What kind of a place is a sento? How useful are sentos for our health?
○A sento was originally a public bathhouse for people that did not have a bath at home. The number of sentos has declined since Showa 40 (1965) as the number of homes with baths increased. Now we are in the Heisei Era (1989~) and times have changed. Sentos have been reevaluated as a kind of hot spring in town, a kind of spa where people can relax. They are now regarded more as a luxury, an inexpensive leisure spot for all, and have regained popularity.
○In Tokyo the temperature of the water in the sento baths can be different in each bathhouse, but are usually usually around 43 degrees. The bath is over 50 cm deep. You may be surprised at the hot temperature, as it is hotter than most baths at home. But it is said that soaking deeply in the hot tub is good for proteins in the body. It can facilitate metabolism and improve the immune system.
○The large baths in the sento are quite different from the small baths at home. They help to create a refreshing atmosphere and give true relaxation in a bath. Sentos have for centuries been a place where neighbers meet and different generations come together. People inside are literally naked. Somehow it lends itself to honesty, more direct communication, and respect for each other as humans. Many countries have bath traditions, but there is something very special about the Japanese Sento.
(quote from the leaflet ''Discover 'Real Japan' SENTO'' edited by Tokyo Sento Association)
If you're applied to the following conditions, you should not go to public bath for your and others health. Please take care...
1. Getting cold or having a fever.
2. Having heart desease or infection.
3. Having injury on your skin.
The culture of public bath and sento.
◯Introduction: Water, the birthplace of life.
Some people may ask that why Japanese people love to have a bath with a hot tub. In fact, this custom is it's not only Japanese. In ancient Rome, people also had fun with hot/warm water to soak in at the public bath. It was an important social infrastructure for them. Unfortunately the culture has not lasted in their society, but still we can see so many bath-cultures with hot/warm water in so many places in the whole wide world. Some cultures for example include; the city of Bath in England; Baden Baden in Germany; hot springs in Czech Republic, Hungary, Turkey; saunas from Finland and northern Europe; hammam (Turkish bath) from muslim society; ondol (or gudeul) from Korea and east part of China, and so on. A long time ago on the earth, when we look back through scientific history, we see that the origin of life began within hot water. Scientists say that the volcanic activities under deep oceans nurtured and organized the original physical systems of life itself. Though the mystery of the true origin of life is not clearly elucidated yet, it seems that all the life on earth has been born and nurtured within the earth's system of waters recycling itself for billions of years. It was and is mother-natures miracle that we all receive life from.
The baths of Caracalla
in Rome, Italy.
The Gellért Baths in Budapest, Hungary.
The Honzawa Onsen(right) at elevation 2,150m on Yastugatake mountains and the view from the tub(left), Japan.
*These pictures are offerd by Shimokawa,Tadashige on HP'Unknown Constellation'.
◯Water to cherish, heal and nurture our lives
When we were born, all of us in Japan were completely surrounded by warm water. Depending on the indigenous and traditional custom of Japan, we soak our babies into warm water called '産湯ubu-yu' immediately after their birth to cherish the new innocent life. Even the young brain system can't remember the experience so clearly, but the memories of it will keep living in the body's sensation. Maybe if your own cultures don't have such custom you also will be able to appreciate the sensations. Because you certainly also had experienced it while you were in your mother's belly before you were born. Regardless, there is no doubt that all of us have been came from the warmth of mother nature, no matter where we are from. Even the young brain system can't remember the experience so clearly, but the memories of it will keep living in the body's sensation. It is imaginable that the culture of bath expresses two symbols of blessings. One is the blessing of water from nature, and the other is the heating technology passed on from our ancestors. There is a simple unity of the blessings from nature and the wisdom of survival. Once you get into the bath, you'll find that it brings back to you the feeling of primitive and innocent life. From the daily life of stress and hard work, you can be refreshed and reborn! Then, as relaxed as you are, you too would be blessed.
Warm water in the tub would heal your body and mind. In a Japanese myth edited in ancient times, we can see the episode that 大国主之命Ohkuninushi-no-mikoto (name of the legendary king of ancient Izumo) soaked his wounded friend into the tub filled with the warm water from Beppu Onsen to heal his injuries. Nowadays, some sports instructors and coaches in Japan also recommend that sports players soak to in the hot tub to heal their muscles after their training. They say that it promotes the blood circulation inside the body and it is effective for muscular pain and neuralgia. Without a doubt, having regular time to relax and heal is good for our mind.
・ to nurture
In sento, we have some typical manners to save the cleanliness of the water that are based on the native and (private) common sense of Japanese society. The users of sento would understand that the resources in public places should never be wasted by selfish behavior. The people in Japan have lived in small islands for tens thousand of years, possibly such historical/geographic condition nurtured the mind in concern for other people's wellness in daily life. It can be connected to the spirit of 'One for all, all for one' from the western world.
◯To learn and experience... '思いやりomoiyari'
Learning and living with these manners teaches feelings of compassion. This is the best way to nurture a community spirit, and with genuine feelings of joy and peace, care for all the members of the community. In Japanese, we call such feeling '思いやりomoiyari'. Talking about the manners and rules in detail, most of them are in common in Japan but sometimes differ by bathhouse because they have been fostered by the housekeepers and the users in each local community. We hope users may not be bothered by this. Please note this proverb in your mind, 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do.' In this globalizing world, every community can be the "Rome".
How to use
When you are at sento, please find this poster on the wall.
It tells how to use sento easily!
STEP1 ...at the threshold...
STEP2 ...at the entrance...
STEP3 ...at the locker room...
STEP4 ...into the bathroom...
STEP5 wash the body at first!
STEP6 ...just relax... 0:)
*Special thanks to Tokyo Sento Association
for offering the poster above.