The origins of sento can be traced back to the Buddhist temples of India, from where migrants subsequently took it as they made their way north and east to China, and finally over to the Japanese archipelago during the Nara Period (710-794).
Due to its religious origins, baths in Japan were initially restricted to temples. These baths were typically steam ones and, while they were at first only used by priests, the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) saw a loosening of the rules and sick people were allowed to access the facilities. Before long, wealthy merchants and members of the upper class began to add baths to their residences, and sento became a more regular aspect of life.
Sento went through a complete makeover during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), introducing significant design elements that started to resemble what we see in the country today. The traditional narrow entrance to the bathing area was replaced by a wider sliding door, the height of the ceiling was raised and, in many cases, doubled, and bathtubs were dug into the floor so they could be entered more easily.
By this time, most sento used hot water instead of steam, allowing windows to be added so that the bathing area received more light.
Many of these nascent models of sento failed to survive the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake or the widespread firebombing of Tokyo during World War II. Their destruction, however, helped accelerate the transition of bath houses from the more vulnerable wooden models to their tiled counterparts.
The lack of bath houses in the wake of World War II led to an increase in the incidence of communal bathing, and out of the ashes rose temporary baths that were constructed with materials that were readily available. Few people had access to their own private baths because countless homes were damaged or destroyed, resulting in an increase in customers who wanted to meet their bathing needs — and the bittersweet heyday for the sento.
The name means “Water of Five Fragrances.” It is a place to sample the Japanese sento (public bath) experience. They’re used to foreigners here.
When you arrive, you’ll see the bicycles parked outside and the name written in kanji: 五香湯. Buy tickets to enter from the machine at the doorway. It’s all in Japanese. The button at the top left marked Y430 is for adults. The button directly next to it is for children below junior high school age and it’s marked Y150. Give you ticket to the people at the counter and go into the appropriate changing room.
Once inside the bathing area, you’ll see a variety of tubs surrounding by individual washing areas. After washing yourself and soaking in the tubs, head up the stairs and sample the giant two-stage sauna: the main room is hot, and the inner room is like stepping into a kiln! One way to last a little longer is to jump in the cold bath (right outside the door) first. Next to this is a large soaking tub.
Well, that’s what the men’s side is like. They wouldn’t let me into the women’s side, so I’m just guessing that things are the same on their side.
After bathing, you can relax in the small snack bar in the lobby. They serve draft beer, which is always good after a bath, and a variety of snacks and light meals.
This sento is also run by the owner’s of the hostel/guesthouse Gajyun and is free to all guests.
They take guests to tour the sento “Ginsuiyu” by owner’s car at 9:00PM on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
If you want to join it, please let them know in advance.