In the past, many houses in Japan were not equipped with bath facilities, so sento (public bath) was a place where the locals could go to wash themselves, soak in a tub and socialize with neighbors.
Nowadays most households have their own bath facilities at their own home, so the number of those traditional sento has declined, but we have developed unique sento culture recently and you will be surprised to know that sento has been playing very important part of our culture in Japan.
Modern sento is not only for having bath, but also the place where you can relax, enjoy sauna and some of them are even equipped with a swimming pool, where you can swim naked.
1. Different types of sento
There are two major categories of sento in Japan; “normal sento” where local people visit and the fee is very reasonable, and “super sento” where is more like an entertainment with restaurants and massage facilities etc.
I personally visit both types of sento myself depending on how I feel on that particular day, but normal sento is easier to get to because most of them are located in convenient area where I can visit by bicycle or train, whereas super sento is often located in a remote area where you need a car to visit (some of them are located in the central Tokyo area where you can visit by train though, but usually very expensive) .
Normal sento is generally run by a family, so the premises are relatively small scale and it costs you only 460yen in Tokyo (when you use sauna, you have to pay extra). On the other hand super sento is run by large corporates and it is usually facilitated with a restaurant, massage equipments, relaxation area, large bath tubs often with open air area and so on, but the fee is from 1,000yen to 2,000yen (possibly more).
By the way the differences between sento and onsen are
Sento usually uses tap water and onsen is natural hot spring water. Some sentos in Tokyo call themselves onsen though. They use natural spring water and heat it up to the right temperature, but the onsen in Tokyo usually has brownish black color (they say it is because of the mineral contents in the water), so please be prepared.
I will focus on the normal local sento on this blog.
2. How to have a bath at Sento
If you have ever visited Onsen in Japan, you won’t have any trouble at sento either, but if you do not, then please read this before visiting sento.
There are few dos and don’ts at sento or onsen.
1. You have to be completely naked
Sento is equipped with free lockers where you can keep your clothes and belongings. You may sometimes need to insert 100yen coin to use it (it should be returned when you leave though, so basically it is free to use).
2. You need to bring your own hand towel
If you don’t have one, you can either purchase or rend it there. The rental towel is usually around 20 to 50yen (it depends on the sento). The towel is used to hide your genital area (although many people do not really care hiding it) and to dry yourself before leaving the bathing area.
3. Wash your body before going to the bath tub
Many sentos have “Kakeyu” small tub near the entrance area. That is for quickly cleaning your body especially genital area with the hot water before going to the bath tub.
I personally like to thoroughly wash my body before going to the bath tub using washing liquid so I do not need Kakeyu, but some people prefer to take a bath before washing their body, so the Kakeyu is for those people who do not wash properly prior to dipping themselves into the bath tubs
4. Towel should stay out of water in the bath tub
It has been regarded as rude to dip your towel into the water in the tub. So people generally leave their towels at the corner of the bath tub or put their towels on the head (which I generally do).
5. Dry your body with the hand towel before leaving the bathing area
You have to thoroughly dry your body before stepping out of the bathing area so that the floor of the changing room won’t get wet.
6. About tatoo
Some sentos won’t allow you to use the bath if you have tattoos, so it would be better to check with them prior to your visit.
As long as you follow these rules, you will happily enjoy sento without causing any troubles.
3. Recommended sento in Tokyo
There are numerous numbers of sentos in Tokyo and the quality of each sento varies depending on the facilities.
The popular ones are those sentos where have recently been rebuilt or refurbished and these ones are generally equipped with upgraded facilities such as better hot water, better sauna, and better atmosphere etc.
I will list several sentos in various areas which I particularly like, but there are many other good ones too, so if you find a sento in the area you are staying, it would be worth checking.
