Saturday, March 6, 2010

Katou Spa, Nakano (香藤湯)

Well, after enjoying my dip at one of Fukagawa's local furoyasan, I was a bit hooked. And I've never gotten out of my head the pictures that I saw years ago in a documentary about one of the last bathhouse painters - the guys who used to paint the traditional murals on the walls of the spa. Since then this has seemed like a special corner of Edo life that should be seen while one is in Japan and while it still exists. When I realized that this place between Nakano and Koenji had such a mural, I was in. Of course I had already committed to going to Nakano, so it was a bit more convenient.

Nakano and points west are sometimes known as upscale areas (perhaps in a Shinjuku bedroom-community sort of way?). I had forgotten this until I left the station and headed southwest - there were a significant number of houses that turned my head. Unfortunately when I got to the sentou, I realized that it had seen better days and wasn't receiving the same care and maintenance that it might have in the past.

No, I kid, I kid. That was directly across the street. Attractively decrepit though, wasn't it? I should have black-and-whited that picture. This is what the place really looks like - utilitarian, clean, new. This woman was coming for her bath too, so I figured we were practically family and it would be OK to include her in the picture.

And without belaboring the point, this is what it looks like inside. Again, I figured that if I was going to get naked with those guys, we were practically family and they wouldn't mind me taking their picture, or in fact posting it on the interwebs.

Cameras, as you might well imagine, are verboten in these places. Considering the speed and stealthiosity with which I took this picture, I'm ex-tatic about it. It's straight, not too blurry, and the way the mirror above the sink reflects the room beyond to fill out the picture is a sweet benefit. I'm thankful that I could take this, for the memory.

Now that I've belabored the point about how lucky I was to get that shot, here's another one with more muralistic closeup.

Wow! No? Not wow? Don't be a hater. This is cool. These paintings are known as 'penki e', where the penki is katakana and the 'e' is the normal kanji. 'Penki' says 'paint' in the dictionary; I'm guessing it's a somewhat archaic mispronunciation, but would love to be corrected and informed.

Some things that surprised me: first, the painting is very rough. I guess that makes sense; there's no point spending a ton of time perfecting a masterpiece that's going to be steamed for 12 hous a day.  Second, the baths are oriented away from the picture, so it's difficult to see while you're soaking. What's up with that? I deliberately misused the deep bath on the left, facing toward the wall for the longer period of my dip.

And dip I usual, it took me some time to get dressed because I was light-headed, and that made me late to meet The Woodsman for round 1 of our Nakano extravaganze, Okajouki.

4 PM - 1 AM. Closed Fridays. Grumpy desk service. Fairly crowded. Y450. Dry sauna extra Y350 (what?!). Not that easy to find, and pretty far from the station, so study up on the map (or better, print and take one like I did. Always be prepared, that's my motto.).


  1. Sad to see them disappear one by one. Our closest neighborhood furoyasan was closed sometime around 2000 and turned into residential homes. These places were more than just a place to take baths. A place to gossip, catch news, and place to stay warm in the winter months.

    This one you went to seems quite a bit smaller than the one we used.

  2. Hope this one hangs on for just one more year, book marking to visit on our trip.