Japanese traditional public bathhouses establishments (sento, in Japanese) are an intrinsic part of Japanese culture that were born to provide bathing facilities when many homes didn’t have their own.
Today sento is still fairly popular as many people live in quite small houses with cramped bath units and soaking up hot water is also appreciated by Japanese people as a way to wind down and relax the body to improve the quality of sleep.
Nevertheless, compared to decades ago, sento are facing a hard time keeping up with younger generations and more and more sophisticated bathtubs.
Sento Culture in the 21st Century
Beer bar? Co-working space? These are just some of the ways many establishments are trying to reinvent not just themselves, but the whole concept of sento to make it more appealing and accessible to younger generations in the 21st century.
Let’s go discover some of the most original sento in Tokyo!
Credit: Koganeyu website
Koganeyu in Kinshicho was completely renovated in 2020 and has been transformed into an eclectic space to bring together the local community of the shitamachi, while trying to attract younger generations.
The first floor, where the reception is located, hosts a craft beer bar, where you can replenish your water and mineral intake with a fresh cold beer after getting out of the hot bath and sweaty sauna.
The second floor is the central part of the facility, with three different baths: the main bathtub reaches the highest temperature at 43 or 44 degrees; the carbonated bath, reaches 36 degrees; and the medicated bath, where different herbs and essences are infused in the water, changing almost every day, reaching a temperature of 40 degrees.
If you feel like a sweat, try the cozy wooden sauna and if you are ready to sleep you can even stop for the night in the dormitory-style accommodation provided in the facility.
Koganeyu also welcomes bathers with tattoos.
Fukunoyu in Sendagi, is a long-established sento in the Bunkyo area, which has been completely renovated in 1996. The most interesting feature of this sento are the beautifully decorated walls with paintings made by the renowned artists Nakajima Morio and Maruyama Kiyoto, who are painters who specialize in sento decoration.
Since there is only one main bath area, to assure that both men and women can enjoy the beautiful art while soaking in the hot water after a long working day, the sento works on a weekly rotation between men and women.
Hinodeyu is a family-owned and run sento in the Ueno area, now managed by the younger son. The most outstanding feature is the big Japanese cypress wood bathtub made with a cypress that is said to be over 1000 years old.
Wood is said to be a better choice for water temperature control and is more gentle on the skin than the tyles of which usually bath tubs are made of, and this is one of the main reasons why locals love Hinodeyu so much.
Hinodeyu has jumped on the wave of teleworking that started last year and now offers a coìworking space and a special offer so customers can bathe and work for just 1000 yen!
Kosugiyu has been rocking the Koenji neighborhood since 1933 and it still represents the epitome of the crosspoint of cultures and ages that is Koenji. The original structure of the building has been kept intact, while the interior has been renewed to keep up with the ages and the people of the area. The bath area is equipped with showers at the front, while the tubs are set at the back of the room. The shiny white tiles and the colorful paintings depicting Mount Fuji at the back give the visitor the archetypal sento experience.
Manga and picture books are available in the waiting room arranged with cozy sofas and chairs you can use freely to relax after the long bath.
The name of this sento is closely related to the local geography and toponym, and since no other sento in Japan shares the name, as the owner says, Denjoyu name stands out and it is very easy to remember.
Natural spring water is pumped up from 135 meters below ground before being heated with high-grade oak charcoal, which is something pretty rare to find in the city.
The Tokyo Sento Experience
If you have never been in a sento before, I really encourage to try this regenerating experience.
Slow down and spend a cozy hour warming up in steamy hot water, enjoy a glass of milk in fresh clean clothes and go home ready for a night of deep sleep after visiting one of these original sento in Tokyo – they are definitely worth a visit!
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