Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dai-ichi Benten Yu, Toyocho (第一弁天湯)

Really, I don't look for more crap to write about. And I don't miss 2009 on those lugubrious days when I revisit a place for lunch and don't have to write about it. But I felt like I should post this off-topic bit since it's a nice slice of downtown Tokyo, which I hope you've noticed I love.

Old-fashioned bath houses, or sentou, are pretty much a dying breed in Tokyo. Everyone has, you know, showers, so they don't need to go to the local bath house so much any more. They used to be lots more common, and fancy too - if you've never seen an interior picture of a bath house with a big mural of Mt. Fuji to make you feel cooler while you bathe, check this out. Hopefully the link will work for a while.

So I had seen pictures and articles about that, and of course they included the idea that the places were dying out. In the same way that you should visit the old-time eating and drinking establishments like Omoideyokocho in Shinjuku, this seemed like something that should be done. Although not in the passive voice. With going-on-6 years of life in Shitamachi, I'm getting ready for a change this year and want to make sure I don't miss any of these experiences before moving somewhere else.

Well, this was the week I decided to do it. It's still cold despite becoming March, and I just want to be warm (cf recent onsen trip!). After doing various errands, I got up the gumption on Wednesday to check out my neighborhood and see where there would be some sentou.

5. Within 10 minutes. And I'm pretty sure there's another one that doesn't show up on the GoogleMapz. Thing is, I looked in the morning at the one that I usually pass while walking to work, and it seems to have become an apartment building. Uh oh. Modernity is outpacing me. There are 3 in an odd little block of Toyocho (south of Eitai Dori, there's a grid of streets with an oddly extensive collection of restaurants. Menya Kissou is in there, and a French place, and a ton of decent-looking Japanese places, so I headed for there. While the Golden Spring Bath looked reasonable, I figured I'd go back to it soon, and opted instead for #1 Benten Bath (Benten is the female one of Japan's seven gods, dedicated to letters, music and arts, patron of geisha and bloggers, especially those who also play banjo).

It's not so well-marked. In fact, I smelled where it was. It smells a little like chlorine, or laundry. And in fact, there's a laundry attached to it. They must recycle the hot water, which I thoroughly approve of. After you go under the colorful curtain that says 'Bath', you take off your shoes, lock them up, and proceed to the inner sanctum (men on the left, women on the right).

Oddly, this sanctum is less than holy, and not just because of the naked guys standing around chatting - the 'office' is a small raised podium with a view of both the men's and women's sides. I have to admit I was a little shy about getting my gear off and tackle out in front of the mama, so I went around to the far side of a low bank of lockers. Whereupon I noticed that she's got a wide-angle mirror above to make sure she can see what's going on. Admission is Y450, plus Y100 if you need a towel and soap. Razors and cooling drinks are also available. I'm not sure why milk always seems like a good idea after bathing, but it does, and they had various flavors here, just like baths always do.

So the bath room - that was the point of going. Retro? Yes. Fuji? No. If you've been on an onsen (or in fact most Japanese showers), you'll be familiar with the hand-held shower heads that have proliferated. These were not removable. In fact, they reminded me most of the perforated disks you'd see on watering cans. And the flow was controlled by a red lever to the side. Exposed piping, a bit of rust...your retro needs met right there. The faucets were separate hot and cold, combined only by mixing the waters in your bathing tub before pouring it over your head. While washing up, you can enjoy the advertising on the mirrors - I noted a realtor, a dry cleaner and a small restaurant, all of whose ads were charmingly hand-painted.

The bath itself was smallish and normally tiled, but set to almost 45 degrees and with powerful jets as well. I was determined to get my money's worth (yes, I suffer from that affliction) and stayed in for nearly 15 minutes including some sitting-on-the-side time. My nuggets were very nearly boiled alive, but I had the satisfaction of staying longer than anyone else.

Now I have the satisfaction of having dipped at the local, and you have the satisfaction of having read this extremely long post. Have I told you my philosophy of this? I still don't edit, just write straight through and be done. I'm saving these up so I can go back when I'm in my dotage and read all the clever things I wrote when I was a clever young chap.

Open 3-11PM, closed Saturdays (I think)


  1. We did not call it sento in my youth. We called it ofuroyasan. Sento seems high class.

  2. Ahhh, なるほどうおう。 Well, this place was obviously not high-class, so furoyasan makes sense. The place I went on Saturday was perhaps a little classier since it had a ペンキ絵, but other than that, about the same.
    Please feel free to offer any other linguistic advice any time! You know I need it.