Now Reports

Sento in Fukuoka

Sento (public baths) are a unique part of Japanese culture and one of the best ways to fight off the winter chill. Sento are onsen without the fuss: they are easier to get to, cheaper and rooted in local communal life. Perhaps most importantly, if you’re tired of squeezing into a tiny Japanese bath, the large baths are a place to spread out and relax, release your daily stresses and make new acquaintances. Read on to find out more about Fukuoka’s sento and how to visit them! Be sure to study our etiquette guide below as it contains important tips to play by the sento rules.

Fukuoka Now intern, Jasmin Bethke, poses in Azumayu’s sento.

Fukuoka Sento

There are currently thirteen sento in Fukuoka, spread fairly evenly across the city and each one unique. Each sento is segregated by gender, and on both the male and female sides you can expect the sento to have a large, hot bath as well as a variety of other baths, saunas and relaxation options depending on the sento. You can read more about the history and development of sento in Japan in this report by Aonghas Crowe.

Sento are closely related to supa sento, but are simpler in nature and less expensive. The price for sento in Fukuoka is currently set at ¥440 for adults (12 and over), ¥180 for ES and ¥70 for pre-schoolers. To enjoy a sento, you need a towel and cleaning products (soap/shampoo). These can usually be bought (or rented in the case of cleaning products) at the sento for a couple of hundred yen.

Sento Etiquette

The sento is not just a place to get clean, but also for relaxation. If you decide to check one out, it is very important to pay close attention to sento etiquette. Be sure to read and follow these points.

1. Pick the right door:
Women (女の湯) to the left, men (男の湯) to the right

Sento are gender segregated. In smaller sento, the doors may lead straight out onto the street. Make sure you go through the correct door: male (男の湯, otoko no yu); female: (女の湯, onna no yu). Larger sento may have a genkan (Japanese entrance) and reception desk before splitting into the male and female sides.

2. Take off your shoes:
Upon entering the sento, take off your shoes and place them in a shoe locker.

3. Pay:
Fumiko Yamatsu sitting at the bandai (reception) of Azumayu

In some sento you will find the bandai (usually staffed by an elderly lady) just inside the door. Pay the correct fee (currently ¥440 in Fukuoka for adults, ¥180 for ES, ¥70 for pre-schoolers – standardised across all Fukuoka sento) and don’t be put off by the fact that staff have a direct view of the changing area – they’ve seen it all before! In larger sento, there may be a vending machine for tickets or a reception desk where you can pay.

4. Change:
Change out of your clothes and put them inside one of the lockers. All you need from this point in is your modesty towel. At some sento, washing products (soap, shampoo, conditioner etc.) will be freely available. At others you will need to bring your own or rent. Make sure you have these before heading through to the bathing area.

5. Shower:
Use the stools beneath the showers to sit on to wash, and don’t forget to wash them after

Head through the sliding door to the bathing area and wash yourself clean in one of the showers. Sit on the stool while you wash and use the bucket if you want (usually a quick tip over the head for a final rinse). When clean, make sure any soap suds are washed off before proceeding to the bath and don’t forget to clean the stool you sit on, so there is no soap or hair left on them. While washing, avoid splashing water and soap/shampoo on others.

6. Bathe:
Inside the men’s side at Umenoyu

Now’s your time to relax, and do so with abandon. However, remember the following:
• Respect other bathers, they’re also there to relax. That being said, sento are a great place to strike up a casual conversation.
• If you are embarrassed being naked, use your modesty towel to cover yourself when walking between baths.
• If you have a modesty towel, do not bring it into the bath water, leave it on the bath’s rim, or do as many locals do, rest it on your head.
• Do not fiddle with the bath’s taps, the temperature is purposefully and deliberately controlled.
• If you have long hair, tie it up so it doesn’t touch the water
• Do not urinate in the water or bathe when you are menstruating.
• If there is a sauna, make sure you clean any sweat from your body before re-entering the baths.
• Photography is not allowed
• Do not drink alcohol before using a sento, as the baths are hot and can be dangerous if intoxicated. Alcohol can also lead to more rapid dehydration.

