) Konparuyu

A bath furnace ironworks re-established as a bathhouse in Susaki town In the Edo Period the Fukagawa Hachimangu Festival parade of omikoshi or portable shrines, led by the Kiyari (1) and Tekomai (2) was so grand it was known as one of the th[...]
Looking for Sento – 19 (2015.3.6) Azuma-yokusen

Looking for Sento – 19 (2015.3.6) Azuma-yokusen

Relaxing in a huge space in a “Showa Modern” atmosphere There is a town, which was developed as a suburban city in the Taisho era (1912-1926) on the boundary between Chuo and Matsue (formerly Higashi-komatsugawa) in Edogawa-ku, and which sti[...]
Looking for Sento – 18 (2015.2.4)  The Fourth Fujinoyu

Looking for Sento – 18 (2015.2.4) The Fourth Fujinoyu

Daikokuten(1) and Ebisu(2) on the roof are welcoming you. Takaramachi gets its name from Hokizuka-mura(3) village from the Meiji era (1868-1912) and the name is retained in the Hokizuka primary school name even now. Takaramachi is the birth [...]
Looking for Sento - 17 (2014.12.26)  Daikokuyu

Looking for Sento - 17 (2014.12.26) Daikokuyu

The fact is, this was a natural hot spring for 60 years. Oyokogawa river and Yokojukkengawa river are canals which came into being for developing the shitamachi in the Edo era (1603-1868). The area lying between these rivers has been known a[...]
Looking for Sento - Special Edition (2014.11.28) The history of the Bath ②

Looking for Sento - Special Edition (2014.11.28) The history of the Bath ②

Bathhouse System Established in Edo the year after Ieyasu entered Edo Castle Bathing, which had begun as seyoku (1) in temples, became a fee-paying activity in the Osaka area at the end of the Heian period and the beginning of the Kamakura p[...]
Looking for Sento - 16 (2014.10.24) The Second Kotobukiyu

Looking for Sento - 16 (2014.10.24) The Second Kotobukiyu

The birthplace of 「Oyu no Fuji」 「Oyu no Fuji」is a popular character of the Edogawa-ku branch of the Tokyo Bathhouse Association. The character was designed by an art student who has been in charge of planning the bathhouse's logo and noren(1[...]
Looking for Sento - 15 (2014.9.26) Kusatsuyu

Looking for Sento - 15 (2014.9.26) Kusatsuyu

Kosugedon painted by elementary school children A local legend has it that long ago the Arakawa River, whose name in Japanese means wild or savage, flooded. The villagers inhabiting the area were in grave danger until a giant snake appeared [...]
Looking for Sento – 14 (2014.8.8) Matsunoyu

Looking for Sento – 14 (2014.8.8) Matsunoyu

Long-established sento on Hatonomachi-dori street There is an area between Mitokaido street and Bokutei-dori street in Higashimukojima which miraculously remained after the Great Tokyo Air Raids. Bokutei bustled with cherry blossom viewers i[...]
Looking for Sento – 13 (2014.7.11) Hakusanyu

Looking for Sento – 13 (2014.7.11) Hakusanyu

Pioneer of artificially carbonated bath  The Toyosu station area, with its forest of office and apartment towers, is representative of Tokyo Bay Side as a whole. Originally reclaimed land intended for the disposal of debris from the Great Ka[...]
Looking for Sento - Special Edition (2014.6.6)  The history of the Bath ①

Looking for Sento - Special Edition (2014.6.6) The history of the Bath ①

Origin As Steam Baths Bathing as a way of refreshing oneself and cleansing both body and mind is an ancient tradition. When Buddhism became established in Japan during the Nara era ( 710 – 784 ) temples began to have hot baths for the  monks to bath[...]
Looking for Sento – 12 (2014.4.4) Shourakunoyu

