Visiting a Japanese bathhouse and baring it all in your birthday suit is probably the best way to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. But onsen (温泉) hot springs tend to be found in regional Japan, away from the city, and a visit tends to cost somewhere around ¥2,000 (~USD18.60). An overnight stay at a ryokan (旅館) can also be quite pricey, ranging from ¥15,000 (~USD139.50) to ¥20,000 (~USD186).
Enter the sento (銭湯) – Japanese bathhouses that can be found in the neighbourhoods of Tokyo. Once ubiquitous, they used to serve as a public bathhouse and melting pot for the local community. These days, most Tokyoites have a bathroom within their apartments and no longer visit the sento as often; there are only about 500 sento in Tokyo today.
Still, these public bathhouses retain their charm as a fusion of healing and Japanese culture. Fixed at an affordable price of around ¥460 (~USD4.30), these sento also provide a luxurious and relaxing experience, without the need to travel out of Tokyo.
Image credit: Chiyo no Yu
Situated in the west of Tokyo, Chiyo no Yu has been operating since 1965.
There are two open-air bathhouses – one in a Western-style and the other Japanese. The Western-styled bath (Suirennoyu) has a classic bathhouse look and two large outdoor clay baths, while the Japanese outdoor bath (Ischanoyu) features seasonal flowers, like wisteria and cherry blossoms, hanging over the koi carp fish pond.
The two bathhouses are separated by gender. To let patrons experience both sides, access is swapped every two weeks.
If you’re dropping by after a long day of sightseeing, you probably won’t want to carry a set of toiletries around. Fret not, because you can purchase a ‘hands-free’ set of towels, soap, shampoo, shaver and toothbrush for ¥300 (~USD2.80).
Chiyo no Yu serves light meals like yakisoba (¥450, ~USD4.20) and takoyaki (¥300, ~USD2.80) if you’re feeling peckish after a soak.
Price: Entrance: ¥460 (~USD4.30) | Sauna: ¥200 (~USD1.90) | Toiletries set: ¥300 (~USD2.80)
Opening hours: Mon – Fri 3.30PM-11.30PM | Sat – Sun 1PM-11.30PM
Address: Japan, 〒181-0011 Tokyo, Mitaka, Iguchi, 2 Chome−4−31 千代乃湯ビル
Image credit: @tokyosento
Okada-yu is a modern sento run by third-generation owners. Armed with knowledge and expertise in running a traditional Japanese bathhouse, they are also dedicated to keeping the family business relevant and prosperous.
Recently renovated in March 2019, the owner believes that amidst the backdrop of public baths closing down one after another, he owes it to the community to continue upgrading facilities and retain the appeal of bathhouses, while maintaining its affordability.
The recent renovation shifted its botanical theme to a ‘bubble lounge’ theme. Okada-yu aims to become more of a leisure facility, rather than a bathhouse meant just for daily necessities. Expect luxurious facilities, such as a jet bubble bath, and another made of hinoki cypress wood, which gives off a relaxing fresh and earthy scent.
The lounge area of Okada-yu
Image credit: Okada-yu
There is an outdoor ‘garden’ bath in the men’s room, which is perfect for both lazing on a sunny afternoon or star-gazing at night. In the women’s room, there is a ‘beauty skin lab’ on the second floor. It consists of a steam sauna and a ‘silky’ carbonated bath with ultra-fine microbubbles, said to deeply cleanse and promote clear and healthy skin.
Tip: For an after-bath activity, check out the Nishiarai Daishi, a picturesque temple just a couple of minutes’ walk away.
Price: Entrance: ¥470 (~USD4.40) | Sauna: ¥200 (~USD1.90) | Toiletries set: ¥400 (~USD3.70)
Opening hours: Tue – Sun 3PM-11PM | Closed on Mon
Address: 3 Chome-43-2 Sekibara, Adachi City, Tokyo 123-0852, Japan
Image credit: @tokyosento
Located near Shimotakaido Station in Setagaya, Tsukimi-yu retains much of an old-school sento vibe. Its high ceilings, cypress roof and blue tiles seem to be straight out of the 1970s.
The main showpiece of Tsukimi-yu is the huge mosaic of Mount Fuji in pastel colours.
The bathhouse offers five different types of special baths, including natural hot springs, jet baths and a denki buro, or electric bath. Said to help with relieving pain, the denki buro runs a low electric current through the hot spring water that might give unsuspecting patrons a mild shock.
Usage of the sauna costs an additional ¥230 (~USD2.10).
