Disappearing Treasures: Fujino-yu in Yoga

Fujino-yu Facade

Not to be confused with the popular cardio exercise or spiritual practice from India, Yoga is an upscale residential district in the Setagaya ward. Tucked away in the backstreets is the Fujino-yu bathhouse which has been in operation for over 50 years. Its old-fashioned exterior is more than enough reason to stop and take a look. Just in the few minutes I was waiting outside I saw curious couples, amused passersby, and inquisitive students who came over to take a closer look.

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Welcome to a one-of-a-kind wooden bathhouse
“Back when public bathhouses were experiencing a boom, many building owners built cookie-cutter public baths on the first floor. But I wanted to create something different, something unique” says the owner Mr. yamaguchi, who has a keen eye for art and design. He used to create woodblock art, some of which you can see on the walls of the bathhouse. It is because of his unique vision and sense of design, this one-of-a-kind wooden bathhouse came into existence.

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Unlike other polished tile bathhouses, Fujino-yu has a warm and nostalgic atmosphere. Everything from the front counter, shoe boxes, lockers, doors and lounge chairs are all made out of wood.

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The wood theme continues in the wet area, where a Cypress wood bath and a unique wood pavilion become the focal point of the bathhouse.

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Another notable interior decoration are the ceramic tiles with Iris paintings. A Japanese bathhouse typically has a grand painting of Mt. Fuji on the wall, but here, an elegant drawing of Irises welcomes you at the jet baths. On May 5th (Children’s day), many people take Shobu-yu, an Iris bath to wish for longevity and good health. At Fujino-yu, everyday is a Shobu-yu day!

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Mr. Yamaguchi says that though the number of people who frequent Sento bathhouses has significantly declined, more and more young families and students are trying out Sento and enjoying the experience.

However, with this shift in demographics came a new dilemma.

Sento is a place to learn how to share and respect
Since we live in the era of abundance and cheap disposable items, we rarely have an opportunity to share things with others. But at a Sento bathhouse, we not only share the facilities, but we also share the water and even the atmosphere. Visiting a Sento bathhouse is a prime opportunity to learn how to share and respect each other.

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“When it comes to sharing, a little foresight and empathy goes a long way,” says the owner. For example, you don’t want to disturb the water, let alone swim in the water, because people are here to relax. You don’t want to get the floor soapy because other people have to walk on it. What’s normal in your household might not be the norm in a public area. You are here to witness and respect subtle and often unspoken social rules at Sento.

With that said, don’t hesitate to fully enjoy the Sento experience. If you have a question ask the person behind the counter or one of the regulars. More often than not, they are willing to answer any questions you might have and strike up a friendly conversation. What better way to learn about Japanese customs and values than to share stories and quality time together.

Owl prints
The owner’s art works are on display in the lounge area.
Owl decorations
There are many owl ornaments and decorations.

Our lifestyles have been modernized and our mindset has changed. But at Fujino-yu, things have remained the same for a long time. Inside those well maintained wooden baths sits the chance to teach great values and subtle etiquette to a new generation of Sento guests.

Information

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Address: Tamagawadai 2-1-16, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Access: 7-min walk from Yoga Station (Tokyu Denentoshi Line)
Hours: 3:30pm – 11pm
Closed: Friday
Admission: 460 yen

Read Also:
Disappearing Treasures: Sento, a Public Bathhouse
Disappearing Treasures: Sento Etiquette, What Not To Do Around Naked Strangers
Disappearing Treasures: Tsukimi-yu in Shimotakaido

Disappearing Treasures: Tsukimi-yu in Shimotakaido

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It’s 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and the Tsukimi-yu bathhouse doesn’t open for another half an hour. Yet, there’s already a few people waiting outside to be the first ones into the hot fresh water tubs.

“This is quite typical. The regulars want to be the first ones in, especially on weekends.” The proprietor Mr. Kondo, a third generation Sento owner says as he opens the shutter door a little early. Even before stepping inside this bathhouse, I could tell that this is a place adored by the locals.

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Tucked away in a quiet residential area in Setagaya-ku, the Tsukimi-yu bathhouse has been welcoming the locals for more than 50 years. Despite its humble exterior, the bathhouse offers a wide range of baths: the onsen (hot spring), jet baths, a charcoal bath, water bath, standing showers, a sauna, and last but not least, the electricity bath.

2_shimotakaido_sento_008_RThe interior is clean and bright and the high ceiling lets in alot of air and light. Both the male and female locker areas have plenty of space to relax (there’s even an outdoor sitting area for the guys!). Not only that, they have a massage chair, coin operated hair dryer and refrigerators full of beverages. With all these amenities available for you to pamper yourself, it’s no wonder people line up outside before the doors open.

The hot spring bath is everybody’s first choice since it’s at 39 degrees (102.2℉), not too hot nor too cold, just a nice comfortable temperature. Regulars tend to congregate in this bath and chit-chat. But my favorite is the jet bath which has multiple jets aimed right at the common sore muscle areas: shoulders, backs and feets. Then there’s the mysterious and most shocking one of all,the electricity bath, with its low level of electric current running through the water. When you go in, you feel a little tingling on your skin. Some people might find it relaxing, I on the other hand, am not so sure about it…

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You can try an old-fashioned scale and hair-salon-style hair dryer.

2_shimotakaido_sento_019_RWith all the different pools, you can spend quite a long time in the bath. But the reason people keep coming back to Tsukimi-yu is not only the facilities, but also the sense of connection they get. Most of the early sento-goers are well over 70 years old. They talk, they care and they even wash each others backs. Back in the lobby, everybody gathers around a short table near an old TV like one big family.