Looking for Sento – 12 (2014.4.4) Shourakunoyu

A renovated sento that all the family can enjoy together. The Shinozaki green park project dates back to before the Second World War. After it had been completed, military facilities, farmland reform and residential land development had all [...]
Looking for Sento – 11 (2014.3.7) Atamiyu

Looking for Sento – 11 (2014.3.7) Atamiyu

Mr. Elephant’s octagonal roofed bathhouse Hosoda, Katsushika-ku, is just like a pocket, being surrounded by Takasago to the north, Koiwa to the south, Kamakura to the east and Okudo to the west. It is said that Hosoda village was set up in G[...]
Looking for Sento - 10 (2014.2.7) Tsubameyu

Looking for Sento - 10 (2014.2.7) Tsubameyu

The 6am early morning bathhouse  On the old illustrations of Edo, daimyo (1) mansions are clustered to the south of Shinobazu pond (2) while to the east the main Tokyo house of the Satake clan is visible; between are closely-packed houses for junior[...]
Looking for Sento – 9 (2013.12.6) Araiyu

Looking for Sento – 9 (2013.12.6) Araiyu

The mural depicting Skytree was renowned even before construction was complete. It is said that the place name Honjo is derived from the administrator of a Shoen(1), a manor created by rural development and common in Japan from the 8th to th[...]
Looking for Sento – 8 (2013.11.1) Tatsumiyu

Looking for Sento – 8 (2013.11.1) Tatsumiyu

A new sento in the Fukagawa area with its shitamachi atmosphere, retains the Edo era Tatsumi name. Tatsumi is the name of an area of reclaimed land located at the southern tip of Koto-ku; however, in the Edo era (1603-1868), the word “Tatsum[...]
Looking for Sento - 7 (2013.10.4) Yoshinoyu

Looking for Sento - 7 (2013.10.4) Yoshinoyu

Starting a sento in the middle of a rice field. Which comes first the residential area or the sento?  After the Second World War, Tokyo’s population increased, and around 1955 large-scale housing developments were built one after another in the rural[...]
Looking for Sento - 6 (2013.9.6)  Kyoto, Osaka Special Edition

Looking for Sento - 6 (2013.9.6) Kyoto, Osaka Special Edition

Different location – different sento culture This time I have left Tokyo and have travelled to Kansai (western Japan), which is the birthplace of the more than one thousand year old sento culture, to look at the traditional sento(1) there. In[...]
Looking for Sento - 5 (2013.8.2) Yutopia 21

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 [...]
Looking for Sento - 4 (2013.7.5)  Gurandoyu

Looking for Sento - 4 (2013.7.5) Gurandoyu

Shiba dog Yuki plays the second generation poster girl. Three-year old Shiba-inu dog Yuki, named for her snowy white fur (snow is yuki in Japanese), is the second generation poster girl for Gurandoyu. Every evening from 7pm she sits with the proprie[...]
Looking for Sento – 3 (2013.6.3) Fujinoyu

Looking for Sento – 3 (2013.6.3) Fujinoyu

Near Fujinoyu rather than far Tenjin Sama For over 40 years the local people have been familiar with the wisteria plants in Fujinoyu bathhouse and this year too the charming blossoms adorned the entrance hall. Customers coming and going [...]
Looking for Sento – 2 (2013.05.10) Tsurunoyu

Looking for Sento – 2 (2013.05.10) Tsurunoyu

Enjoying a natural black hot spring in an open-air stone bath In order to transport rice and vegetables from the provinces, as well as salt from Gyotoku in Chiba, Tokugawa Ieyasu constructed a canal connecting the Edo and Naka rivers. The ar[...]
Looking for Sento - 1 (2013.4.5) Suehiroyu

Looking for Sento - 1 (2013.4.5) Suehiroyu

Taste the original atmosphere in the preserved tradition of this sento. I came to the south exit of Ohanajaya station on the Keisei Line. The waterway, which used to be one of the sights of the Edo era (1603 - 1867), is now Hikifunegawa Shinsuikoen [...]