Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tokiwayu Spa, Morishita (ときわ湯、森下?常盤?)

After an extraordinarily productive day, I dithered a lot but eventually went for a late dip to round things off and encourage a good night's sleep. Mixed experience at this place. It's on the edge of really great, but I was a touch let down - in ways that are somewhat my fault.

If you blow up this picture you'll be able to see the dramatic old-fashioned roofline much better (or try this equally grainy night shot, or a smaller day shot here). It's a big place, with the obligatory coin laundry and vending machines to the right. For some reason the don't use the lovely original doors - you have to go around the right through a more modern and dull entrance.

Like a hundred other sentos that I've been to. Oh wait, this is only the third. Someone PLEASE stop me before I get to 100. You can tell a sento because it smells like chlorine from the street, and also because of the 'yu' banner that pretty much all of them have outside. It interests me that they don't use the kanji for yu, but there you have it. Behind the banner here you can see the shoe lockers; there's always a two-stage process where you leave your shoes in one of these little things (I have to squeeze my shoes into them because they're so small), and then go inside to pay and access a bigger locker for getting your furnishings off.

They have umbrella lockers here too! These cracked me up. It's like a little jail for umbrellas. Or a stable, where the umbrellas can just peek their little curvy heads out the top to get to their feedbags, except there isn't any feed these days. And there may never be again.

I'll have to content myself with this picture, which is the small painting just inside the lobby. You'll see it as well if you follow the second link above. I'm sure everyone takes a picture of it because it's a little pretty (at least, pretty enough to stand out in the largely run-down bare-wood-and-linoleum environment that sentos run towards. Excuse me, furoyasan.) but also because they go into the actual bath and there's a huge mural painted on the tiles in this style that they can't take pictures of. You're not allowed to take pictures in the changing room and bath, after all.

Right? Right? Yeah, I just turned my camera on, whipped the door open, and here ya go. The setup of the counter was the same as some other places, a raised booth where the master could take money and oversee the proceedings. In this case he was an ancient guy wearing a black beret. He was also really grumpy when I continued my quest to use up spare change. I tried to give him 10-yen and 5-yen coins; he pushed them back at me, saying "I don't need those." I pushed them back, saying "I don't need them either. How about it?" and he just looked confused and kept pushing them at me until I gave up. He told me to start bathing from the left, and went back to his coma.

Yeah, check out that painting! The lights on the right mark the divider between the men's and women's areas, and you can see a smidgen of the Chinese-style mural on the tiles that I was talking about. More importantly, you can see a really grand penkie where Fujisan is centered in the frame and goes half to the men's and half to women's. Does that make the men's side Shizuoka or Yamanashi? This was a grand but decrepit painting; I counted 30 sailboats just on the men's side, but the paint at the bottom of the frame was severely cracked and peeling. I kept expecting it to drop into the bath while I was there.

A couple of thoughts on that. One, I imagine sento paintings were redone pretty frequently in older times (which would explain in part the very rough style that they show). I'd guess that the paint wasn't as good, but also that there was some more competition to keep things looking nice. Now it's probably hard to find someone to repaint your picture, should you need it. It's too bad, because the peeling paint was a touch disturbing!

Another thing that might make the paint peel more in this particular bath though was the heat of the baths themselves.  I quickly found out why I was supposed to bathe from left to right - the left side said "Normal Temperature Bath" above it, and bubbled slightly. The middle bath, the main one, said nothing, but bubbled with a hellacious fury. The right one said "High Temperature Bath", and the stillness of its surface, punctuated only by wisps of steam, was somehow even more menacing.

Seriously, those are some hot-ass baths. I spent a lot of time in the left one, which was 42-43 degrees and quite pleasant. But really only big enough for one person. I would guess that the middle one, which was 4 times the size, was at 45 degrees. You've heard of 65 degree eggs? Let me tell you, at 45 degrees, you'd be worried about coddling your nuggets. And the High Temperature Bath?! Hello sterility! I spent a healthy 60 seconds in the middle bath, no more, and emerged to see the old demon cackling at me from his perch, beret now red and slightly askew from the horns.

I've just remembered - many guys were washing themselves, but I saw no one in the baths other than me.


  1. well, thats the old Japanese rule: never sit in a bath together with a Gaijin. They were just waiting until you left...

  2. From outside this place reminds me of my old neighborhood place in Musashikoyama. It closed maybe 7 years ago. Used to have an enclosed outdoor patio to cool off with bamboo/wooden benches.

  3. That rule is similar to another of my favorites: Never Sit Next to a Foreigner On a Train. I love both rules.

    They have an outdoor patio here too, with a koi pond!