Soak Up Tokyo's Shitamachi Culture at Takara-yu (タカラ湯) Public Bath

Tokyo Culture Public bath 2019.06.18
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It's a pretty authentic public bath experience.

If you talk to someone who knows a lot about the culture of Tokyo's Shitamachi (the old part of town that has a history of being home to lower castes of traditional society), you're bound to end up discussing sento (銭湯), or public baths. While a soak in one of Japan's many onsen, or natural hot springs, might feel like a stay in a five-star luxury resort, the sento experience is more equivalent to a homey bed and breakfast. They have that local feel, and a history of being closely connected to the culture of everyday life in Japan. (There are still people who choose to take a nightly bath at their neighborhood sento, rather than washing up at home!) When we went to Tochigi last fall, we introduced you to Tamagawa no Yu sento (also known as Goldfish-yu), where the water is still heated with a wood-burning stove and upstairs houses a skateboard ramp. This time we'd like to tell you about Takara-yu, a sento found during our Tokyo ramblings. The bath has seen a recent surge in popularity after being the setting for an advertisement also featuring popular actress Satomi Ishihara (as seen in Shin Godzilla), attracting fans from all over. If you too decide to take a dip and wash up at Takara-yu, after a day filled with Tanabata festivals and fireworks, you'll get a pretty good taste of Japanese summer!

Takara-yu Sento (タカラ湯)
27-1 Senju Motomachi, Adachi City, Tokyo
Access: 20 min. from Kita-Senju Station
Hours: 15:00 - 23:30
(closed Fridays)
Official Website

Listen to the Wind Chimes and Cool Down on the Porch After a Summer Bath

If you like Japanese dramas or anime about everyday life, you're bound to be familiar with scenes of characters sitting together post-bath. Everyone is clean and relaxed, and maybe they're on the porch eating cool watermelon, or for some reason drinking a glass of milk. Most traditional Japanese houses have nice wooden porches perfect for enjoying the summer breeze, and enjoying the cool nighttime air there is a part of summer in Japan. On the other hand, few people in Japan live in traditional houses these days, and the average citizen of Tokyo is likely cooped up in a small apartment. The Takara-yu bathhouse gives Tokyoites (and lucky visitors) a space to sit and relax on a lovely veranda, while wind chimes ring in the wind and koi fish swim lazily by.

Nearly 100 Years of History

Takara-yu has been around for more than 90 years, after opening in the 2nd year of Japan's Showa Period (1927). The old bathhouse made it through wartime, and the building and facade haven't changed much in all this time. With only the actual baths having been renovated, the building is still full of old-fashioned charm.

Like most sento, there are separate men's and women's baths. Most of the week men are directed towards the baths to the left of the reception desk, and women to the right. However, the garden is also on the left side, meaning that it's usually difficult for women to access. So every Wednesday the baths switch, and women are given the left side, and the opportunity to enjoy the garden and veranda. Aside from this once a week chance, there are also special events throughout the year, so that the veranda is open to women on other days of the week.
  • The architecture of the sento hasn't changed during its 90 years of business, making it a true staple of the neighborhood and a part of local culture. The bath opens at 3 in the afternoon, but locals even arrive early, looking forward to a soak in the hot water.
  • You can see the signs here for the two bath entrances, with the men's bath on the left and the women's on the right. The signs, and the baths, are switched on Wednesdays.
  • The hallway onto the veranda. The left-side bath is also connected to the veranda, meaning the garden area is only open to whichever gender is using the left side that day.

The Benefits of the Left and Right Baths

Entrance to the sento is 460 yen for adults (300 yen for high school students, 180 for elementary school students, and 80 yen for younger children.) Both sides of the bathhouse are spacious and clean, with convenient dressing rooms and washing areas lit with natural light. If you're looking for the landscape painting of Mt. Fuji so commonly found in bathhouses, you'll find a lovely example on the right side of the bathhouse (men will have to wait until Wednesday to get a good view). Aside from the standard hot baths, Takara-yu also offers aromatic herbal baths, sometimes made with traditional Chinese medicinal herbs. If you're looking to sooth the aches and pains of travel, or you're hoping to improve circulation, spend some time in one of these fragrant baths.

If you're not too picky about your toiletries and don't want to bring things with you, basic shampoo and shower gel, along with hairdryers, are available for use. Other bath items are available for sale at the lobby counter, if you want to buy them there. Once you're all clean and ready to relax, the left-side bath offers a massage chair, and the right side has a sauna!
  • The right-side women's washing space, with its lovely view of Mt. Fuji.
  • The left-side men's washing area.
  • The left side, with the massage chair and access to the garden veranda.
  • The women's herbal bath, complete with a mural of the Japanese underworld. (Maybe that's where all the heat's coming from, in order to keep the bath piping hot?)
  • Convenient dressing room tables.
  • Shampoo and body soap, freely available.

Grab a Snack or a Drink and Relax!

You're free to copy those around you and grab a bottle of milk to sip after your bath, but they also offer a variety of different drinks for purchase from their refrigerator. And if your stomach starts rumbling, you can grab a snack at the counter. Browse the bookshelf for a magazine or comic to read, bring your ice-cold milk, and cool off on the veranda!
  • What will it be today? Milk? Soda? Maybe a juice box, or a bottle of iced tea (there are at least seven tea options to choose from.) You can even relax with one of a few adult beverages.
  • Some little snacks on the counter; these ones are just 10 or 50 yen each.
  • If your Japanese is up to it, this is a great place to catch up on some old-school manga. Or you could just browse through one of the magazines.
  • It's hard not to relax when hanging out on the veranda, surrounded by the greenery of the garden.
  • You're welcome to zone out for a while, admiring the lovely, bright koi fish in the garden pond.
When the hot Tokyo weather and the harshly cold air conditioning start to get to you, it's time to grab a towel and an uchiwa fan, and direct yourself towards Takara-yu sento. Once you're relaxing squeaky clean on the porch, as the gentle wind blows through your hair and the windchimes under the eaves, you'll hear yourself sigh and say "now this is summer in Japan."

 

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⇩ Take a little tour of the bathhouse! ⇩

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