Although most houses are equipped with a bathtub today, people are still going to public bath for their relaxation and quality bathing. In a Japanese public bath, people see an epitome of the culture, experience a glimpse of history of the culture that has been shaping the people's living and thinking. There are two types of public baths. One is called "sento," and the other is called "onsen."
Sento is a bathing specialty place. People go to sento not only to clean themselves but also to enjoy the comprehensive bathing experience with a large bathtub, whirlpool bathtub, massage tub, relaxing room, powder room, beverage counter, and more.
For their facilities, some sento use tap water only, some use hot spring water, and others use a mixture of tap and hot spring water, whereas onsen use hot spring water only.
Onsen usually attach to ryokan; therefore, the guests do not need to bring a change of clothes, towels, shampoo, or soap. Ryokan provide the needs for onsen bathing, whereas sento do not.
In Hokkaido, there exist quite many uncommercialized free hot springs. In that case, people have few rules to use the hot water.
Do's in sento
- Bring two towels (a small towel to wash and a large one to dry the body), shampoo, soap, toothbrush and paste, shaving kit, cosmetics, and a change of clothes, or whatever.
- Bring a couple pieces of plastic bags to put wet towels and changed clothes.
- At a Sento, men and women enter from a separate entrance. Basically a child should bath with a same-sexed adult.
-Take off your shoes and place them in the shoe locker provided at the entrance, and keep the locker key with you.
- Pay a bathing fee at the counter. A sento fee in Hokkaido is 400 ~ 700 yen. Some sento include shampoo and soap in the fee.
- If you need, go to the toilet before bathing.
-Place your clothes into a basket or a locker.
-Bring a small towel with you into the bathing area.
-Clean your body, especially the bottom half of the body, before entering the tub, by using the warm tap water in the little bucket provided at the body washing area. Use soap if necessary. Pour a bucket of warm water onto the left shoulder, then another bucket to the right shoulder, and another to the bottom half of the body.
- If hair is long, tie it up to make sure the hair does not touch the tub water.
- After taking a sauna bath, shower off the sweat to go into the next tub.
- Use soap and shampoo in the wash area.
- Place a disposable shaving razor into the waste basket provided in the area.
- Wipe off the body briefly before leaving the bathing room.
Don'ts in sento
- Do not bring the towel into the tub. You can fold it and put it on your head or leave it on the rim of the tub.
- Do not scrub your body with the hands in the tub.
- Do not dye hair in the sento.
- Do not wash underwear or clothes in the sento.
Do's in onsen
- Refer to the steps mentioned in the "Do's in sento."
- It depends on onsen, but check if the onsen provides a common tub for men and women mixed bathing. If this is the case, check with the onsen what you can bring into or wear in the tub.
Don'ts in onsen
- Refer to the "Don'ts in sento."
- Sento business hours vary. For example, one sento's business hours are from 5:00 a.m. to midnight, and another one is open from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
In Hokkaido, a sento fee is 400 ~ 700 yen. Some sento include shampoo and soap in the fee.
Very often a sign at the public bath entrance says, "No tattooed person allowed to enter." The reason is that, in a Japanese traditional sense, a tattoo symbolizes of yakuza (mafias). They usually have a large tattoo covering the body. It is hard to have a relaxed bathing time with mafias next to each other, though a different culture has a different concept on a tattoo.