After a long day of temple hopping, there is no better way to relax than soaking in a good sento (Japanese public bath). Here, we introduce the best sentos in Kyoto and give some tips on how to enjoy them.
Nishiki-yu Sento in Kyoto © ishikawa_takanori
Until a few decades ago, most Kyoto houses did not have private baths. So every evening, people would walk to their local sento to bathe and converse with their neighbors. Kyoto’s sentos are fast disappearing, but there are still some great ones left around. Nothing feels better than soaking in a really hot tub after a hike or a day in the temples. In the following section, we introduce our three favorite sentos in Kyoto. For tips on how to enjoy a sento, scroll down to our Sento Guide for Beginners section.
Kyoto’s Best Sentos
- Funaoka Onsen Sento
This classic old sento is worth the trip not just for its fantastic baths and sauna, but for the amazing artwork in the changing rooms.
- Goko-yu Sento
This spacious sento is relatively close to downtown and it’s got some fine baths and a scalding hot sauna.
- Tenzan-no-yu Onsen
An actual onsen (natural hot spring), this enormous bath and spa complex near Arashiyama is well worth the trek. The baths and saunas are great and the restaurant is amazingly good.
Sento Guide for Beginners
If you’re never been in a Japanese public bath (sento) you might be a little nervous. The first thing to do is RELAX. That’s the whole point of a sento, and people really won’t be watching you to see if you screw up. As long as you wash before getting into the tubs, you can’t go too far wrong. So just keep one thing in mind: the water in the tubs is for soaking in, not for washing in.
Here’s the basic routine:
Pay at the door (or buy a ticket from the vending machine if there is one). If you don’t have a hand towel, you can rent one from the counter. Take off your shoes, put them in a locker and enter the correct changing room (man: 男; woman: 女).
Once in the changing room, take a basket from the stack and put your clothes into it. The basket goes into a locker. You can put the key around your wrist or ankle with the elastic strap. Bring your small hand towel and toiletries into the bathing area (which you enter naked – no bathing suits!).
In the bathing area, grab a stool and a bucket and wash yourself. If the place isn’t crowded, you can leave your toiletries there. After washing yourself and removing all soap and lather, enter the tub of your choice. When you’re done, towel off at the sinks before going back into the changing room.
That’s all there is to it! Enjoy!
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