Menu
  • Shinobu MachidaPHOTOGRAPHY: CAMERON ALLAN MCKEAN
  • Shinobu MachidaPHOTOGRAPHY: CAMERON ALLAN MCKEAN
  • Shinobu MachidaPHOTOGRAPHY: CAMERON ALLAN MCKEAN

Shinobu Machida: The Myojin Sento

, 2010/02/15

The final of our three-part series on The Japanese Sento (Parts 1 & 2)

Tokyo has cleverly disguised it’s Sento as lavish temples and the only evidence of their true identity, and the naked bathing inside, comes from the steam rising above the tiled rooftops and the chrome smokestack. However, careful eyes can pick them out by the “hafu,” a curved wooden shape hanging over the entrance. “It symbolizes an entrance to paradise,” says Sento writer Shinobu Machida. There are only three other places where you can see such a shape: at the entrance to a temple, on a funeral car and outside a soapland (brothel).”

Machida began investigating Sento when he couldn’t explain to a foreign friend why Tokyo’s Sento looked like temples. His interest grew when he began visiting and photographing Sento all over Japan; often unexpectedly running into police, who were suspicious that he was a developer looking to snatch up cheap land – the fate of many old Sento. A number of books later, and Machida is now an authority on Sento. Today he has brought us to what he considers to be the finest example of Tokyo Sento architecture- the 53 year-old Meijin-yu, located in Southwest Tokyo.

Form and function jostle for primacy in the design of Meijin-yu. The O-tera (temple) style facade seems to be merely for decoration, but it actually served an important function in revitalizing Sento culture following the great earthquake in the 12th year of the Taishou Period (1923). Before the earthquake, the architecture and interior design of Tokyo’s Sento was much simpler, more like the style currently seen in Osaka or Kyoto. With the hope of attracting more customers Sento’s began rebuilding themselves after the earthquake, mimicking the look of Shinto and Buddhist shrines. The plan worked and by about 1968 the number of Sento peaked at 2500; today there are fewer than 850. Inside the Tsuiba-jo (dressing rooms) Buddhist temple architecture is further replicated with high ceilings and a unique ‘s’ shaped structure at the juncture between the roof and wall. Careful design is intrinsic to all areas of Sento but seen most functionally in the baths themselves. The jet streams of water bubbling out from some baths are not electronically pressurized, but involve a complex geometric miracle of piping to enable the water to flow on a specific angle and create the right amount pressure. The shower area itself must also be slanted on the correct angle to ensure that no water pools which leads to mold. Old Sento can last a long time without repairs, resilient against the constant humidity and steam.

Although Tokyo’s Sento are beautiful, Machida prefers the unadorned, minimalist baths of Osaka and Kyoto. He did not see much spiritual significance in the Tokyo style aside from a brazen attempt at attracting more customers. But as he begins to talk about the history of Sento, the spiritual dimension is hard to ignore and makes you wonder about their inherent sacredness. The first public baths in Japan were actually holy baths used for the priests which Kõmyõ Kõgõ, in an act of altruism, allowed the poor to use in the time before the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333).

Reaching further back, the very idea of bathing in the Sento style came from India, and its long tradition of body cleansing with Japan’s first baths used as an extension of the temple, reserved only for the priests, to literally and symbolically purify themselves. Today, the cycle from sacred to commonplace has almost come full circle, as Sento’s increasingly become patronized by those seeking something more than just a physical cleansing: a respite from the city, a return to a more familiar age, a space for warding off loneliness.

Tags:







and wander OUTDOOR GALLERY with PAPERSKY OPEN!

A Gallery dedicated to featuring art, photography, illu […]

Talking with Trees | PAPERSKY #62 Tokyo Tree Trek

This issue is dedicated to Tokyo’s unsung hero the tree […]

MHL × PAPERSKY 「SANDAL SOCK」

These ‘Sandal Socks’ bring function and design together […]

A flood of green, light blue, and smoky brown | Asagao 3

Tokyo’s rivers used to flood almost every year an […]

Flowers after a great fire | Asagao 2

There was nothing left after the March 1945 firebombing […]

The seeds of obsession | Asagao 1 Tokyo Morning Glory

Every year In Iriya, downtown Tokyo, the Japanese Asaga […]

Saburo Hatakeyama: Keep your back to the outside

“My name is Shonosuke Kimura, but the name I was […]

Yasushi Nishimura: Binding a tradition together everyday with string

It’s just after lunchtime on a hot day during Tok […]

Hiroko Ichige: Bento boxes, green tea, sweets and Sumo.

