Sento, or public baths, are fairly common and are easily found around the communities in Japan. The beginnings of this tradition can be traced back to the Heian Period in 794-1185, but the first proper public bath was built in Tokyo, formerly Edo, in 1591. This practice became popular after WWII when Japanese families did not have bathing facilities in their homes. Although different from the onsen or hot spring baths, some sento facilities use hot spring waters as well.
Public baths are a good way for people in the community to bond and connect with their neighbors, as well as relax after a hard day’s work. Most facilities do not offer communal soap and shampoo, so if you plan on trying out a sento, it’s always good to bring your own–for personal preferences and hygienic purposes! Just remember to do your scrubbing before and after taking a dip in the shared waters.
If you’re in Kyoto or are planning to visit, it’s highly recommended to add a sento visit to your itinerary!
Funaoka Onsen Sento
Funaoka Onsen Sento is one of the more well-known public baths in Kyoto, recognizable for its stunning architecture. The structure emanates traditional Japanese features like the great stone gate and the unique decorative roof that resembles that of old ancient temples. This Karahafu type of design is what earned Funaoka Onsen its title as a Tangible Cultural Property.
Funaoka Onsen was once an entertainment facility where guests would enjoy the cuisine then relax in the baths. The onsen is home to one of the country’s first denkiburo or electric baths, where weak electrical currents are present in the waters to improve blood flow. In addition to this and the main baths, Funaoka Onsen also provides a medicinal bath, an extra hot and deep bath, and a foam bath. There are also cypress and stone baths that can be found outdoors.
One of the most notable stops in the Kibune and Kurama district is Kurama Onsen. The onsen-ryokan boasts of natural sulfur hot spring and takes pride in its scenic open-air bath. Considered as the best onsen in the Kyoto Area, the onsen offers various choices. From indoor tubs with all the extras visitors would want for the more private individuals, to an outdoor bath among nature with a breathtaking view of the countryside. Although not close to downtown Kyoto, Kurama Onsen is considered worth the trip for its unique experience.
Tama no yu
Tama no yu was established back during the Showa Period in Japan in 1949. It features a stunning mosaic mural in the baths–Japanese landscapes in the men’s bath and Swiss fields in the women’s bath. The quaint bathhouse is even littered with charming iris and goldfish tiles that would surely be a source of amusement for the visitors. You’ll even find an old-school game “Columns” in the changing rooms that still works.
The water quality is said to be good for allergies and is sourced from natural spring water. There are various types of baths to be enjoyed in Tama no yu such as cold baths, medicinal or herbal baths, and a jet bath. You can also sweat the soreness from your muscles in the sauna facility.
Kyoto Tower Bath House
Kyoto Tower Bath House is a must for your Kyoto itinerary! Located in the basement (B3) of the Kyoto Tower just in front of the Kyoto Station, you can enjoy the baths right after going on an adventure in the city.
The hidden sento features a 130 square meter bath with a central tub and a fountain and a smaller separate bath. The baths are gender-segregated but observe regularly switched schedules so visitors can easily enjoy the features of both rooms. As with most baths, Kyoto Tower Bath House adds special additions to its bath waters during festivals and celebrations, and on the 4th Sunday of every month. This can range from herbs, flowers, and bath buddies like rubber ducks.
Goko-yu Sento, meaning “Water of Five Fragrances”, is a tourist-friendly public bath located in Shimogyo, Kyoto. The facility features six types of baths and accommodates adults and children below junior high school age in separate baths. You’ll also be able to find two different saunas in the building: a high-steam bath, and a far-infrared sauna. The types of baths you can enjoy in Goko-yu Sento vary from a cold-water bath, and an open-air bath. There is also a hot-stone spa that uses Badgestein ore, which is known for its healing properties.
After enjoying a soak in the baths, you can have a small snack or a draft beer at the lobby bar. If you’re famished after sweating off all the stress of the day, you can choose their light meals instead.
Sauna no Umeyu
Sauna no Umeyu is one of the pioneers of bathhouse culture in Kyoto with its history spanning over a hundred years and has since adapted and thrived. Once just a bathhouse, it rode the wave of the sauna boom that resulted in its popularity and patronage.
This friendly neighborhood sento usually serves college students, one of its main attractions being live music.
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