What is Sento?
The start of bath culture in Japan extends back to the 6th century. In the Buddhist teachings that came to Japan at that time, washing dirt off the body was considered to be an important duty for those who serve Buddha. Later, in the early 13th century, a bathing facility for people called “Sento” was established, and by the 17th century the number of Sento in Edo (old name for Tokyo) grew to as many as 500.
Sento are known for their temple-style architecture called “Miyazukuri”, and this type of Sento can often be seen in Tokyo. When the grand Miyazukuri Sento was built during the period of recovery from the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, it became very popular and since then Miyazukuri has become a typical Sento building style in Tokyo.
The tradition of painting a mural of Mt. Fuji in the main bath area started in 1912 when the owner of Kikaiyu requested a painter to draw something that would make children happy. The painter was from Shizuoka, so he painted Mt. Fuji. This became very popular and has spread to many Sento in Tokyo since then.
Check the bathing procedure and manners
We will show you the bathing procedure and manners for Sento here.
First, put your shoes in the locker located at the entrance. Lock your locker by pulling the wooden card key out of the locker door and keep your key with you as you enter.
Pay a fee at the Bandai or the front desk (about 460 yen depending on the area) In traditional Sento, baths for men and women are separated at the entrance and the Bandai faces the bath areas, not the entrance, for security purposes. These days, the front-desk style is mainly used, and the bath areas are separated after you pay the admission fee.
Once you pay the fee, take off your clothes and put them into a locker. Lock the locker, put the key around your wrist, and enter the bath area.
When you enter the bath area, be sure to wash your body before soaking in the bath. The karan is a faucet for hot or cold water; the red or bigger one is for hot water and the blue or smaller one is for cold water.
Be careful not to soak your towel in the water when soaking in the bath. Use the towel to dry your body as much as you can when leaving the bath area to go out to the changing room.
The changing room is a place to cool off. Many Sento used to have a huge fan installed in the ceiling, but nowadays most Sento use an air conditioner. You can also manage your health by regularly checking your weight on the scale provided.
Massage chairs are best used when your body is relaxed after the bath. There are also hair dryer chairs in some Sento, although these are rare nowadays and are usually only provided in the women’s room. These types of chairs are subject to fees in some Sento.
Some Tokyo-style Sento have a Japanese garden. You can buy drinks at most Sento so if you like, you can relax and enjoy the view of the garden while rehydrating your heated body.
Tattoos are not allowed at some Sento. Check beforehand.
Selection of famous Sento in Japan
Lastly, let us introduce some well-known Sento in Japan that we recommend you visit at least once.
Famous Sento in Tokyo
Known as the King of Sento. This gorgeous Miyazukuri house was built around 85 years ago and has a mural of Mt. Fuji.
Address: 32-6 Senju-Kotobukicho, Adachi-ku, Tokyo
Access: 10 min. walk from Kita-Senju Station on JR, Tokyo Metro, Tobu and Tsukuba Express lines
Open: 3:00 pm – 12:00 am, closed on Monday (next day if Monday is a holiday)
A grand Miyazukuri Sento. The engraved ceiling in the entrance is splendid and there are Japanese colored carp in the Japanese garden. It also has a mural of Mt. Fuji.
Address: 27-1 Senju-Motomachi, Adachi-ku, Tokyo
Access: 20 min. walk from Kita-Senju Station on JR, Tokyo Metro, Tobu and Tsukuba Express lines
Open: 3:00 pm – 11:30 pm, closed on Friday
Musashi-Koyama Onsen, Shimizuyu
A modern Japanese Sento with 2 kinds of natural hot spring water. Eggs boiled in hot spring water are popular here.
Musashi-Koyama Onsen, Shimizuyu
Address: 3-9-1 Koyama, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo
Access: 5 min. walk from Musashi-Koyama Station on the Tokyu Meguro Line
Open: 12:00 pm (8:00 am on Sunday) – 12:00 am, closed on Monday (open if Monday is a holiday)
A natural hot spring in a building. Their mural of Mt. Fuji is worth seeing. Men’s and women’s baths switch every day.
Address: 2-1-6 Togoshi, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo
Access: 3 min. walk from Togoshi Station on the Toei Asakusa Line
Open: 3:00 pm – 1:30 am (morning bath available 8:00 am -12:00 pm on Sunday), closed on Friday
Established around the end of the Edo period around 150 years ago, their open-air bath has a great atmosphere and is made with lots of natural rocks.
Address: 1-11-11 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Access: 3 min. walk from Tawaramachi Station on the Tokyo Metro
Open: 1:00 pm – 12:00 am, closed on Tuesday (next day if Tuesday is a holiday)
Famous Sento in Japan
A modern, western-style Sento established about 90 years ago. Their bath area has been remodeled recently and is very clean.
Address: 14-9 Yayoicho, Hakodate-City, Hokkaido
Access: 5 min. walk from Hakodate Dokku-Mae stop on the Hakodate City Tram
Open: 3:00 pm – 9:00 pm (8:00 pm on Sunday), closed on Monday and Friday
Ebisuyu (Ishikawa Prefecture)
A wooden and partially Miyazukuri building from the 1950s. The luxurious tile art of Ebisu-sama, the god of wealth, welcomes guests at the entrance.
Address: 19-45-2 Shoin, Shoinmachi, Suzu-City, Ishikawa
Access: 2 hours and 40 min. by Suzu Limited Express of Hokutetsu Okunoto Bus from JR Kanazawa Station, 2 min. walk from “Shoin” bus stop.
Open: 2:00 pm – 7:00 pm, closed on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
Miyoshiyu (Gunma Prefecture)
A Retro-looking Sento built in the 1930s. There is also a dining hall where you can enjoy meals and beer.
Address: 1-2-15 Miyoshicho, Kiryu-City, Gunma
Access: 15 min. walk from Kiryu Station on the JR Ryomo Line
Open: Sento 3:30 pm – 10:00 pm, dining hall 11:30 am – 1:30 pm and 4:00 pm – 9:30 pm, closed on Sunday
Funaoka Onsen (Kyoto)
A grand Sento in a two-story wooden building established in 1923. The sculptures in the changing room representing Tengu, a long-nosed goblin, and the three largest festivals in Kyoto are worth seeing.
Address: 82 Murasakino-Minami-Funaokacho, Kitaku, Kyoto-City, Kyoto
Access: 5 min. walk from “Senbon Kuramaguchi” bus stop of Kyoto City Bus No.206
Open: 3:00 pm (8:00 am on Sunday and Holiday) – 1:00 am, open every day
Nakanoyu (Okinawa Prefecture)
The only Sento in Okinawa Prefecture. It has a unique building design where the changing room and the bath area are in one room. There is an oval bath in the middle of the bath area. Natural hot spring water is used here.
Address: 1 Ageda, Okinawa-City, Okinawa
Access: About 40 min. by Ryukyu Bus No. 90 from Yui Rail Furujima Station, 2 min. walk from “Ageda” bus stop
Open: 3:00 pm – 9:30 pm, closed on Sunday and Thursday
A researcher of popular culture born in Tokyo in 1950, he started collecting product packages and postal stamps when he was a child. He researches often-overlooked popular culture trends from a variety of perspectives and reports his findings in newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. He is especially known as a leading expert in the field of Sento research and has written many books including “Sento Isan” and “Sento no Nazo”.