Written on February 9, 2010 by Wouter
In an earlier post I asked your help to update a list with unique sento written in 2005. Some of the sento on the list have closed since the original list was written. I received some helpful comments to that post, and after some research and compiling, here it is: the new list.
First, let me say that since there are estimated to be over 6,000 sento in Japan, any list of most unique sento is bound to be inaccurate and incomplete, so I’ve dropped that idea and would just like to present you with a list of some unique sento. There are very likely very unique sento out there that are not on the list, simply because I nor you know about them. Since this is therefore not a top 6, but just a list of 6 (exactly 0.1% of the estimated total number of sento in Japan), the numbers don’t denote rank.
Anyway, enough prefatory, let’s list!
1. Dogo Onsen, Matsuyama
This bath is located in Matsuyama, on the island of Shikoku. I initially started searching for a unique sento in Shikoku because Craig mentioned in the comments that everybody always forgets about the island. I soon found this bath.
Unique point: this is the oldest operational bath house bath house in Japan and its building is listed as national culturally important property. This sento was also the inspiration for the bath house in the Studio Ghibli movie Spirited Away.
2. Funaoka Onsen, Kyoto
Located in the inner-suburbs of Kyoto, this bath is, as opposed to some of the baths on this list, easy to find and even features in the Lonely Planet guidebook. It has been in business for close to 100 years.
Unique point: the building itself is not your standard bath house building, but rather it has the atmosphere of a small temple. The entrance gate and building are separated by a small Japanese garden. The changing rooms are what inspired my temple comparison, with beautiful carved woodwork and painted ceilings. The bathing area is separated from the changing room by yet another small Japanese garden which you cross by wooden bridge.
3. Daikokuyu, Tokyo
By many Daikokuyu is seen as the King of Sento. It is extremely popular with sento fans and listed in many guides as one of the best, if not the best sento in Tokyo.
Unique point: Like Funaoka Onsen this bath is said to resemble a Buddhist temple, and comes complete with a beautiful Japanese garden. Its sheer popularity and the buzz it generates in the blog-o-sphere has earned it a spot on this list.
4. Ebisuyu, Kurashiki
When I was compiling this list I did a quick search to see if anybody had discovered a unique sento and blogged about it. AJD, over at the Inside Japan Blog certainly did.
Unique point: This bath appears very simple, but has a lot of history behind it. The changing room for example (see photo) has a beautiful wooden floor and matching wooden lockers.
5. Kannonyu, Toyama
This bath was listed on the original list, and deserves a place on this updated version too.
Unique point: the building is a typical Japanese structure. A ‘kannon-do’ (enshrined Goddess of Mercy) is arranged above the bandai. This bath is also renowned for its alpine scenery mosaic.
6. Genkakyo Onsen, Osaka
Another bath contained on the original list and deserving of a spot in this new version.
Unique point: this bath was built at a cost of ¥80,000 in 1937. The Statue of Liberty in the main entrance is a play on words, the Japanese for bathing being ‘nyuyoku’, which sounds like the Japanese way of pronouncing New York. This sento has many highlights, such as stained glass, a grampus on the roof, all granite bathroom, etc.