One of the things I like to do in Japan is visit the sento. A sento is a Japanese public bath. They date back to times when houses didn’t have baths and have, largely, disappeared. Some still exist, I think, for nostalgic purposes. Obviously you can’t take photo’s inside a sento but on a visit to one in Kyoto I found a leaflet with the following diagram (click to enlarge).
You go in on the left and enter the “genkan” area. This is the area of a building, or apartment, where you take your shoes off. There are lockers on the right to put your shoes in. I sometimes have to put my shoes on top or underneath the lockers as my shoes are too big. You pay at the counter on the left. It’s quite cheap (about £3). You can also hire towels and buy razors if you need a shave. This one provided soap inside the sento but at some you need to buy (for about 10p) or bring your own. I had planned to visit so had brought a large and small towel and some deodorant. You take the small towel into the bath in case you need to wipe yourself down or to cover your bits while you sit in the sauna.
The men’s sento is on the right and the women’s on the left (the bottom and top of the picture respectively). You enter the changing room and take off all of your clothes, put them in a basket and place the basket in a locker. You then proceed to the bathing area.
The first thing you do is have a good wash before getting in the baths. There are a row of taps low down on the right. You sit down on a stool and use a small bowl, or a shower at waist height, to splash water all over yourself. You soap yourself down to make sure you are clean. Japanese people even do this before having a bath at home. After that you are ready to get into the baths.
There are a number of baths. The green one is hotter than the blue ones. The big blue bath pumps some air into the water jacuzzi style. On the far right of the picture is the sauna with a little cold pool next to it. The most interesting bath is the little one on the far left of the bathing area. This is the “electric bath”. A low electric current is passed throw the water. I did try this out and it is very disturbing. I think I’ve only seen a Japanese person use the electric bath once.
I tend not to spend too long in the baths. This one is quite good because it has something called “Sento News”. These are A3 sheets that have been laminated and stuck to the tiled walls using the moisture of the bath. You can take them down and have a read. They are hand written in Japanese and some of the articles are reasonably easy to read. One author always seems to write about what food (s)he has been eating. The sento also has a twitter feed so you can see what they have been up to (obviously you can’t read twitter while in the bath). If you follow the link you can see some more photo’s, this time from the outside.