Price: Entrance: ¥470 (~USD4.40) | Sauna: ¥230 (~USD2.10) | Toiletries set: ¥200 (~USD1.90)
Opening hours: Wed – Mon 3.30PM-12AM | Closed on Tue
Address: 5 Chome-36-16 Akatsutsumi, Setagaya City, Tokyo 156-0044, Japan
Image credit: @haginoyu1126
Opened in May 2017, Haginoyu is a modern sento near Ueno. Occupying four floors, the sento has most of the bells and whistles of Japanese bathhouses, like a jet bath and sauna. This bathhouse is also pleasantly spacious, so you need not squeeze with fellow patrons.
Haginoyu’s main bath features microbubbles that purportedly deeply cleanses the pores on your skin. It also has two different cold water baths, which are meant to aid muscle recovery and boost metabolism, making it a popular bath amongst athletes.
The sento also has a restaurant inside serving Japanese cuisine and sake for an after-bath meal. It’s quite popular amongst locals to grab a glass of craft beer (¥500, ~USD4.65) after the bath.
Haginoyu is near several popular tourist destinations, like the Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo Skytree and Senso-ji Temple, making it convenient to drop by for a good soak after a day of walking.
Sauna usage costs ¥150 (~USD1.40) on weekdays and ¥200 (~USD1.90) on weekends.
Note: Haginoyu has a no-tattoos policy.
Price: Entrance: ¥470 (~USD4.40) | Sauna: ¥150 (~USD1.40) | Towels set: ¥70 (~USD0.65)
Opening hours: 6AM-9AM, 11AM-1AM | Closed every third Tue
Address: 2 Chome-13-13 Negishi, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0003, Japan
Open-air bath (rotenburo)
Image credit: @yudonburi.sakaeyu
Revamped in 2017, Yudonburi Sakaeyu is a modern and contemporary sento, an oasis from the nearby-touristy areas of Ueno and Asakusa.
The sento uses natural underground thermal water for its variety of baths, which includes a ‘micro-vibra’ massage bath and an electric bath.
The outdoor rotenburo has a large micro-bubble bath
Image credit: @miyakosono_official
The main showpiece here is the large outdoor bath. Using nano-bubble bath water, it also features two large one-person baths, for some personal indulgence.
Note: Like most sento, Yudonburi Sakaeyu is tattoo-friendly. Unlike onsen, Japanese bathhouses do not have the same strict policies on tattoos and are generally more accepting towards its multitude of patrons.
Image credit: @eomm20xx
Price: Entrance: ¥470 (~USD4.40) | Sauna: ¥250 (~USD2.30) | Toiletries set: ¥200 (~USD1.90)
Opening hours: Mon – Sat 2PM-12AM | Sun 12PM-12AM | Closed on Wed
Address: 1 Chome-4-5 Nihonzutsumi, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0021, Japan
Image adapted from: @saunacasual
A hidden gem in the quaint and charming neighbourhood of Nakameguro, Kohmeisen is a beautiful little sento that is run by third-generation owners. It went through a renovation in 2014.
There is a rooftop rotenburo, or outdoor bath, made of wood – a rare find in the heart of the city. There’s no need to worry about privacy, as it is completely obscured by trees. As the rotenburo is only on one side of the bathhouse, access to each side is switched between males and females every Friday.
Sauna usage costs ¥300 (~USD2.80), which includes a set of towels. Soap and shampoo can be purchased for ¥70 (~USD0.65).
Image adapted from: Kohmeisen
Price: Entrance: ¥470 (~USD4.40) | Sauna: ¥300 (~USD2.80) | Toiletries set: ¥170 (~USD1.60)
Opening hours: 3PM-1AM, Daily
Address: 1 Chome-6-1 Kamimeguro, Meguro City, Tokyo 153-0051, Japan
Note: Kohmeisen is tattoo-friendly.
Image credit: @tokyosento
With a classic sento vibe straight from the 1980s, Magic Onsen Showa Bath also features a huge tiled mosaic of Mount Fuji.
This Japanese bathhouse uses natural well water. According to the bathhouse, the water here is so beneficial for health, you can even bring a plastic bottle to bring back some for consumption. Magic Onsen Showa Bath also uses binchotan charcoal in its baths, which has cleansing properties for healthy skin. On the weekends, the onsen uses special ‘medicinal’ ingredients in their baths, such as yuzu, milk, aloe vera, and lavender.