7. Finish up:
When you are done bathing, wipe yourself down BEFORE entering the changing area, so that the floor doesn’t become too wet. Change back into your civvies and then say your farewells until next time! On your way out, grab something to drink to rehydrate yourself: the classic is a cold, glass-bottled coffee-milk.

Nothing like a nice cool glass of coffee-milk

Unlike onsen, many sento are happy for people to have tattoos (入れ墨 – irezumi). It’s best to check before entering so that you don’t upset anyone, however. If your tattoos can be covered in a hygienic way, it is possible to enter where tattoos are not allowed.

Introducing the Owners

In our research, Fukuoka Now talked to the owners of two sento in Fukuoka City to learn more about sento culture and the status of sento in Fukuoka today. You can read more about the history and development of sento in Japan in this report by Aonghas Crowe:

Azumayu’s owners: Kunihiro and Fumiko Yamatsu

Azumayu is owned and run by Kunihiro Yamatsu and his wife, Fumiko Yamatsu. The sento opened in 1953, under the management of Kunihiro’s father in the post war sento boom. Now in its second generation of ownership, Azumayu has a distinctive feel, housed in a building which stands apart from its more recently built neighbours. When asked about the water, Kunihiro is full of pride, ‘our sento has hotter water than any other in Fukuoka (it can reach 45°C – scorching) and the baths have fossils of Hokkaido coral inlayed so the water is filled with sparkling calcium.’

Wooden shoe lockers at Azumayu

The water is prepared each morning by Kunihiro, who uses oil-fueled boilers to heat the water to its legendary temperatures. According to Kunihiro, his clientele are wide ranging, but Azumayu is particularly frequented by men in their 40s or 50s who have a bath in their own house but want to visit a larger bath because their own is too small. Kunihiro and Fumiko are worried about the future of sento as their customers are aging and aren’t being replaced by younger generations. Interestingly, the sento is popular with sumo wrestlers, who arrive with the Kyushu basho each November and train in a stable nearby. The yokozuna (grand champion) sumo Hakuho is a fan of Azamayu, and dines with the Yamatsu family when he visits the sento.

Kunihiro believes very strongly in the benefits of the sento experience, ‘there are many reasons to visit a sento: to relax, to clean yourself, for health and to clear your mind. I want customers to feel comfortable here so that they want to come back again. I want as many people as possible to try a sento bath.’ He also points out, ‘you can use as much water as you want and you don’t need to worry about electricity, gas etc.’

Nishikoen Yokujo
Rumi Suemasu of Nishikoen Yokujo

After working at Nishikoen Yokujo for 36 years, Rumi Suemasu took over the management of the sento 14 years ago. Her grandfather opened the sento in 1932, and it has remained popular ever since. Rumi is leading an effort to modernize the sento experience to bring it inline with the needs of the local community.

Rumi tells us she is ‘proud of the facilities: bathers don’t have to go straight home after they finish; there is an area to relax and a kids area too. For young people who feel embarrassed about being naked, we removed the bandai system (where sento staff can see into both changing rooms) and we painted the walls in warmer colors.’ Her attitude towards her guests matches the warmth of the walls, ‘I do my best to keep the sento clean and always be grateful to my customers so that they feel comfortable and at home. Little things like saying goodnight and thanking the customers properly makes a big difference.’

She tells us that her sento is family-orientated but also caters for a wide variety of guests: bachelors, couples, elderly people who have been visitors for decades (most of them live alone and they come to swap food or for the community). Due to the presence of a nearby and popular Airbnb, Rumi sees a lot of tourists and visitors, and encourages exchange students and groups of foreigners to visit.

