Published by Siméon on

Sentōs (銭湯) are Japanese public bath. They are artificial, contrary to onsens (温泉) that use natural hot spring. I never tried them yet.

One particularity of Japanese bath is the nudity; indeed, the birthday suit is required. Baths are generally non-mixed. They are indicated on the map with that symbol ♨️ and the entrance with the hiragana ゆ (yu). It’s the pronunciation of the kanji 湯, meaning hot water. Hiragana is used to be easily read by children.

It’s notable that tattoos are an attribute of yakuza in Japan. Hence, most of the time tattooed people are not admitted inside sentōs and onsens. But it exists some where it’s allowed, for instance one of the local sentō I went.

N.B.: of course, taking pictures is forbidden inside, hence all the photos (except one below) will come from internet.

Small local sentō in Kyoto, hiragana ゆ can be seen at the entrance

Like most of Japanese place, you have to take off your shoes, lockers are available. The price of local sentōs is quite cheap, about 450 yens (roughly €3.8), but it can be higher in super sentōs, about 1000 yens. As I said, generally the baths are non-mixed, hence after paying, men and women are separated. Men go to the 男 side, generally blue, and women to the 女 one, that is red.

The next room is changing room, here you can store your clothe in the lockers (you will keep the key as a bracelet). The only thing you will bring with you is a small towel. It can be rent at the entrance generally. It is not only used for drying yourself, indeed, it will be brought inside the bath. It will be often stored on the head, when people are inside water.

After being naked, you can enter inside the bath room. At the entrance, there is the shower part, but they are not standing showers. People are indeed sitting when they wash themselves, on a small stool front of a mirror with a removable (or not) shower. Soaps can be available, in that case there are the traditional trio: body soap, shampoo and hair conditioner. This step is very important, it is the indispensable condition to go inside the baths. People have to wash themselves well, hair and body, and rinse themselves also. As it’s required to be clean before enjoying bath, it could be a good idea to go to toilet before, also everything have to be done again. 😉

Shower on men – David Lisbona on

After cleaning, bathing part can start! Each sentō is different, but in general that baths can be found:

  • Hot bath (about 40 °C);
  • Cold bath (between 15 and 20 °C);
  • Bath with pulse;
  • Sauna.

Bigger sentōs can have that equipment in several quantity. I also saw electric baths twice (yes, electric baths); but don’t worry you will not die, the current is really weak. “Strong” and weak version can be found, the sensation is special. Perfumed bath (lavender, cinnamon…) can also be found. I also experimented radon bath, but I don’t know the properties as it was written in Japanese 😅. Finally, I also tested cold sauna. Sentōs can also have outdoor baths.

One of the sentō I went in Kyoto (I could find the pictures by luck) – merec0

The next is up to you and… your friends! Because sentō is mostly a social activity, to spend time with friends. I also saw some Japanese people going alone to the bath, but in my experience, it was only with friend. I saw that Japanese people like sauna. You enjoy it in several steps. Firstly, the cold bath, probably to be more resistant. Then, people spend six minutes inside the sauna, to check there is a clock or an hourglass. To pass the time, there is… a TV! 😁 For me it’s really difficult to stay six minutes, the heat avoids me to breath properly. The towel, soaked with cold water, can be helpful. When time is done, to get an invigorating effect, the next step is… the cold bath! To avoid cold-water drowning, use the water from a hot bath next the cold one to spray yourself (if the next hot bath is far, a jar with tempered water can be present). It’s easier to go inside the cold water after the sauna than before!

How to enjoy the public bath – by Tokyo Sento Association

As bath is a social activity, time is spending chatting inside a bath several minutes before changing it. I saw bath in the shape of sun lounger to that purpose, with a waterfall in the back, front of TV; or lying bath (designed to avoid drowning).

When bathing is finished, a last shower is required to rinse. Standing shower are available, but sitting shower can also be used. After that comes the drying part with the small wet towel, it’s not so practical, and you will have to wring it several times. That’s why I like to bring also a bath towel. When you put your clothes back on, you will feel good! Japanese like to drink milk just after from a vending machine, obviously (but not always) 😁.

Changing room – merec0

Here is my experience in sentōs, for the moment I only tried five times. At first nakedness in public afraid me, but with time one forgets and spends a good time with friend. I recommend! For modest people and couple, you can also find private bath, especially in Japanese inn (ryokan).


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