- Feel the nostalgia from the Edo period
- The history of Sento (public bath)
- Atami-yu, the bathhouse that traditionally uses firewood to prepare hot water.
- How to bathe.
Feel the nostalgia from the Edo period
Kagurazaka is part of Shinjuku district, in the middle of Tokyo. Naturally, you’ll find many large chain stores along the streets, but when you’ll walk down the narrow, paved back streets, you’ll experience the atmosphere from the Edo period, when Kagurazaka was a red light district.
At the peak of the Meiji era（1868～1912), there were over 700 geisha working at local tea houses (ochaya). Today, there are still many expensive Japanese restaurants and historic spots. Some geisha houses still discretely survive in the back alleys.
※Geisha：Geisha are commonly mistaken as prostitutes. Actually, geisha are entertainers: they sing, dance, have friendly conversations, and provide hospitality and companionship for guests in expensive restaurants.
The history of Sento (public bath)
At the end of the 12th Century, sento appeared in Kyoto and became popular 300 years later（1603～1863). It was co-ed bathing up until 1879 and more sento were built due to the growing population after World War II, with almost 100% of Japanese people using it as a necessity. Nowadays, most people have a bath at home and the amount of people who use sento has decreased. That is why it’s harder to find sento today.
Atami-yu, the bathhouse that traditionally uses firewood to prepare hot water.
The stairs to Atami-yu are in a narrow street that feels like a path for cats.
It has been said that geisha originally bathed and got ready for work at Atami-yu. The street is also called “geisha-komichi” (‘the path of geisha’), and you can smell the burning firewood while walking this area.
They have been using firewood and charcoal to heat water since they opened in 1954. Its exterior has an old architectural roof called Chidori Hafu and it’s often used as a filming location for television.
The right side is for men, and the left side is for women. Put your shoes in the box and bring the wooden key with you.
There’s a counter called “Bandai” in front of the entrance that’s located between the men and women’s baths. They collect bath fees, sell beverages and cosmetics, watch over people, and engage in friendly conversation with locals. The sento is a family business, so you’ll see either the husband or wife sitting at the counter. 460 yen is the current fee for adults, children are also welcome and there’s even a changing table for babies.
Surprisingly enough, they will let you use their towels for free and shower gel and shampoo available inside the bath, so you don’t need to bring anything with you. It’s very rare to find these kinds of sento in Tokyo.
The clean changing room with light shining in from the roof.
You can see a small garden inside the men’s changing room. The wooden carved Kannon-sama and the golden fish will make you feel at peace.
The wall painting that is hung over the men and women’s bath is stunning! It shows Mt. Fuji viewed from Enoshima. The picture in the sento has a history in itself and you can always find pictures of Mt. Fuji in any sento.
There are golden fish and scenery of the Alps drawn on the tiles, so you will feel as if you are bathing outside. This is typical for Japanese sento.
The bucket they have is not Kerorin, but has another advertisement for the popular Japanese game, Momotetsu. It’s very rarely seen in Tokyo’s public baths.
How to bathe.
You can find English subtitled instructions next to the bandai, but it’s better to know how to bath before going. You can also read our article: The Art and Manner of Bathing in Japan
① You need to take a shower before soaking yourself in the bathtub. The old Japanese way of washing uses a tub and a wash cloth to wash your body. Sit on a chair and scrub your body with the wash cloth!
② The water tap is divided into cold and hot, so mix them to your preferred temperature.
③ After washing your body, soak into the bathtub. You can’t bring your towel in, and if you have long hair, you have to tie it up with a hairband.
④ If the water is too hot, you can add cold water from the water tap in the bathtub. By immersing myself in hot water, I feel all my fatigue washed away! It also feels good to bath repeatedly by cooling your body with cold water.
⑤ When leaving the bath you should dry off a bit, so that the changing room doesn’t become inundated with water.
⑥ After bathing, you can enjoy a beverage. The typical Japanese way is to drink milk is with your hand on your hip.
⑦ There’s an old hairdryer available for 30 yen, as well as a more modern one for the same price.
During the evening, Atami-yu becomes sort of a community center for the local people. Sento is no longer a necessity, but plays an important role as a place for neighborhood people to socialize (see our article: Nude Friendship at the Bathhouse). It’s also a place where kids can learn public manners. Why not experience the old world manners of Japan at Atami-yu?
Bathing in hot water feels so good! After that, why not have a drink in one of the many bars and izakaya of Kagurazaka?
If you liked this sento, what about trying an onsen in the middle of Tokyo?
3-5-4 Kagurazaka, Shinjyuku-ku, Tokyo