Take a dip into Japanese bathing culture at a public bathhouse
Often overlooked for Japan's famous hot springs, public bathhouses offer a window into everyday life in Japan. These baths are often more affordable and accessible than hot springs, making them a great way to experience Japanese bathing culture.
- Wash yourself thoroughly in the shower area before you enter the baths
- Rent a bath towel and purchase soap at the facility, or bring your own to avoid extra fees
- Tattoos are typically accepted in public baths, but some prohibit them, so double check
Join the community
Public baths are called sento in Japan and have a history dating back hundreds of years. Though they originated in the sixth century, these bathhouses became popular during the Edo period (1603-1868). At the time, homes did not have private baths, so each neighborhood had a public bath. Since then, this communal space has remained a cornerstone of bathing culture in Japan.
Be aware that sento can vary. Some traditional neighborhood sento are small with a few baths and Showa period-style tile motifs. Others are larger and with a modern design. Some facilities have art depicting Mt Fuji and traditional Japan, while others are more like a Western spa.
Take a bath Japanese-style
Sento have separate baths for male and female guests. Inside, you will find a dressing room where you can leave your clothing and personal items. Some facilities will provide a space for you to put your things in, while others will have coin-operated lockers.
Unlike hot spring facilities, public baths generally do not include soap or towels in the price. You will need to pay extra to rent a towel and to purchase cleanser. Otherwise, bring your own to avoid extra costs.
Near the dressing room is the shower area. Each stall is equipped with a stool and bucket. Take a seat, and pour hot water over yourself using the bucket. Wash thoroughly, and be mindful not to splash others.
Once you're clean, you can enter the baths. Do not put your towel in the tub. Instead, put it on your head or to the side. Note that children cannot bring toys into the bath and splashing is not allowed.
Visit the bathing etiquette page for more advice.
Enjoy the extras
Today, sento have extra features for you to enjoy with your family and friends. You might find jacuzzi baths, saunas, steam rooms, massage chairs and even karaoke.