A few decades ago, Japan’s public bathhouses, known as sento, were just as integral to a city’s infrastructure as shops or restaurants. Now that the majority of Tokyo homes are fitted with a bath/shower, the humble sento has seen its popularity waning. While many Tokyo bathhouses have been forced to close due to diminishing demands, one family-run business decided to reinvent itself to adapt to the changing times.
Formerly a run-down yet cheerful bathhouse for the local community, Koganeyu recently underwent a big change that transformed the facility into a cross between a modern sento and a craft beer taproom. The renovation was a collaborative project involving artist Hiroko Takahashi, who moved her studio to the neighbourhood six years ago, and Schemata Architects. Though the project took several months of crowdfunding to complete amid the coronavirus pandemic, the team was able to incorporate transformative contemporary design details while staying faithful to the original spirit of the bathhouse.
Koganeyu, which has been in business for 88 years, was always a casual place for people to come and go as they please, but the addition of a new craft beer bar by the entrance makes it all the more inviting. You can rent towels from the bar on the way in, and order a pint from a selection of craft beers on your way out. The bar also doubles as a DJ booth, where music permeates the walls of exposed concrete.
Bathing areas for men and women are merely separated by a 2.25m half-wall and share a mural of Mt Fuji by Yoriko Hoshi. A railings which loops over the half-wall was installed to add to the continuity of the spaces, where friends and families on either side of the wall would be able to hold on to the same railing for support.
For the changing rooms, artist Iichiro Tanaka created a noren (entryway curtain) that reinforces a feeling of togetherness. Tanaka did so by installing a curtain that stretched across both changing rooms, reading ‘o’ in the male changing room and ‘i’ in the female changing room to spell ‘oi’ – a friendly exclamation used to call out to someone.
The baths have three different temperatures ranging from lukewarm to hot to suit all ages, as well as improve blood circulation for when bathers alternate between them. There is also an open-air cold plunge pool for those wanting to cool down after sitting in the sauna.
Tickets can be purchased at the vending machines by the entrance, where admission prices are stamped onto the exposed concrete of the original structure. A 90-minute session in the bath costs ¥470 for adults, ¥370 for middle-school students, and ¥180 for elementary school children. You can also buy tickets solely for the sauna or to rent towels. Unlike many other bathhouses in Japan, Koganeyu doesn't have any rules against tattoos, so inked bathers are welcome, too.
Koganeyu is open on weekdays and Sundays from 10am to 12.30am, and on Saturdays from 3pm to 12.30am. You’ll find upcoming DJ events on Koganeyu’s social media pages.
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