It reminds me of the Japanese phrase “Hadaka no Tsukiai (socializing naked)” which literally means a relationship with nothing to hide. The sento culture embodies this sentiment and brings people closer together.

Even a new sento goer like myself was immediately welcomed and I felt right at home at the Tsukimi-yu bathhouse.

 

Information

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Address: Akatsutsumi 5-36-16, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Access: 6-min walk from Shimotakaido Station (Keio Line, Tokyu Setagaya Line)
Hours: 3:30pm – 12am
Closed: Tuesday
Admission: 460 yen

 

Read Also:
Disappearing Treasures: Sento, a Public Bathhouse
Disappearing Treasures: Sento Etiquette, What Not To Do Around Naked Strangers

Disappearing Treasures: Sento Etiquette, What Not To Do Around Naked Strangers

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In my previous article, I pointed out the struggles and hardships that Sento bathhouses face. Sadly, many of them cannot figure their way out of their predicament and are forced to close their decades-long business. There’s no quick fix to this problem, but I believe the best way to help them out is to simply go and enjoy the bath and be a good patron. So here is how to do it.

What to Bring
Though many bathhouses offer towels and shampoo for an extra charge, we all have our own favorite brands when it comes to washing ourselves. Bring along your toiletries, a wash cloth, a bath towel, change of clothes and enough money.

Check List
□ Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner and soap)
□ Wash cloth and bath towel
□ Hair tie (for long hair)
□ Plastic bag (for putting a wet towel and laundry in)
□ Money (460 yen plus little extra for refreshments)

Many of the Sento bathhouses open around 3 in the afternoon. I like to go there right after it opens so that I can be in fresh and clean water.

1 Keep Your Shoes at the Entrance
Just like in most Japanese houses, you take your shoes off at the entrance. Place your shoes in an open shoe box and lock it by pulling out the wooden key.

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2 Pay the Admission Fee
460 yen is the standard rate for Sento around Tokyo. Some bathhouses offer a steamy hot sauna service for an extra charge. Facilities are separated by gender, make sure to go to the appropriate side: 男 for Male and 女 for Female.

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3 Strip Down
After taking off your clothes, put them and other belongings in the locker. The locker key usually comes with a water resistant wristband so you can wear it while taking a bath. Now let’s go into the bath area.

4 Clean yourself
Grab a stool and a basin and find a spot where you want to wash yourself. Japanese people usually wash themselves while sitting on a stool. But if you prefer standing, some facilities offer shower rooms.

2_shimotakaido_sento_013_R5 Taking a Bath
Once you’re clean, rinse the stool and the basin well and put them back to where you found them. Check the water temperature before you go in, since it can be very hot sometimes. Keep your towel and hair out of the water to show that you wanna keep the water clean.

6. Warm Up and Unwind
From a jacuzzi to a water bath, some facilities offer a wide variety of baths. It’s fun to try them all, but be aware that taking a bath can be very exhausting. Don’t force yourself to stay in the water too long.

7. Get Dressed and Cool Off
When you’re ready to get out, wipe your body with your wash cloth so as not to get the locker room wet. Get dressed and cool off. Bathhouses usually have a lobby area where you can get drinks and icecream. Take your time and relax, even mingle with the locals.

 

So, it’s not that dissimilar to your normal shower, right? Aside from that there are bunch of naked strangers around, the only difference is that the bath is bigger and fancier. Once you try it you’ll get used to it, and perhaps, you will become fond of the Sento experience.

In the next article, I will introduce my local Sento, Tsukimi-yu.

Disappearing Treasures: Sento, a Public Bathhouse

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I know that many travelers come to Japan hoping to have an authentic Onsen (hot spring) experience, soaking in soothing hot water is truly relaxing and rejuvenating. It’s true, an Onsen is a blissful joy and you should definitely try it at least once, but there’s an alternative. For many busy Japanese people and travelers, there is an easier way to get a similar hot bath experience.

Sento, a local public bathhouse.

A true local experience
In the olden days, many Japanese apartments didn’t come with a private bath. Tenants often had to go to a nearby Sento bathhouse not only to get clean but also to socialize with neighbors. The Sento was and still is a social hub where different generations come together and talk about their everyday lives. Though most modern apartments and houses now come with a private bath, there is something special about going to the local Sento, seeing your neighbors and being part of the community.

On a verge of extinction
Unfortunately, Sento bathhouses are on a sharp decline. During the past few decades, the number of Sento baths around Tokyo has dropped from over 2500 to around 600. There are many factors for this decline but a few major reasons are a) there are less people using a public bath, b) facilities are deteriorating rapidly and the renovation cost is enormous, c) utility costs (water and gas) are getting more expensive and d) owners are getting old and they don’t have a successor who can take over the management.

Number of Sento Bathhouses
Statistics by Tokyo Metropolitan Government and other resources

Preserving by taking a dip
You might say this is just part of economic progress, an evolution from a poorer time, and that change is inevitable and necessary. But as one of many naive Sento enthusiasts, I would like to do something about it.

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So here’s the deal, I’ll highlight these one-of-a-kind bathhouses before they disappear. Hopefully I can shine some light on the realities and struggles they face and introduce some of the innovative solutions they’ve come up with. And you can try them out, give them a reason to stay around.

So be willing to expose yourself to a cultural experience and in the process bear witness to the naked truth. If we don’t contribute to keeping these landmarks relevant they will disappear and the stories of everyday life will wash away down the drain of history.

In the next article, I will explain the rules and proper etiquette of the Sento bathhouses, such as what you should bring and how you should act around naked strangers. So stay tuned.