On the question of what non-Japanese need to know about sento, she replied, ‘They should come to experience the benefits of sento and also find friends. In the sento relationship, age, name, origin and nationality doesn’t matter!’ Rumi is exceptionally relaxed and friendly towards her guests, but asks new users to familiarize themselves with sento etiquette before going so that everyone can enjoy themselves. ‘The most common mistakes people make are entering the bath with towels, not tieing long hair up, not washing soap bubbles off properly and getting the changing area wet after bathing. Everyone should relax, but also be respectful towards other bathers.’

Sento in Fukuoka

Azumayu / 東湯
1-29-3 Chiyo, Hakata-ku
• 14:30~22:30
• Closed: Irregular
• Adults (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70
• Feature(s): Aerated bath, Electric bath, Cold bath, Ultrasonic bath, Parking

Nishikoen Yokujo / 西公園浴場
• 6-21 Nishikoen, Chuo-ku
• 17:00~23:00
• Closed: Tuesdays
• Adults (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70
• Feature(s): Morning bath (every 3rd Sat. 9:30~11:30), Aerated bath, Electric bath, Cold bath, Ultrasonic bath, Parking

Umenoyu / 梅乃湯
3-6-35 Hakomatsu, Higashi-ku
• 16:30~22:30
• Closed: Sundays
• Adults (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70
• Feature(s): Aerated bath, Ultrasonic bath, Cold bath, Coin laundry, Parking for 3 cars

Daikokuyu / 大黒湯
2-17-22 Yoshizuka, Hakata-ku
• 15:00~22:00
• Closed: Sundays
• Adults (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70
• Feature(s): Electric bath, Cold bath

Daitokuyu / 大徳湯
4-27-10 Chiyo, Hakata-ku
• 15:00~22:30
• Closed: Mondays
• Adults (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70
• Feature(s): Aerated bath, Electric bath, Ultrasonic bath, Parking

Aratoyu / 荒戸湯
3-10-6 Arato, Chuo-ku
• 17:00~22:00
• Closed: Mondays
• Adults (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70
• Feature(s): Parking

Nagaoyu / 長尾湯
1-14-11 Nagao, Jonan-ku
• 15:00~24:00
• Closed: Wednesdays
• Adults (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70
• Feature(s): Sauna, Aerated bath, Electric bath, Cold bath, Ultrasonic bath, Coin laundry, Steam bath, Parking

Honjyoyu / 本庄湯
1-3-10 Imaizumi, Chuo-ku
• 16:00~23:00
• Closed: Fridays
• Adult (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70

Miyakoyu / 都湯
3-15-19 Haruyoshi, Chuo-ku
• 15:00~24:00
• Closed: Fridays
• Adults (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70
• Feature(s): Aerated bath, Binchotan charcoal bath, Ultrasonic bath, Ceramic mineral water

Koganeyu / こがね湯
1-1-1 Shinonomemachi, Hakata-ku
• 14:00~22:00
• Closed: Sundays
• Adults (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70
• Feature(s): Medicated bath

Asonoyu / 阿蘇の湯
2-16-36 Harada, Higashi-ku
• 16:00~22:30
• Closed: Irregular
• Adults (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70
• Feature(s): Aerated bath, Electric bath, Parking, Coin laundry

Tsurukameyu / 鶴亀湯
2-13-9 Sumiyoshi, Hakata-ku
• 15:00~24:00
• Closed: Sundays
• Adults (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70
• Feature(s): Sauna, Aerated bath, Cold bath, Binchotan charcoal bath, Ultrasonic bath, Parking

Sengokuyu / 千石湯
3-18-14 Hakataeki-minami, Hakata-ku
• 15:00~24:00
• Closed: Sundays
• Adults (12 and over): ¥440, ES: ¥180, Pre-school: ¥70
• Feature(s): Sauna, Aerated bath, Cold bath, Ceramic mineral bath, Coin laundry

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NOTE: The information presented here was gathered and summarized by the Fukuoka Now staff. While we have done our best to check for accuracy, there might be errors and details may have changed. If you notice any errors or changes, please contact us. This report was originally written in January 2017.

Art & Culture
Fukuoka Prefecture
Published: Jan 24, 2017 / Last Updated: Jan 17, 2019

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