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Sento

Public bathhouses, or sento in Japanese, have more than 400-year history. Initially, both men and women used the same baths... but they wore something light. In the 19th century, this mixed bathing (kon-yoku) was prohibited by the then government, and gradually the facilities got to be separated by sex. Public bathhouses were very popular until fairly recently partly because they functioned as places for social interaction. There is an expression "hadaka no tsukiai". Literally, it's "naked companionship." Got any idea? Well, it actually means a friendship with frank communication, socializing without hiding anything.

Public bathhouses are located all over Japan now, but the number of them have been significantly decreasing year by year. It's become a hard age for bathhouse owners. The bathing fee is around 300 - 400 yen (2.5 - 3.3 USD). (statistics via Tazzmorry's website - Japanese)

Still, the idea of bathing with other people (without clothing) itself is nothing strange for the Japanese. We are simply used to it. Oh, not with the opposite sex, though. Going to Onsen (hot springs) resorts has a high popularity. You may find it funny, but most of us cover ourselves with the washcloth when walking around the bathing area.

For the Japanese, bathing means not only washing themselves, but also relaxing both mentally and physically. I like to stay soaking in the bathtub, after the day's work, thinking about life and ... everything.

Comments

That makes more sense now. Tazzmorry's website picture helped a bunch. I don't think you could get me to go to one though. :-) Thanks for the info. It is pretty neat that you can learn new things by just blogging. One more question, I would assume they were originally started because not every home would have a bathtub, but are they still around because people need a place to take a bath or is it more of a social thing?

Don't worry, I won't get you to go there. Actually, I'm not a big sento fan. ;)

Well, about the question, I'm not so sure but some apartments or the like don't equip bathing facilities. Also, there are still many who like to go to sentos. Probably they like the atmosphere and talking with neighbors and strangers. So, your guess is probably right.

Going to the onsen is the one thing I miss most about living in Japan--the one thing that is completely unreproducible here in the US.

I was so lucky to get assigned to Beppu-shi, onsen heaven. I went bathing alone, bathing with friends, bathing with coworkers after an office party. I was so happy not to share any of the Puritan inhibitions on nudity and always felt completely comfortable bathing publicly.

When my son and I returned to Japan for a visit, we specifically wanted to go to Noboribetsu onsen in Hokkaido. It was the highlight of our trip. Being the off season, we had the hotel practically to ourselves and quite enjoyed both the indoor and outdoor baths. Then we paid a very expensive entrance fee (I think abour $35.00 US) to spend the afternoon at Daiichi Takimotokan's baths.

I was quite pleased that my son, who was 17 at the time, enjoyed the baths as much as I did. I sincerely hope that there will be a "retro" movement in Japan and that the joys of public bathing will be rediscovered by the next generation. This is a tradition that Japan not allow western Puritanism to take from it.

I was kind of surprised at the number of the sento here in Tochigi. Only 15? Northern Tochigi is famous for onsen, so there are lots of public bath style cozy indoor onsens around here, and the number must not include those ones...

I guess Tokyo still has a lot of appartments which don't have private baths; I think most of them are for students.

$35 for an entrance fee??!! I know the name of the inn but didn't know it was that expensive. Anyway, I know with pleasure that you like bathing in Japan, M, and am glad to know your son also enjoyed the baths.

Serena, probably onsen-style baths are not counted as sentos. I'd like to visit the onsen there some day. I like Tochigi. :)

A friend introduced me to my first sento experience when I was in Tokyo 2 years ago. I must say that despite getting over my inital modesty, the sento was the most relaxing thing I experienced in Tokyo. It left me refreshed from the heat, noise, endless motion, and stress of the Tokyo lifestyle. It is one of the many things I miss most about Japan.

Thinking perhaps I'd overstated the price, I looked up my entry in my little travel journal. Friday, May 31, 1996--onsen: 4000 yen (2x2000).

During that trip, the dollar was as low as I've ever seen it against the yen, so it was about $35.00. It certainly was the most expensive bath I'd ever taken, but it was well worth it.

Kevin, thanks for sharing the joy of bathing in sento with us. Really, it's relaxing.

M, I took it that the fee was $35 each. 2000 yen still sounds expensive for a bath, but it's quite thinkable. Good you two were satisfied with the bath.