HOW TO USE THE SENTO PUBLIC BATH
・Take off your shoes and put them in the shoe rack. Your key will be a wooden block in traditional old places, but nowadays usual lockers are common.
・Pay the bathing fee: for adults 460 yen in Tokyo, 440 yen in Osaka (the larger "Super Sento" will cost usually around 1,000 - 3,000 yen as they are newer and include more services)
・Enter the changing area for your gender (men and women are always segregated)
・Once in the changing area take off all your clothes and accessories and take only necessary items with you to the bathing area: your locker key, soap, shampoo, small wash towel and larger drying towel. Usually soap is available but sometimes they do not provide shampoo/conditioner (you shouldn't put your head in the bath anyway)
・YUKATA robes were originally sleepwear but have become customary to wear at some Sento to make the trip to and from the changing area to the bathing area more comfortable. The image of wearing a yukata and carrying bathing items in a washtub has become a symbol of good old Japan. However, at many Sento you will go to the bathing area completely naked, though it is acceptable to use the small wash towel to cover (part of) yourself.
・When arriving the bathing area find an open space in front of a faucet, set your things down, and use hot water to wash your body thoroughly while sitting on one of the stools. Since many people use the same bath at the same time it is crucial to wash your private areas very well. Women should wash any make-up off completely before entering the bath. Note that sometimes people leave their belongings in front of a faucet which means they are coming back, so be sure to choose an area that doesn't have anyone's belongings in front of it.
* Wash your body thoroughly outside of the bath. Never wash yourself in the bath.
・Immerse yourself in the hot bath (up to your neck). Some SENTO have baths with an electric current or aroma baths or others for health purposes. If the water is too hot for you (Japanese like their baths very hot) there is often a bath that is not as hot available as well.
・Finally after you have enjoyed a good hot soak, rinse your body off with hot water from the faucet before leaving the bathing area. Although the water is very hot and kills bacteria, since it is shared Japanese like to take a final rinse outside the bath. This is called KAKE-YU (掛け湯).
・Before entering the changing area, using the dry towel be sure to dry your body thoroughly so no excess water drips off your body in the changing room. It is important to keep the changing area clean, tidy, and dry at all times.
Bathing is a very important custom for the Japanese, who love cleanliness. In general sinking one’s body in the hot water is not only to cleanse themselves but also to heal the day’s exhaustion and end the day, which is why as opposed to morning showers more common in the west most Japanese take nightly baths. However, these days more and more people are taking morning baths and shampooing in the morning.
In the 1950’s it started to become more common to have home baths “UCHIBURO” (内風呂), and so the need for public bath houses “SENTO” become less and many such businesses closed. However, SENTO with their large YUBUNE (湯舟) (bathtub) and unique interior have become popular among young Japanese to whom this old tradition is new, and to foreigners who are knowledgeable about Japan. This time we introduce how to use the SENTO and about their interesting culture.
It is said that the current gender segregated SENTO style began in the Edo Period (around 1840). Before that time like Northern Europe there were steam baths and half-body bathing, and mixed bathing of men and women in a community. It was common for people to take baths and then enjoy food, drink, and relaxation on the upper floors.
These days the so-called “SUPER SENTO” large scale public bath is an establishment that also often includes a dining area, movie theater room, game area, and sometimes even a barber. So they are probably connected to the ancient traditions.
SUPER SENTO are also commonly used by families and groups while smaller SENTO are suited for solitary use.
●Other Important Info:
・Japan is indeed a safe country, but thefts have been known to occur in the bathhouse while people are bathing so it is best to not take too many things with you when go– just necessary bathing items and coins to pay if possible.
・In Japan tattoos are still often looked at negatively, and many SENTO (and ONSEN) will not allow you to enter the bath or bath house at all if you have tattoos. If you have smaller tattoos you may be able to cover them with a bandage and be accepted, however if you a large tattoo unfortunately you will likely not be able to use any SENTO or ONSEN in Japan.
・Small children who are not potty-trained should not enter the baths. Menstruating women also should not enter the baths.
・Special SENTO bags are often sold at cosmetics stores and other women’s stores and would make a great souvenir.
[published November 2017]