Japan has been going through something of a hot spring renaissance over the past decade, but at the same time, things are tough for Japan’s other traditional venues for communal bathing, sento, or public bathhouses. Despite a recent uptick in their number of foreign customers, most Japanese have a pretty lukewarm reaction to the prospect of taking a soak with others if the water isn’t heated by geothermal sources.

For the current generation, a hot bath drawn from the tap is no longer a luxury nor something that necessitates leaving home for, and so sento have been shutting down around the country. But rather than close their doors for good, a few have converted their bathing facilities into dining spaces and been reborn as stylishly retro sento cafes.

Here are five such places that are offering as many hot cups of coffee as they used to provide hot tubs of bathwater.

1. Sarasa Nishijin / さらさ西陣

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Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi, Kita-ku, Murasakino Higashifujinomoricho 11-1, 1st floor
京都府京都市北区紫野東藤ノ森町11-1 1F

Situated on the northern edge of Kyoto’s downtown, this 80-year-old building was previously home to the Fuji no Mori bathhouse before being renovated into the Sarasa Nishijin café. You won’t find any naked, lathered bathers inside, but the interior does retain the distinct majolica tile from its bathhouse days, along with the coffered ceiling and windows that used to let the sun shine into the tub. That natural lighting is still a nice touch, but what the café no longer needs is the wall that separated the men’s and women’s baths, although a section has been left intact to remind visitors of the building’s past.


2. Sagano Yu / 嵯峨野湯

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Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi, Ukyo-ku, Saga Tenryuji Imahoricho

If you’re looking for a double dose of sento cafes in Kyoto, there’s also Sagano Yu. Built in the late Taisho Era (which ended in 1926), Sagano Yu’s sign makes it clear that while it offers many things, baths are no longer one of them. Instead, satisfied customers come for the café’s outstanding pancakes, plus its inviting atmosphere. While Sasano Yu has been a little more extensively remodeled than Sarasa Nishijin, its interior design still incorporates plenty of sento trappings, and glancing around you’ll see the old lockers and faucets where bathers would wash themselves before hopping in the tub for a soak.

3. Ibaraki Yu / 茨木湯

Osaka-fu, Ibaraki-shi, Miyamotocho 4-1

Not too far from Kyoto, there’s also Ibaraki Yu, in Osaka’s Ibaraki City (not to be confused with Ibaraki Prefecture’s Ibaraki City). Befitting the 50 years it was a sento, you’ll find two banks of lockers right outside the entrance. Part of the dining area occupies what used to be the changing rooms, complete with the rattan floor coverings that sento usually lay down to keep the floors from becoming wet and slippery. There are also seats near the left-over faucets, and live performers have a seat of honor in the basin of the tub itself.

4. Yu Yu / ゆーゆー

Hiroshima-ken, Onomichi-shi, Tsuchido 1-3-20
Website (Tabelog)

Located in the covered shopping arcade that connects Onomichi City’s train station and harbor, Yu Yu is perhaps the oldest structure on our list, having been the Yamato Yu sento for roughly a century. Aside from food and drinks, Yu Yu sells a variety of locally produced products. They also serve up some of Onomichi’s famous ramen, which is a welcome treat for hungry bicyclists who just biked over from the island of Shikoku on the Shimanami Kaido cycling road that ends in the city.

5. Hug Café

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Saitama-ken, Fujimino-shi, Kamifukuoka 3-7-4
Facebook Page

Finally, if the prospect of being around all that sento history makes taking a bath just too tempting, stop by the Hug Café in Saitama. Not only can you enjoy heart-shaped pancakes and other fare, on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays, the Hug Café is also a fully operating sento.

Perhaps best of all, Hug Café also serves locally brewed Coedo Beer. So go early and give yourself plenty of time, because a cold beer after a hot bath is one of the great low-key luxuries in life.

Source: Naver Matome
Insert images: Sarasan, Sagano Yu, Hug Café