Younger operators of sento (public bathhouses) in Tokyo are breathing new life into the facilities, which have long helped residents in communities feel refreshed and relaxed.
There are fewer sento these days because more people have baths at home. But some operators have achieved a turnaround in the number of customers thanks to their unique efforts, such as holding musical events and yose Japanese vaudeville shows.
In 2010, Naofumi Kurita, 34, became the third-generation owner of Umeno-yu in Arakawa Ward. His first task was to open a Twitter account for the bathhouse.
Sento operators “did not make sufficient efforts to attract new customers,” Kurita said, recalling there were almost no operators back then who sent out information online about their facilities.
— ま (@Precuny) February 1, 2018
Thanks to the spread of smartphones, Umeno-yu has successfully expanded its customer base via social media.
Kurita is also promoting his sento by letting customers listen to rakugo comic tales in its lounge and offering drinks at the front desk in collaboration with a neighborhood bar.
He has been holding picture-story shows to teach children proper bathing methods and letting them actually take a bath.
“I want customers to discover something new at Umeno-yu,” he said.
Sales at Kosugi-yu, a public bathhouse in Suginami Ward established in 1933, have increased around 10 percent over the past year.
Yusuke Hiramatsu, the 37-year-old third-generation owner, launched a project called “sento living” after all of the units in a neighboring apartment building owned by Kosugi-yu became vacant in January last year.
After discussing with regular customers how to use the rooms before the building would be dismantled a year later, Hiramatsu decided to let people live in the units rent-free on condition they promote the sento.
The apartment currently has seven residents, including a musician, editor and architect. It also allows non-Japanese and musicians to stay for short periods so they can have a daily sento experience.
In addition, Hiramatsu organizes musical festivals at Kosugi-yu and art events in the apartment building.