Updated at: 2016-12-29
After inconveniently forgetting my umbrella at the worst time possible, I walked the streets of Meguro about as wet as a drowned rat. Clothes sticking to me, hair dripping, I decided that now might be a good time to try out a Japanese bathhouse otherwise known as sento.
Sento are public bathhouses that are privately owned frequently in residential areas for those that might not have convenient access to showers or bathtubs in their own homes. That day, I required both.
A quick google search on ‘sento-guide’ will show you which Sentos are in your area. Having found my nearest one, I decided to venture in with my just bought towels from seven-eleven. Entry to sento cost around 450 yen while they also sell various small bath products for those (like myself) who had come prepared with nothing.
Upon entering, your shoes will need to be placed in the front locker before the facility splits off into men and women. To do the experience right, it is Japanese custom to sit down and scrub yourself clean first before you enter the 40 degree tub - an economical and hygienic way for everyone to have a hot bath. Sentos in Tokyo are particularly well-known for their above average temperatures. There are approximately 1200 sentos in Tokyo alone and about 7000 nationwide. It is both a social activity for local Japanese to enjoy alone or with friends and family while acting as a reminder of the past when baths were not available to every home.
Most sentos also offer old-school massage chairs for a small fee. Fans are also usually provided to help you cool off from the heat of the baths. The after effects of the bath will leave you relaxed (and sleepy) but most of all, refreshed.
Perhaps the hardest part to grasp about Sentos is the fact that you have to go in naked. It makes perfect sense when you think about it, however the thought of revealing yourself to total strangers is still strange and awkward from the western perspective. However, once you get over the fact that nobody even looks at you and that old grannies are perfectly comfortable in their skin, entering an open bath becomes natural.
Verdict: I’d highly recommend it for anyone to try it at least once. The level of relaxation you’ll experience after does outweigh the embarrassment. If not, keep it in mind as a handy way to get out of your wet clothes or to shower from anywhere outside of your own home.