Japan has always been known for its traditions and culture, which includes the culture of bathing in public baths, called sento. Until the 1960s, most Japanese homes had no bathrooms, and people would gather to take baths in nearby public baths. But now, with rising costs and most people getting into the habit of bathing at home, sento culture is shrinking.
Kenta Orihara, director of Tokyo local government’s safety and life section, said this culture can only be saved by helping sento operators. “These public baths are our heritage and our culture,” he added. The pandemic has aggravated their condition, as a result of which, the supply of fuel and electricity has become difficult due to rising prices. According to Orihara, earlier, only a few houses had bathrooms and hence people went to the local sento. It was also a meeting and socializing place, which allowed to take stock of what was happening in the neighborhood.
In 1968, Tokyo’s population was 2.2 crores and a total of 2,687 sento baths were registered. Last April, it was discovered that this number had dropped to just 476. In order to protect sento culture, the government introduced ‘Tokyo 1010’ as part of a coupon system, after downloading which, a QR code is received, with which a sento can be used for free. Usually, a bath in a sento in Tokyo costs 282 rupees.
The wooden sento rooms feature WWII paintings and the temperature is usually 42 degrees Celsius. People believe that spending a long time in hot water relieves the arteries and improves blood circulation.