Japan is taking initiatives for the revival of fading public bathhouses
Public bathhouses have been a vital component of towns for generations, but as costs rise and more people take showers at home, their numbers are falling.
Sento, or traditional bathhouses, have long played a significant role in Japanese society. But they are currently losing favor.
The capital city of Tokyo, where modernization has permanently changed entire districts and the thin chimneys that served as a sign of a nearby community bath, has seen an especially dramatic decline in the number of sento.
Customers staying away during the coronavirus outbreak and, more recently, operators have suffered significantly from rising overhead costs.
The metropolitan government has implemented a voucher program to encourage residents to visit their local bathhouses to preserve the city’s sento culture, which goes far beyond simply having a bath.
Kenta Orihara, head of the Safety and Living Section of the Municipal Government, told DW that the number of sento in Tokyo is dropping as fewer people use them. We think it’s crucial to support sento operators since they play a significant role in our history and culture.
Pandemic and increasing expenses
According to Orihara, “Due to the pandemic’s recent worsening of the situation, things are extremely challenging for operators, and now the price of everything, including petrol and electricity, is increasing.” “We wish to assist Tokyo in preserving as many sento as possible.”
It’ll be tough. There were 2,687 public bathhouses registered with the authorities in greater Tokyo in December 1968, which at the time had a population of slightly over 22 million.
The Tokyo Public Bathhouse Association estimated the number to reach around 500 in December 2020, but by April of this year, that number had dropped to only 476. The population of Tokyo has increased to 37.3 million people over this time.
Few households in the past had bathrooms of their own. So, residents used to frequent the neighborhood sento, which played an essential role in the community, according to Orihara. “It became a meeting spot where people could gather, converse, and learn about local events.
He explained, “There is less need for a communal bathroom space now that that has changed and every home in the city has its bathroom.”
To counteract falling visitor numbers-the city introduced the Tokyo 1010 program in July, which offers printable Q-code tickets for free entry. In Tokyo, a sento visit typically costs 500 yen (€3.57, $3.47).
Many bathhouses are still relics of olden times. They are constructed of wood, and their design dates from the immediate post-World War II era. Many have enormous, stylized Mount Fuji paintings on their walls.
Separate areas are designated for men and women to bathe, and the water is normally kept at a 42-degree Celsius temperature (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit). While that can come off as a bit warm. Japanese bathing enthusiasts believe that a long soak in a hot bath is healthy because it increases blood circulation by relaxing and expanding the arteries.
Better blood flow, according to enthusiasts, transports away waste items and provides oxygen and nourishment to all of the body’s cells.
Heat also relieves discomfort and warming the body can help with aches and pains like back pain, tight shoulders, and other aches and pains. Additionally, warmth makes the collagen-rich ligaments that encircle the joints more flexible and pain-free.
However, the bathhouse association claims that going to a sento is more than that, stating on its website: “Sento has long been a gathering place for neighbors and people of various generations. Inside, everyone is naked. It somehow encourages openness, more straightforward communication, and respect for one another as people.”
“Many nations have bath customs, but the Japanese sento has something unique.”
Public bathhouses are seen as anachronisms that will eventually vanish completely. However, there is strong support for the initiative and a desire for other Japanese towns and cities to put similar sento support systems into place.
An alternative era
Scholar Yoko Tsukamoto, who lives in Sapporo, said, “I think it is a brilliant concept as it is undeniable that the epidemic and increasing prices have made things exceedingly challenging for many businesses. in a recent couple of years.”
The main issue, in my opinion, is that my generation—who are 40 or younger—really don’t frequent sentos, Tsukamoto said. “sentos are no longer necessary; I prefer to attend more upscale spas. Of course, hot springs known as “onsen” are still popular.
These people need to interact with their friends, come out, and use the sento as a sort of communal hub. “The elder generation, who have been going since they were kids, I believe will continue to go.” she added. I regret having to tell you that I do not see there being much demand when that generation is no longer around.
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