If you’re a foreigner who lives in Japan or came to Japan as a tourist, many of you may have heard of Japanese Sento, which is a public bath.
If you have already it experienced, didn’t you think it’s a really convenient place where you can heal yourself?
Here in Japan, Sento is very popular, and this article will show you the history and the reason why Japanese people love Sento.
1. When Did Sento First Start in Japan?
Japanese people created Sento to make a living by running a business.
Sento is public bath where people can take a bath by an paying entrance fee, what we call “Bandai”
It is said that Sento was already popular among locals in the age of Heian Period in Kyoto, according to Japanese oldest collection of stories.
In the age of Edo Period (1603-1868), people enjoyed visiting Sento on a daily basis.
By the year 1810, people were running about 523 Sento businesses.
There were 2 types of Sento at that time, which are as follows:
1. Steam Bath Style
Enjoy steam only
2. Soaking Bath Style
Enjoy bath in hot water
Since people prefer the type of soaking bath style, steam bath style gradually ceased.
2. Mixed Bathing Style to Men and Women Divided Style
In Edo Period (1787-), there were both mixed bathing style and men and women divided style for Sento.
Mixed bathing style was more popular in Kansai than Edo at that time. From the point of view of owner manager of Sento, mixed bathing style can save the cost compared from men and women divided style since they didn’t need to construct 2 types of rooms which helped to reduce the cost.
However, by the year of 1877 Meiji Period, western people criticized Japanese people for mixed bathing style so people stopped this bathing style and unified in mainly creating separate baths for men and women.
That was the start of having the bathroom and changing room together in a high-ceilinged room, which is the current style.
Japanese people improved this to make a more relaxed Sento for everyone.
3. Bath at Home, or Prefer Sento?
Even though Japanese people love Sento, sadly Sento was reduced considerably due to the widespread use of bath for regular homes.
Now, we have about 4,000 Sento in Japan, but it’s only a quarter of the number we had during the peak of Sento’s popularity.
However, people still get used to feeling like they can have completely open relationships with sharing Sento together, even naked with strangers.
Japanese people continued to make efforts to improve Sento from just simple Sento to stylish designed Sento, and this continuously attracts people to continue regularly visiting Sento, even if they have a their own bath at home.
4. Latest Innovation for Sento
Here are several new features recently added to Sento:
1. Open-air bath and sauna
The owners of Sento needed to create something special that people can’t usually experience at home in order to continue bringing customers back.
Therefore, Japanese people made an open-air bath and sauna at Sento. You can feel like you’re experiencing Onsen (hot spring) by an open-air bath, and you can sweat by going to sauna. These additional new features attract Japanese people a considerable amount.
You can have following good points for taking sauna:
1. It improves blood flow and helps reduce shoulder pain.
2. It promotes recovery from exhaustion by sweating the substances produced by fatigue from your body.
3. It eliminates your stress by improving stable nerve function and helps recover from insomnia.
2. Nothing is as good as drinking beer after taking a bath
At most recent Sento, people can drink beer, coffee-flavored milk and soft drinks after taking a bath.
There are usually vending machines right outside selling these drinks.
If you go to Sento by car, of course you can’t drink alcohol. If it’s by train or walking, however, you can enjoy the taste and feeling of having a beer and feeling refreshed as well.
5. Steps for Having Sento
The general steps to take Sento are as follows:
1. Take off your shoes and put them in the shoe shelf.
2. Pay the entrance fee to Bandai(reception) first.
(The price is different depends on the area but normally around 460 yen)
※If you have a tattoo, you can’t enter Sento(or Onsen) unless you cover it somehow.
3. If you don’t have your own towel or amenities with you, you can buy them at Bandai.
4. The bath is separated for men and women, so enter the appropriate room.
5. There are changing rooms, so take off your clothes and put on the personal individual shelves.
※ You can’t wear swimming suit.
6. Before you get into the bath tub, wash your body first.
※Be careful not to splash hot water to the people around you.
7. After you finish washing your body, pour the hot water from bath tub on yourself. We call this “Kakeyu”
8. Sit back in the bath tub and relax yourself.
※Do not swim in the bath.
9. If you have washing towel with you, put it on top of your head or some other place for safe keeping.
Make sure you don’t put your towel in the bath tub for sanitary reasons.
10. After you have enjoyed the bath time, wipe your body with your towel before entering the changing room.
11. Hydrate yourself by drinking water.
Can you now imagine what Sento is and why it’s still so popular in Japan?
For those who never shared bath with strangers, you may feel very weird at first, but think this way; that Sento is similar to hot springs, with cheap and quick access.
You can go there casually without feeling like you’re going on long trip somewhere.
Sento is something you can feel is different than usual bathing, and the biggest positive point is that you can take a large, common bath while feeling free!
Enjoy convenient bathing in Japan!