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What is sento?

Sentō (銭湯?) is a type of Japanese communal bath house where customers pay for entrance. Traditionally these bath houses have been quite utilitarian, with a tall barrier separating the sexes within one large room, a minimum of lined up faucets on both sides and a single large bath for the already washed bathers to sit in among others.

The quiet sento in the middle of towns used to be used every day by people who had homes too small for baths.
The way to find a sento is to look for noren (curtains) with the character ゆ (yu, for “hot water”) on them.

Takanori Ishikawa/Flickr

In Tokyo alone there are about 750 sento.

The bath as seen from the dressing room


From the dressing room where you take off your clothes and safely store your belongings in lockers, you head to the “washing area”. Etiquette dictates that you first wash your whole body before you enter the bathtub.

Sento culture has been around since the Edo period

The sento became beloved by the people as a bath.

Modern baths: the “Super Sento”

In the past, sento were meant to be simply baths.
However, modern super sento are normally open 24 hours a day and you can also enjoy restaurants and get massages there.

Since they’re open late at night, they’re often used by people who were hiking or swimming on their way home.

What are the characteristics of super sento?

Since it’s assumed you’ll be driving, there will definitely be a parking lot.
In relation to that, many of them are open alongside major highways.
There are not only baths, but also Jacuzzis, saunas, open air baths, and other spa equipment may be offered.
There are also eating and resting areas.
They may also be affiliated with hairstylists or skincare spas.
Their hours are long, normally 24h hours or from early morning such as 6 am to late at night, like past midnight.
They rarely close for holidays. Usually, with the exception of maintenance days, they are open every day of the year.

Because there’s a dining room, if you take a bath and then eat dinner, you can easily spend half a day here.

Knowledge you need before you enter a sento

1. First, properly wash yourself!

Christian Kaden/Flickr

Definitely wash yourself before entering the bathtub. There will definitely be bath buckets and chairs by the shower wall that you can use to properly wash. Since they’re made to Japanese sizes you might think everything is a litlte contrained, but please persevere! 

2. Do not wear a towel into the bath!

Even if it’s just to cover yourself, wearing a towel into the bathtub is an unforgivable offense. 
Since you can’t wear a towel into the bath, of course bathing suits are also not allowed.

3. If the sento has a milk, drink it!

Though it’s unknown when this practice started, it’s standard to drink very chilled milk after a bath.
You should definitely taste how delicious milk is after a hot soak.

It’s standard to drink milk when you’re done with your bath!
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