Six in the morning in the old part of Tokyo. The Septem […]

Life Cycles, a Tokyo bike story

If you lock your bike in the wrong place for too long i […]

BNE

BNE: The BNE Water Organization

After fifteen years as a street artist, American-roots […]

Toshiko Tomita

Toshihiko Tomita: Keirin Ambassador

“Those were the golden years of Keirin you know, you co […]

Ryue Nishizawa

Ryue Nishizawa: Travel from Places to Spaces

Architect Ryue Nishizawa (b. 1966) has become one of th […]

Hitoshi Kawabuchi

Buchi: Skateboard File VII

Hirotoshi Kawabuchi is a young amateur skater living in […]

Motoyuki Shibata

Motoyuki Shibata: All Stories About Travel

I met Motoyuki Shibata several years ago in New York Ci […]

Otaki

Otaki (T-19): Skateboard File VI

“The idea for T-19 was always in my head. What I saw wh […]

Elein Fleiss

Elein Fleiss: Change Again

There comes a magazine that changes all the rules. In 1 […]

Chiori Yamamoto

Chiori Yamamoto: Japanese Soul Food

Gatemo Tabum is the neighborhood joint we all wish we l […]

Daido Moriyama

Daido Moriyama: Perspective Reach

The second in a new series taking a closer look at Japa […]

Daisuke Tanaka

Daisuke Tanaka: Skateboard File V

Skateboarding needs art as much as it needs skaters. On […]

Senn Ozawa

Senn Ozawa: Skateboard File IV

The current issue of Sb, The 2010 Photo Annual, bears a […]

Hitozuki

Hitozuki: 15 Years in Paint

The first day of painting was the coldest but instead o […]

Yuri Shibuya

Yuri Shibuya: Perspective Reach

The first in a new series taking a closer look at Japan […]

Akiko Mera

Akiko Mera: Oxfam Trailwalker

What’s the farthest you’ve ever walked? To the bus stop […]

Tomoko Yamane

Tomoko Yamane: Bento in Berlin

Tomoko Yamane thoughtfully recalls growing up cooking w […]

Deshi

Deshi: Skateboard File III

“I grew up in nature- my house was surrounded by it, I […]

Wim Wenders

Wim Wenders: Photography of Place

“All my films start with places- cities, deserts. But t […]

Koji Asada

Koji Asada (Lesque): Skateboard File II

For Koji Asada and the Lesque (les-ke) team, skateboard […]

Haruomi Hosono

Haruomi Hosono: Planet of sound

Haruomi Hosono’s early discography contains the band Ha […]

Taro Hirano

Taro Hirano: Skateboard File I

Taro Hirano is better known as the photo editor of skat […]

Katsuhiro Kawazu

Katsuhiro Kawazu: Antiques in Nezu

There are many hidden treasures tucked away in the slee […]

Hiroshi Miura

Hiroshi Miura: Wood Philosophy

Japan has an overwhelming tradition of carpentry. It’s […]

Kiyoto Maruyama

Kiyoto Maruyama: Holy Mountain Painting

The second of our three-part series on The Japanese Sen […]

YoYo

Yoyo: Kitchen Revolution

“I started cooking when I started VEGE Shokudo” – said […]

Yuichiro Miura

Yuichiro Miura: Climbing Everest at 70

“I want to stand atop Mt. Everest when I am 70 years ol […]

Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono: Journeywoman

Yoko Ono’s public persona is one part mercurial, two pa […]

Brit Matt Rogers

Brit Matt Rogers: Keirin Dreams

Their colored helmets are a blur as they spin around th […]

Yuji Hirayama

Hirayama Yuji: Professional Free Climber

I first tried rock climbing when I was fifteen- I was o […]

Matohu: How Pottery Becomes Clothes

Hiroyuki Horihata and Makiko Sekiguchi, the design duo […]

Shusetsu Tachibana

Shusetsu Tachibana: The Last Sansuke

With wrinkled and nimble hands Shusetsu Tachibana washe […]

name
Shinobu Machida
place
The Myojin Sento
  • Advert Slides

  • world & japan maps

    worldmap_banner_s

    japanmaps_banner_s

  • Papersky Mobile

  • soundtrack

    sound_banner

  • enalloid

  • URD Craftsman Series

    urd-craftsman-banner

  • Lee Riders

    leeriders

  • green label relaxing Green Travel

    greenlabel_shuppatsu_banner

  • Tour de Nippon

    tour-de-nippon

  • luca-mon

    lucamon-banner

  • Hike & Bike

  • globe walker OLD JAPANESE HIGHWAY

  • cyclemaps

  • PAPERSKY VIDEO

    paperskyvideos_banner

  • Tour column

    tourcolumn banner_03