The owner of the bathhouse is also a well-known magician, going under the stage name of Taji Magic – hence the bathhouse’s name. He performs often in the onsen for his customers. You can check out the events schedule here.
The sento has a collection of more than 500 manga books that are changed regularly for patrons, to keep you entertained. If you’re visiting on a Monday, a little surprise is given to customers.
Price: Entrance: ¥450 (~USD4.20) | Sauna: ¥100 (~USD0.95) | Toiletries set: ¥400 (~USD3.70)
Opening hours: 3.30PM-1.30AM, Daily | Wed, Fri 3.30PM-12AM
Address: 5 Chome-21-12 Central, Nakano City, Tokyo 164-0011, Japan
Tip: You can get a free sauna ticket here. Otherwise, it costs ¥100 (~USD0.95).
Image adapted from: @kosugiyu_sento
Just 5 minutes away from Koenji Station, Kosugi-yu has been around for over 84 years and has been the neighbourhood’s de facto communal meeting place. This was especially so when many houses didn’t have a bathroom, so it became a daily routine to catch up with one’s neighbours in the public bath.
In recent years, Kosugi-yu does its best to stay relevant as a communal melting pot by having frequent collaborations with local businesses, artists, musicians, fashion labels, and the quirky subcultures of Koenji.
Image credit: @kosugiyu_sento
The sento has 4 different baths, including a milk bath and a ‘speciality’ bath that changes daily. You can expect scents and ingredients like lavender, chamomile, apples, and hiba (a type of cypress from Japan) oil extract, each with their unique healing properties.
Check out their Twitter page here to see some of the fun events held in the bathhouse, like an indigo-dyeing workshop, live concerts, and even an AED course. The page also shares interesting illustrations of the bathhouse and the quirky baths they have.
Image credit: @kosugiyu_tonari
Price: Entrance: ¥470 (~USD4.40) | Towel rental: ¥50 (~USD0.45)
Opening hours: Mon – Sat 3.30PM-1.45AM | Sun 8AM-1.45AM | Closed on Thu
Address: 3 Chome-32-2 Koenji Kita, Suginami City, Tokyo 166-0002, Japan
Black hot spring (Kuroyu)
Image credit: 武蔵小山温泉 天然美人温泉 黄金の湯＆天然黒湯温泉
Located 5 minutes away from Musashi Koyama Station in Shinagawa, this simple and old-fashioned sento has been in operation for over a century.
Shimizu-yu is known for two of its baths – black spring water bath (kuroyu), and a golden hot spring (kogane-no-yu). The black water was pumped up from a spring 200 metres under and is used in the outdoor bath, while the golden hot spring comes from a depth of 1,500 metres. It’s recommended to alternate between the baths to fully enjoy their benefits.
This bathhouse has a hinoki cypress wood sauna. Hinoki wood is a popular choice in Japanese bathhouses because of its soothing aroma and soft feel; building baths and saunas with it often indicates the luxuriousness of the establishment. Usage costs ¥400 (~USD3.70).
Golden hot spring (Kogane-no-yu)
Image credit: 武蔵小山温泉 天然美人温泉 黄金の湯＆天然黒湯温泉
Shimizu-yu is a small sento and it’s often packed with locals, even on weeknights. However, this sento is not well-known amongst tourists, and the staff here do not speak English. Make sure to familiarise yourself with the usual bathing etiquette before visiting.
Unlike some Japanese bathhouses which have a lot of tourists visiting, Shimizu-yu is very traditional and doesn’t provide amenities like soap and shampoo for free. Most locals bring their own but you can purchase a bath set (¥130, ~USD1.20) over the counter.
For an after-bath snack, the locals like to grab a glass of black vinegar juice (¥100, ~USD0.95) and an onsen tamago (¥50, ~USD0.45), boiled in the black hot spring for over 30 minutes. Be sure to do so too!
Note: Shimizu-yu is tattoo-friendly.
Price: Entrance: ¥470 (~USD4.40) | Sauna: ¥400 (~USD3.70) | Toiletries set: ¥130 (~USD1.20)
Opening hours: Tue – Sat 12PM-12AM | Sun 8AM-12AM | Closed on Mon
Address: 3 Chome-9-1 Koyama, Shinagawa City, Tokyo 142-0062, Japan
Visiting a Japanese bathhouse doesn’t necessarily come with a large price tag, but can still be a luxurious and relaxing affair. An underrated experience that not many travellers know about, dropping by a sento for a dip is a definite must-do during your trip to Tokyo.
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Cover image adapted from: @kosugiyu_sento
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