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Sarasa Nishijin is a sentō (bathhouse) — well, it used to be. But using the past tense here belies how much of its old spirit still lives on. The waters may have drained away — replaced by sofas, tables, chairs and people lounging about fully clothed — but the sentō’s old life is revealed in the gorgeous tiles that wrap around the interior walls and on the ceiling, which slopes up to a huge opening where steam would have once poured out narrow windows. What’s left of the bathhouse makes Sarasa Nishijin feel like a museum — one that offers udon noodles, fried chicken, pizza toast and a nice selection of cakes.

The exterior makes the cafe look like it belongs in a Hayao Miyazaki film, and the food is just as nostalgic and comforting — it’s homey.

I had pizza toast laden with shiitake mushrooms, but the cakes are the real highlight — especially the just-sweet-enough and crumbly carrot cake. In fact try them all, just so you can extend your time in the space.

There are still, thankfully, quite a few public baths dotted around the country that have not been torn down. Some are still operational, others are given a new lease of life, and Sarasa Nishijin might be the jewel in the crown of refurbished sentō. Life goes on, even when the hot water has been turned off.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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