Tokyo’s “sento” public bathhouses are making an effort to become foreigner-friendly by printing multilingual brochures and posters to explain Japan’s communal bathing etiquette ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“We know some foreign travelers have shown interest in the bathhouses as a unique aspect of Japanese culture,” Katsutoshi Kuromasa, a section chief at the Tokyo Sento Association, said Friday. He added that member bathhouse operators in popular tourist spots like Asakusa in Taito Ward have recently seen more foreigners trying out the mass baths.
“We expect an increase in the number of travelers and those who would like to bathe at bathhouses as the Olympic Games come to Tokyo in 2020,” said Kuromasa, who expressed hope the brochures and posters will help foreigners learn more about the cultural experience.
Written in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese, the recently published pamphlet explains the history of public baths and communal bathing in Japan.
The posters, which are to be put up in all of Tokyo’s public baths from mid-October, outline all the steps, from taking off one’s shoes before entering the facility and paying the fee to making sure one washes thoroughly before taking a soak.
The association has also distributed a pointing-based manual to all public bathhouses in the capital that helps staff communicate with foreign guests who can’t speak Japanese by simply pointing at the desired questions and responses in the manual.
A total of 20,000 brochures will be provided for free from mid-October at public baths and the three Tokyo Tourist Information Centers, at Tokyo City Hall in Shinjuku Ward, Haneda airport in Ota Ward and Keisei Ueno Station in Taito Ward.
Public bathhouses served as community gathering places in the past, but their numbers have fallen over recent decades as more dwellings include their own bathing facilities.
As of the end of September, Tokyo had 710 public bathhouses, according to the association.
The bathing fee in Tokyo is ¥450 for those 12 and older, ¥180 for those 6 to 11, and ¥80 for children under 5.