It was not just a figment of my childhood imagination. Local neighbourhood bathhouses still exist whereby there is one attendant who overlooks both the male and female sections of the bathing area! Overcoming my sudden shock, it was with slight trepidation that as a grown woman I now handed over my 460yen bathhouse fee to an older man whom I now knew would have full view of me as I entered the bath fully naked.
Rewinding back the clock, my visit today was to a local neighbourhood sento in Meguro-ku, as my schedule had not allowed me to get away for the weekend, so I thought it would be good to do a blog post about a sento which I had randomly discovered just 10 minutes walk from home.
A sento is a community bathhouse and there are still over 238 bathhouses in the Tokyo area. Years ago they were very common particularly as it was not unusual for accommodation to be without bathing facilities. The etiquette for a sento is exactly the same as an onsen, however the source of water is heated water rather than naturally occurring hot spring water.
The facilities at a sento are usually much more basic than an onsen facility, and are usually frequented by the local community who will bring along their towels, soaps and shampoos as they are not supplied. It is not unusual for a local sento to also have a coin laundry attached to the bathhouse. The other major difference I quickly noticed was that there was a big colourful tiled mosaic on the walls of a mountain scene. I must say I do prefer gazing across the real mountain scenery, however it was still an interesting paradigm shift to experience and bring me back to the basics.
As far as the occupants of the sento on the day I went, it was mainly a few older women. They were certainly not fussed by the male bathhouse attendant, and perhaps it was due to the age of the ladies that mirrors were installed in the changing area, for safety reasons so the attendant could be easily alerted if anyone had any falls. This was the reasoning I used to reassure myself vs alternative reasons for installing such mirrors.
Overall, it was a very interesting experience. Perhaps good to remind me of how foreigners feel about getting naked for the first time in a Japanese bathhouse. My confidence got brought down a peg, and I can’t say I had the most relaxing experience. As for the after effects, I smelt a little bit of chlorine on my skin following the bath, and noticed that I didn’t feel the blood tingling as it circulates through your body after being in natural hot spring water of an onsen vs the heated water of a sento.
Local temple and cafe
On the way home, I discovered a tiny temple and a little cafe just around the corner, both within 10 minutes walk from home, so it was a pleasant way to end the day after my little neighbourhood adventure at the local sento.
Kemenoyu is a 10 minute walk from Toritsudaigaku station on the Toyoko train line.