Today’s blog is all about Japanese Public Bath Culture.
Japan is most known for its onsen, or hot spring; however, did you know that there is also something called sento, public bath? Sento has men and women’s bathing area (although they were not originally separated), and bathers go in without wearing bathing suit just like onsen, but the water is not from hot spring and is located in local towns. May sento have Mount Fuji or other scenery drawn on its tiled wall as to create ambience of an onsen.
When seeing a sento, Japanese are very nostalgic, being reminded of the Showa Era (1926-1989) after war when everything was communal. Because baths back then consisted of using open fire and log wood, it was not common for normal houses to have its own private bathing area. Families would go to a sento to bath. After bathing, people would sit around in lounging chairs, drink milk or beer and linger around for a bit. The local community was inadvertently collected at local sentos so it naturally became a gathering spot. People were connected through sento.
Later in the Showa Era, every family was able to build its own bathing area; accordingly, sentos lost their meaning of existence in time. But because sento reminds us of the “good old times”, there are volunteer groups acting to preserve and promote sentos and to divert its use not just limited to a public bath. In Kichijoji,Tokyo, there is a sento that plays rock music inside the tubs as a new form of using sento.
Because it is rare for even Japanese to visit sentos in the city now a days, it would be an extremely rare experience to visit. If you feel nostalgic when walking in to a sento, you have become Japanese!