Get spirited away by this traditional steam bathhouse

12 July, 2010 by

Traditional bathhouses are referred to as Sento in Japan, probably one of the few cultures where communal bathing is still common. This post is for those who ever wondered what these public bathhouses looked like from the inside.

Pictures here were taken from Kodakara-yu, a 1929 retired bathhouse preserved at the Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum in Koganei. Many of the other buildings in the quaint town of Koganei appear in Studio Ghibli animations and Kodakara-yu is no exception, it was featured in the movie Spirited Away as the show principal attraction, the bathhouse of the gods.


Most other bathhouses follow a similar layout but Kodakara-yu was one of the most luxurious structures of its time. The design is reminiscent of a temple, as the act of bathing had deeply religious roots and up until the 14th century, baths were only found in Buddhist temples. This inspiration can be seem clearly on the building’s gabled roof.

Entrance to the different changing areas.

Stepping inside.

Open concept.

Looking out.

Mixed baths were the norm until the Americans invaded Japan with their black ships in 1854. As a more modern example, this bathhouse is split into two sections. Peeping toms could still sneak a peek if they wanted, so sometimes a female staff would sit on the divider to police behavior.

Men's side.

Restored mural of Fuji more recently painted on the wall.

The large wall here with the mural of Mt. Fuji hides the boiler room that heats the large tiled tubs.

Communal tubs.

Another view.

Squatting taps for rinsing.

Traditionally, some of the taps would provide hot water and others would provide cold so patrons could mix their own desired temperate in the wooden buckets provided.

Curious paintings.

Wooden buckets and stools for use at the squatting taps.

Women's side.

The origin of headcrabs.

The other half of the mural.

Classic billboards. There were different advertisements targeted toward male or female clients.

Back outside, cold drinks are served to help cool off. This is a tradition still practiced today, most often cold milk is served but sometimes also Yakult or Ice Cream.

A more twisted artist depiction.

hough not nearly as popular as the more luxurious Onsen, still active Sento can still be found in various places throughout Japan. Within Tokyo, a standardized fee of 450 yen is charged per visit. Slightly pricey considering that entering Edo Tokyo cost us only 400 yen.

Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.


Supermerlion's Webmaster and Editor-in-Chief. Singaporean Nikkeijin with over 12 years of experience in the media industry. Producer at a Japanese entertainment company. Former Web Developer, Graphic Designer, Multimedia Programmer, Manager and Consultant. Shoots with a Canon 5Dmk2 and Sony RX100-2.