The magnificent depiction of Mt. Fuji was painted by sento arstit Kiyoto Maruyama. Sento artists use house paint to create their works and are a dying breed these days. Below the picture is an advertisement board that’s not in use anymore but has become so well-known it stays there as part of the decor.

Retains the strong flavor of a typical Showa sento

The Myojinyu sento (public bath house) opened in 1957. Its temple-like exterior is in an architectural style known as Miyagata, which was common in the Kanto region. Unchanged in appearance since it was originally built, this building is a precious structure that has a strong Showa atmosphere.
The tiles and frosted glass in the bathtub area and entrance are originals that are now irreplaceable. After decades of use they are worn away in places, but that only adds a touch of charming authenticity and a comforting feel.
Some customers have been coming to this sento ever since it first opened, while others are from neighboring condominiums who go there because their bath at home is too small. Customers range from parents with children to elderly people.
Sometimes small children can be seen being taught old-fashioned games by their elderly neighbors.
The water temperature is about 43℃ . Even now the water is heated over a wood fire fuelled by hand-chopped kindling. Water heated by a woodfire is popular because it is softer and thus better for heating up the body.
Myojinyu is the sort of place that's hard to find these days, a sento where you can sense the warmth of a human touch.

Comparatively cooler medicinal water.
The changing room is lively with people watching baseball and sumo on television, or relaxing in the electric massage chairs. Customers have a view of the garden and trees through the glass doors that lead outside, and can enjoy watching the seasons change.

(left) The line of simple taps and retro showers along the wali in the washing area, with taps positioned halfway between the shower and floor. (right) The goldfish bowl in the changing room is a feature of sento decor that somehow heightens the air of nostalgia.

We asked Mitsuko Oshima from Myojinyu to tell us about

The Sento : An Enduring Institution

It’s been thirty years since I first sat at the attendant’s desk. At first I was embarrassed about talking with naked people. That’s why having a TV at the desk helps as a distraction (laughs).
If I feel someone isn't looking too well when I take their money, then I make thorough inquiries (laughs).
Looking after the customers' health is part of the attendant's job. The regulars know each other well, so I can just say the word and I know they’ll keep an eye out for me.
Baths at sento always have the water temperature higher than you would at home. Which means children can find it hard to get in. If I see a child hesitating in front of the bath, then I’ll leave the desk to go and help. I scoop water from the bath with a basin and splash it over them from the feet up to their chest, and that helps to slowly adjust the body to the water temperature. If you do that over and over again the temperature difference between the water and the body is not so great and the body doesn’t get shocked by the heat when you get in. It's not enough to just have a shower. When children I’ve helped like that come back again, those are the best moments for me.

Nuisance Customers Who Ignore Rules


I was shocked to see someone cutting their hair in the wash area.
Cut hair blocks up the pipes and is a great annoyance to other customers.
People who wash their clothes in the basins are also a nuisance. How can anyone relax at the bath while others are doing their laundry there?
I could go on and on about troublesome customers, but something that everyone tends to do is leave the shower running when they’re not using it. It's such a waste of water. Walking around the changing room without wiping the body properly dry is the most important rule that’s often ignored. If the floor of the changing room gets wet and slippery it's really dangerous.
Many children and elderly people visit the sento. A wet slippery floor is a danger not only for the old men and women who are not so steady on their feet, but also for the children running about, who could easily slip and fall.
When customers break these rules I speak to them directly. If children don’t listen, I speak to the parents. It’d be too late if someone had an accident.

Enjoying Seasonal Events at the Sento


Myojinyu) Address: Minamiyukigaya 5-14-7, Ota-ku, Tokyo

Sento place great importance on marking seasonal changes. Very soon it will be the winter solstice (December 22nd) and on that day you should be able to enjoy a yuzu scented bath at any sento you go to. It’s refreshing to be enveloped by such a lovely aroma. I hope customers will take their time warming up in the bath.
In additional to the occasional seasonal traditions, the biggest event of the year is Sento Day, on October 10th. All the sento prepare special bathwater, have lotteries, and some places even hold concerts inside.
This is a day when we can entertain our customers with festivities, which also makes us happy.
The sento used to be a place bustling with lots of people. Thinking about it now I feel like those were happier times, when everyone went to the sento for a bath at the end of the day. There you’d be bound to meet someone from the town, conversation would bloom and good relations could develop. Those days might be over, but please do drop by now and then. Take a good long soak while lying in a big tub and staring up at the high ceiling. It really is an excellent feeling.

Photography / Tomoya Takai Text / JQR

Send us a comment about this article