Sento as part of people's daily life, a sento culture sustained by the young generation
Photo & text by Kenta Baba
Japan and its sento
Hot spring and sento.
Soaking yourself in a huge bath tub, relaxing and refreshing, a moment of luxurious happiness.
This is a typical Japanese relaxation gifted by numbers of hot spring that bubbles up.
Although there still are many sento (public bath) in Kyoto using plentiful of underground water, they are decreasing every year due to the changes in people's lifestyle.
One such sento that had been around since Meiji period (1868-1912) was at the crisis of going out of business. Then, a young man stood up to take over and save the communication culture that sento fosters. Day by day, the unique ideas had become widely known until finally it is attracting people from all over Japan.
This is Sauna ume-yu, in Gojo Rakuen.
Heisei born sento activist, Sanjiro Minato.
His path through visiting more than 600 sentos until he took over Kyoto's old one.
Sanjiro is a sento activist as well as the owner of ume-yu. He was born in Heisei period (1989~) and is now 25 years old. He moved to Kyoto to study at university here and started going to sento daily. That was the start.
As a student, he established a sento club and went to all of the sentos in Kyoto, which is nearly 200. Plus, he has gone in to over 600 nationwide.
He once started working at a major apparel manufacturer after finishing study but had left there in January 2015. He happened to find out that ume-yu, which he formerly had worked part-time, was at the risk of closing down.
So he raised his hand to take over, investing on his own risk, on facilities that costed couple of million yen.
The sento has started off again under his ideas in May 2015.
Attractions of ume-yu
Sauna ume-yu is located in Gojo Rakuen area, on Kiyamachi Street where Takase River flows.
The beginning is said to be in the Meiji period and is one of the oldest sentos in Kyoto.
Both the changing room and bathing room has underwent many renovations until now.
One can see the tastes of Meiji, Taisho and Showa period, and now that of Sanjiro's.
It is a very clean and bright space.
Bathing fee is 420 yen for adult, 150 yen for junior and high school students and 60 yen for elementary school children. Rental towel is 30 yen, shampoo 30 yen and soap 40 yen.
Even if you rent all the amenity, towel, shampoo and soap, it is only 100 yen, so you can casually hop in too.
Original towel is sold at 420 yen. They are 240 monme (Japanese unit equivalent to 3.75 kg) and is thicker than usual towels. Could be a good gift too.
Kenta Babaさん(@kenta_b)が投稿した写真 - 2015 12月 1 4:27午後 PST
I bought one myself, really like it.
Female bath, one of two sento in Kyoto that has a mirror wall
They have jacuzzi, herbal bath, electric bath, sauna and underwater cold water bath.
Sauna is spacious than usual sentos, and are glass walled. The openness helps feel more relaxed and refreshed.
The water bath is also big. Sauna lovers will totally be happy with this.
SIgn for the electrical bath, which is set to a higher electric compare to the average sentos.
yume-yu as a community space
Sanjiro has put in many ideas to attract people of various generation.
Some of the changes he make on renovating the place was to make the place look bright and clean so people won't hesitate to come in. So he changed the entrance door. He also moved the checkin counter to make more resting place, and as a result shrinking the changing space a bit.
We mustn't forget the TV, space for massage which is available occasionary after 20:30 with optional charge.
The inner garden for smokers.
Visitors can enjoy time after bath in these spots, with milk-coffee, a typical Japanese drink at sento.
There is a book selection by a supporter of ume-yu, that changes selection every week. This week is Yukio Mishima. You can read them as well buy them.
An YES! Free WiFi, too! Happy for travelers and business people!
Ume-yu holds an event every month, like music event utilising the acoustic in bathroom, rakugo (Japanese comedy), exhibition and flea markets.
You can get the info from their twitter:
Thanks for many that came to Furo Ichiban, ume-yu live event. We will be organizing more so stay tooned! Check out the belly dancing event on Nov. 22 pic.twitter.com/Q4OY8rWv5e
- Twitter by Sauna ume-yu (@umeyu_rakuen) 2015/11/5
Visit the place to enjoy meeting this person. He is frank and friendly, his pure love and passion for sento will attract you too.
'I have visited 20 sentos in a day' says Sanjiro. Ordinary people will get exhausted after around 3, and he does too, after around 5. 'But thinking that they are at the risk of business, I felt that I must go when I have the chance. Strangely passionate 25 year old, he is.
Estimating how many visitors are need to run the business, which had cost him few million already just to start off.
Sanjiro has many experience and knowledge about sento and is always happy to share them.
Greeting foreign tourists that passes by
Sanjiro had taken Portugees at school. Although he is not fluent in it, he can still speak great English, so no need for the foreigners to be shy!!
If you don't see him at the counter, he could be at the back burning firewoods, which he does every 40-50 minutes.
Special shot at the back of sento
Huge woods! and boilers!
'I love this great sound GHAAAAAAA'
Go to sento if you are in Kyoto
Thanks for watching Life Design U29. Visit your nearest sentos, no need to come all the way here to ume-yu. What's important is that the sento culture keeps on going.
— Sanjiro Minato (@37sanjiro10) 2015/11/18
Sanjiro's goal is to 'keep sento culture going'.
I would be grateful if people came to ume-yu, but will be as much happy if they will go to nearest ones too. So here are some advices from him...
3 great things about sento in Kyoto, by Sanjiro
① There are many choices
There are many different kinds of sento in Kyoto. Take a look at this website and chose your sento. You could also seek advice from Sanjiro personally.
In about a decade, most of the sento are said to be at the risk of closing. So NOW might be your chance.
②Most sento uses natural underwater
Most of the sento in Kyoto uses natural underwater, the same water essential in creating the rich Kyoto food and sake culture. Soak yourself in the water that had cultivated Kyoto culture.
③Sauna is included in the initial entrance charge
Sauna is usually an option but Kyoto offers them with the bath. Enjoy sauna too!
Kyoto's great spot, sauna
If you are wondering where to hang out after dinner, you could visit santo to relax, says Sanjiro.
Sento not only offers refreshing moments, but also experiencing Japanese culture, in just few hundred yen. So if you are in Kyoto, please try out the sento around you. For those in Gojo area, don't forget ume-yu!
Address: 175 Kiyamachi-dori, Kaminokuchi Agaru Iwataki-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto (map)
Hours: 15:30-23:00 (Must be completely closed by 23:00)
*People with tattoo also accepted