Sento: My Japanese Communal Bath House Experience

I have always been intrigued by Sento. Mainly because it gives you a “peek” inside the ritual of bathing in Japan. Let me explain, Sento is different from an Onsen. In a nutshell, Sento is a public bath where in water is heated, while Onsen is a natural hot spring.

If you follow me on my Instagram page, you might have seen that I was in Kyoto, Japan last September 17, 2019. This was my first stop before heading to Hiroshima for Fude Matsuri.

This sento was featured in NHK World a year ago and I happened to watch that episode. I took note of this and made sure to visit the sento the next time I am in Kyoto. As I have stated on my Instagram post, I made my way to Umeyu Rakuen on my second night in Kyoto. Lucky for me, it turned out that this sento was less than a 10 minute walk from my area and was featured on the “Things To Experience” board at my hostel (Kyoto Hana Hostel).

In Japan, bathing is more that just taking a shower. It is about cleanliness of body and spirit. I am not an expert on the subject, but as in everything I do, I learn through observation. I do not have any photos at the sento because, it is not allowed. But if you do want to see how it looks inside, feel free to check their website here.

The sento appears to be located in a residential area. I crossed a small bridge and saw a small stream in front of the building. A very clean stream. I entered through a sliding door and the cashier is to the left. Here I paid a minimal fee of less than ¥500 ($5 / ₱250) for the use of a small towel + the bathing facilities. You can also purchase bathing supplies here if you didn’t bring any. There are shoe lockers available near the entrance and you are to be barefoot when you enter the bathing area.

Once I entered the changing room, I see there are individual lockers where I can store my clothing. There were also stacks of small baskets filled with bottles of shampoo, soap, etc. I realized later, regular patrons would just leave their stuff for their next visit. I was a bit worried at first – a little bit scared actually that I might break some unspoken rule or something – but there are fliers in English that instructed me on how to bathe properly. Just to be sure, while I was stripping, I observed my fellow bathers and followed suit.

I entered the bathing area through a glass sliding door. I picked up a small basin. This is where I placed all my bathing necessities (I used this as a dipper as well). I also picked up up a small stool before I went to the wall with faucets. This is where I am expected to bathe thoroughly before dipping into any of the pools.

The men took  a while to bathe. They all started by shampooing their hair – like really scrubbing their head. I was worried their scalp would end up raw, but they seemed fine. Next they washed their faces. Some men even started shaving their beards (there are mirrors attached to the wall). Then they proceeded to wash their bodies, their privates and ended up by washing the space in between their toes. I also noticed that they would rinse the floor of any soap, shampoo or shaving cream residue. I did the same.

The ceiling is high. The space is airy, but not cold. There is a wall by the dipping pools that divide the male and female bathing area. You can actually hear the voices of the women talking from behind the wall. The public bath had a very communal spirit. On the two occasions I was there, aside from solo bathers, there were salary men talking about work and life, a group of local high school (maybe) soccer players reviewing the game played that day and  blue-collar workers relaxing together.

By the way, Kyoto has an abundance of spring water that runs beneath the city. It is very pure, you can even drink it straight from the tap! It is believed to be one of the main reasons why food and beverages made here are considered to be of high quality. If that is the case, can you imagine what dipping in Kyoto water can do to your skin?

There were five pools and a sauna. There were two hot tubs that made my skin prickle as I entered. Did you know that hot water releases endorphins once it hits your body? Well it does and I felt them burst inside me – signalling my muscles to relax. One pool had a reddish tint to it. Out of curiosity, after my bath, I asked the front desk, why the water was red. I was told that it had Licorice extract – Licorice by the way has amazing anti-ageing and skin soothing benefits. It’s also helps fight hyper pigmentation. I actually dipped in this pool most of the time because it was not as hot. There was one cold pool where I dipped only once to cool down.

At one corner, tucked away from the main bathing floor, there was one small pool that had “⚡️” signs all over it. I was wondering what it was. Although there were notices on the wall, they were written in  Japanese 🤔.  Having been there for a little over 30 minutes, there was only one man who entered the pool and he seemed to be moaning in pleasure. I became very curious.

I made my way to the edge of the pool and began to slowly dip myself in it. I was planning to dip all the way to my neck when all of a sudden, I felt like I got grounded! The pool was electrified! The current came in different pulses and intensity – I did not last 30 seconds in that pool. Although I realized later on, it was good for my nerves.

I went two nights in a row. I dipped into the electric pool again.

~

Umeyu Rakuen

175, Iwatakicho, Shimogyo-ku Kyoto-shi

Entrance Fee: ¥430

Towel  Rental:  ¥30

 

 

Operating times: Mon~Fri –  14:00~2:00 | Sat, Sun  – 6:00~12:00 and  14:00~2:00

It is a 15 minute walk from Kyoto Station or a 6 minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station.

Umeyu Rakuen Twitter Page.

~

Say “Hi!” on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/tortorre

 

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