A bathhouse, which brings out your vitality and heals your tired body
Published: December 3, 2018
How to stay warm during the bitterly cold Japanese winter? Holding onto kairo (pocket warmers), layering up, eating a pot of nabe (hot pot), or chilling under a kotatsu (a low table with a heater underneath) are options, but going to a sento will warm your body and allow you to discover a unique atmosphere.
Sento is a type of public bathhouse. Traditionally sento have been quite practical because there weren’t always bathrooms in Japanese residencies. Unlike onsen, sento relies on tap water rather than natural spring water.
So I decided to visit Rakan-yu, a sento close to Nishiojima Station, and to learn more about Japanese bathhouses.
Rakan-yu is a very popular sento run by Mr. and Mrs. Imamoto for more than 30 years.
Rakan-yu is a special sento because of the temperature of the hot water, which is around 43 degree Celsius, and its big size.
The locker rooms are spacious.
Rakan-yu offers a variety of amenities like saunas (250 yen) and different kinds of bathing pools: cold baths, an electric bath with a weak electrical current which is good for muscles after sport, a bubble bath, and an infrared tub.
There is also a Chinese herbal medicine bathtub called “Hoju-yu.” Hoju-yu helps relieve back pain, skin conditions, and fatigue.
Don’t forget to follow correct bathing etiquette!
The friendly couple also runs a laundry service, which is very convenient for customers because they can do their laundry while enjoying a soak in a bathing pool.
Contrary to popular thinking, sento aren’t only popular with seniors but also recently with young people. “During the week, there are a lot of businessmen who come to relax after work, and during the weekend, a lot of young people come to relax after sport,” said Mrs. Imamoto.
The changing and bathing areas for men and women are separated by cute noren (Japanese style curtain). Don’t make a mistake: red is for women, blue is for men!
If you forget to bring your toiletries, Rakan-yu can provide you some. Towels are provided free of charge!
Sento are a part of daily living in Japan. “The majority of our customers are regular customers, and they come every day,” explained Mr. Imamoto. They start to queue every day before the opening!
Sento are an important community gathering spot and allow people to socialize with everyone regardless of age, social status, and origin. It’s not only a place to wash the body, but it has a role in the local community as well.
At Rakan-yu, I could feel the community spirit of Tokyo “Shitamachi” (Tokyo’s old town), and it warmed my heart. There is a family atmosphere, and you feel welcomed and accepted. Did I tell you that Rakan-yu is tattoo friendly?
So, if you feel cold, a bit lonely, or if you want to relax in a bathtub, Rakan-yu is the place to go!
Story and Photos by Aline Lambelet