1. East of Tokyo
Yudomburi Sakae Yu is my best choice in this area because they use natural spring water and they have very relaxing semi-open air bathing area. Although it is a small family owned sento, I always enjoy the hospitality of the owner. The nearest station is Minowa station on Hibiya line of Tokyo Metro. It will take about 10 min on foot from the station. For the details, please click here
Yudonburi Sakae Yu
|Address:||1-4-5 Nihonzutsumi, Taito-ku , Tokyo|
|Opening hours:||2pm-12midnight, Sun & hols 12noon-12midnight, closed Wed|
|Transport:||Minowa Station (Tokyo Metro Hibiya line)|
Haginoyu is the largest sento in Tokyo (in the category of normal sento) and it was rebuilt in 2017. They have 4 different types of bath tubs with semi-open air bathing area and a large sauna. They also have a restaurant. The nearest station is Uguisudani on JR and it will take about 5 min on foot from the station. For the details, please click here
|Address:||2-13−13 Negishi, Taito-ku, Tokyo|
|Opening hours:||Morning 6-9am (Last entry 8.30am), 11am-1am (last entry 12.30am)|
|Transport:||JR Uguisudani Sta.|
Kotobukiyu is located in somewhere between Asakusa and Ueno, and the nearest station is Inaricho station on Ginza line and only 1 min walk from there (you can even walk from Ueno station, but it will take about 5min on foot). They have a large open air bath tub where you can actually see the sky equipped with two saunas. It is conveniently located so very popular sento for tourists as well as locals. For the details, please click here
|Address:||5-4-17 Higashiueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo|
|Opening hours:||11am-1:30am (last entry 1:00am)|
|Transport:||Inaricho Sta. (Hibiya line)|
Mikokuyu is also newly rebuilt clean sento where you can view the Skytree from the window while you are in the bath tub. They use natural spring water for the bath tubs and that water makes your skin moisten for a while after having the bath. I personally like the modern Japanese interior decor. If you are staying in that area, I highly recommend you to visit there. The nearest station is Ryogoku station on JR. For the details, please click here
|Address:||3-30-8 Ishiwara, Sumida-ku, Tokyo|
|Opening hours:||3.30pm-2am, closed Mon|
|Transport:||Honjo-Azumabashi Station (Asakusa line), Kinshicho Station (Sobu, Hanzomon lines)|
2. West of Tokyo
Aqua Higashinakano is famous for having a small swimming pool. Although it is not large, but big enough to swim a bit to chill you out especially in summer. Swiming in naked is quite an experience. It is only 2 min walk from Higashinakano station on JR Sobu line. For the details, please click here
|Address:||4-9-22 Higashinakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo|
|Opening hours:||3:00pm-12am, closed Mon|
|Transport:||Higashinakano Station (Sob line),|
3. South west of Tokyo
Shimizuyu in Musashikoyama. When you are in Musashi Koyama area, which is near Shibuya, this sento is a nice get away for a relaxing evening. The reason I like this sento is that it has very cozy and somewhat out of Tokyo atomosphier making me feel like I am visiting a small town in the country. They also use natural hot spring water for the bath tubs. Although it is a bit of walk from Musashikoyama station (7min walk), it is worth visiting if you are staying in that area. For the details, please click here
|Address:||3-9-1, Koyama, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo|
|Opening hours:||12:00pm-12:00am, closed Mon|
|Transport:||7 minutes walk from “Musashikoyama” station|
Anyway there are many other sentos available in Tokyo and each of them is unique on its own. Many locals go there to end the day to refresh their mind from stressful everyday life.
They say Japanese people work too much and do not take enough holidays (I personally think “mind your own business” though), but we also know how to relax on our spare time and the sento plays an important role for the relaxation part.
If you have any queries, please feel free to contact me. I will be happy to help you and give you some advice which sento you should visit.
You can find my contact address on my HP
MA by So Shi Te
2-22-15 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku,
Tokyo Japan 107–0062
Opening hours: 11:00 – 19:30 (Sat, Sun, NH until 19:00)
*Please check our homepage for holiday information.