Stripping Down with Strangers
Sento, are like onsens (hot springs) hard working, rough around the edges brother. They come in as many shapes and sizes as their outdoor counterparts and offer the same relaxing experience with none of the journey. Chances are if you’re in Osaka now there will be at least one in a 10 minutes radius from you. The fact that there’s so many of them speaks volumes of how great and deeply routed in Japanese society that these every day bath houses truly are. So leave your inhibitions behind and get yourself to sento and relax in naked bliss!
1. Pre-sento Prep
Although you can pretty much pop-in to a sento as is, I always find experience a bit more enjoyable when I bring a few things with me. Of course, this is completely optional but these are a few things I bring with me, if I have had the time to pack/plan before heading to sento.
What I bring:
- a small towel: useful for covering all your bits and for tying up long hair
- large towel: I only bring one if I have the space, half the time I just rent one
- shampoo & conditioner: same as the large towel, I only do this when I have the space and can be bothered. Some sento provide free shampoo & conditioner, at others you will have to buy them.
- loofah: get your scrub on
- toothbrush: again, some super sento may provide them, at smaller places they are usually available for purchase. I find the built-in toothpaste pretty nasty so prefer to bring my own
- brush, make-up, make-up remover, lotion, razor (also available for purchase), etc.
- hair tie/hair clip: for those long hair folk, you’re going to want to avoid having getting your hair in the baths so have something to tie it up
2. Upon Arrival:
When you get to the sento, you’ll need to take off your shoes and put them in a shoe locker. Depending on the bath house, this locker will either be free or you will have to pay ¥100 which will be returned when you leave. This locker is just for your shoes, inside the facility there will be another locker for your belongings.
After removing your shoes, you’ll next need to pay. This will either be done through staff, usually an old lady, or at ticket machine. It’s at this point that you can also rent towels, buy toiletries, etc. It’s worth noting that at some sento there is an additional charge for using the sauna.
3. Locker Room:
Once you pay, you’ll enter your corresponding curtain. The male side, 男 usually has a blue curtain and the female side 女 usually has a red curtain. It might be worth memorizing these kanji if you plan to become a sento regular. If you are coming with friends or family of the opposite sex, this is a good time to make meeting arrangements. Phones are prohibited in the locker rooms, so go old fashion and pick a time to meet back in the common area. All the sento I have ever been to have clocks in the bath so you can keep an eye on time. Passing through the curtains, you’ll find lockers for your items. Like the shoe lockers, these may or may not require a ¥100 deposit.
Choose a locker and get to striping! The only thing you should have with you at this point is the small towel(leave the body towel in the locker), locker key band, and toiletries if you brought them.
4. Bath Entry:
Now in your birthday suit, you’re ready to enter the bathing area. The first thing you should see are open shower cubicles lining the walls. Pick a stool and using the small bucket provided get yourself squeaky clean.With the baths being communal it is important to keep the water as clean as possible.
After completely cleaning yourself tuck away any of your personal toiletries and find your perfect bath. While you walk around it is common to cover yourself a little with the small towel if you feel inclined. But be careful not to get this towel in the actual bath. I usually tie mine around my hair. At this point, just relax and enjoy each unique bath. If you do enter the sauna, make sure that you rinse again before returning to the baths for more r&r.
- only the small towel should be taken in the bath area
- shower completely and enter the baths soap free
- use the small towel to cover yourself outside the bath but make sure not to get it in the bath
- if you have TATTOOs check to see whether or not the facility allows them (it’s an annoying rule, but I know a handful of Osaka santos that are very tattoo friendly)
- rinse off post sauna before re-entering the baths
- don’t bathe when menstruating
- respect and enjoy!!!