A Japanese Illustrator Has Brought the Sento Experience Online

Online sento trended on Twitter in Japan earlier this month.


The phrase “online
sento” was seen trending on Twitter (Japan) despite the unlikely combination of words and is in fact, gaining popularity. This project started after self-isolation was strongly advised due to the spread of the novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19 “to spread the goodness of sento (Japanese communal bath house) online, especially now more than ever.”


Photos of unique bathhouses in the country are being posted on Twitter. We talked to the person who came up with this novel idea of enjoying communal bath houses via the internet,
Honami Enya (@enyahonami), about the processes and the thoughts that led to the project.


16° groundwater is flowing freely in the cold bath at Kosugi-yu ©Gota Shinohara


Enjoy a public bath even at home. “Online sento” is perfect especially now.


Enya is an illustrator who also works at
Kosugi-yu, a sento in Koenji, Tokyo. Using her skills as a former full-time architect, she wrote the Sento Zukai series. It garnered so much public attention, it was published as a picture book in February 2019. Nowadays, she focuses on spreading the charm of bathhouses in various social media platforms.


Detailed drawings of bathhouses will make you want to visit one! 
Photo from Sento Zukai by Honami Enya published by Chuokoron-Shinsha


On March 30, Enya tweeted a video that features an “online contrast bath” at Kosugi-yu which made “online
sento” trend on Twitter the next day. By April 1, the post had more than 15,000 likes which quickly became a hot topic, especially among sento fans.


(
Twitter post)


Enya: It started when I said, “I want to take
sento videos like those bonfire videos (long, relaxing videos of bonfire)” to 3rd generation Kosugi-yu owner, Hiramatsu. We have talked about it before, but now that isolation is being encouraged, we wanted people to still enjoy sento so we felt like, “Now is the right time!” and went straight to recording.


The contrast bath at Kosugi-yu where you immerse in alternating hot water and cold water is the most popular, so both tubs were recorded for the online contrast bath video. Once Enya posted the video, it garnered an overwhelming response that she started calling out to other
sento owners to post their own bath videos as well.


A vibrant picture of Mt. Fuji is painted on the wall of the bathing area. The foreground of the photo is the ladies’ section and the one at the far end is the men’s section. 
©Gota Shinohara

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Enya: Honestly, I was surprised because I’ve never seen a
sento-related post that blew up this much. The Japanese really like hot baths. It seemed like the post reached even those who aren’t too familiar with sento yet, so it felt like I was able to contribute something to the industry.


According to her, the spread of the Coronavirus infection also affected the communal bathhouse business leading to decrease in the number of users. A lot of owners are worrying if they can make it out of this pandemic. In the midst of all the uncertainty, spreading the charm of bathhouses through social media became a source of positivity among both the owners and the users. Many comments such as, “being able to feel the ambience of the
sento from home is fun” and “I wish I can go to the sento soon” are being posted by sento fans even a few days after the tweet.


Background music for remote working! Unexpected uses of online sento.


But then, how do you actually enjoy an online
sento? Surprisingly, you can play the video for various purposes.


Kosugi-yu is a long-established sento in Koenji as it opened in 1933 
©Gota Shinohara


Enya: People can bring their smartphones with them as they take a bath at home so it makes them feel like they’re in a
sento. Or, since the sound of bathwater is a good ambient sound for concentration, they can play the video while working from home. I also recommend listening to it before sleeping for a relaxing time. It would be nice if there’s a sento that fits everyone’s lifestyle.


She adds that aside from online
sento, it would be more interesting if there are saunas, hot springs, and super sentos that can help people relax online.


“Online sento” mastermind Honami Enya is an illustrator and a staff at Kosugi-yu 
©Eri Miura


Enya: I don’t know why, but looking at the water is calming. Through this project, I hope that the goodness of traditional bathing spreads not only among the Japanese but also to foreigners. Also, for those who see online
sento and think, “hey, sento seems like a good idea,” we hope for them to visit their local sento once things have settled down. That is my ultimate wish.


Other participants of the online
sento project are Saito-yu in Nippori with their rose bath, Hasunuma Onsen in Kamata with their pomelo bath, and other interesting baths from all over the country. Now that going out is not the best option, “online sento” will rejuvenate your mind and body as you enjoy sento from home and let the natural sound of bathwater fill your room with a relaxing ambience. Then, once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, visit your local sento and experience its charm firsthand.

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Provided by Japan Walker™, Walkerplus™, and Tokyo Walker™ (6 April 2020)


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