Japan Word of the Day #74 – Sentou (Communal Bath)

Today’s Word is: Sentou (銭湯)

Tired of small bath and shower space? If you are comfortable sharing bath with others, sentou might be a good place to visit. Sentou is a communal bathhouse that has a large bath tub for several people to use at a time. Even though the number of sentou has been decreasing over years, there are still approximately 5500 sentou in Japan today. (Excluding onsen, which uses natural hot spring water)

In Edo period (17th-19th centuries), communal bathhouses were popular, but they were different from today’s sentou. A bathhouse at the time was sectioned by a heavy, decorative gate called “zakuroguchi” to keep steam inside the room. A shallow bathtub was placed inside this steamy room (similar to sauna), so people would soak their bottom half of bodies in bath, and use steam for upper bodies.

sentou-zakuroguchi-rinkya-japan

Past the red gate, you can see there is a pool of hot water inside (you have to climb up the edge first to get in). Inside of the room looks like this.

sentou-zakuroguchi-rinkya-japan2

In the drawing it seems like there’s good lighting, but in reality, there was no light, no window to keep steam inside as much as possible. Therefore some petty crimes and inappropriate conduct (it was co-ed, and it’s dark, so you can guess what was gonna happen!) were often to take place here.

Today’s sentou is a lot more spacious and clean.

sentou-rinkya-japan3

Modern sentou usually has separate rooms for men and women. People usually go in naked (no swimming suits!) The general rules of using sentou is the same as using onsen, and you can look up onsen etiquette pretty easily online!

Image sources: Wikipedia, Edo no Yuya, Mizore Matsumoto

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