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Ultimate guide to sento in Arakawa

Discover the best public bathhouses and things to do in Arakawa

Written by Time Out. Paid for by Arakawa Sento Association
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Despite being relatively close to the capital's busiest districts in central Tokyo, Arakawa is surprisingly quiet and calm, with secret spots and hidden restaurants you won't find in your typical guide books. It's mostly a residential area, so naturally, there's an abundance of communal baths, also known as sento, where locals go to wind down after a hard day's work.

Communal baths are foreign to most tourists, but they're an essential part of Japanese culture, offering a space where locals and visitors can meet and interact. Entry to communal baths in Tokyo is a flat rate of ¥470 and the walls inside the baths are usually painted with impressive murals of Mt Fuji . 

Most sento introduced in this guide have been in business for over a century and even welcome bathers with tattoos. Moreover, aside from the bathhouses, we're also recommending a list of things to do in Arakawa so you can the most of your day in the neighbourhood. 

Note: The guide map, which was printed on February 17 2020, includes Togi Yokujo. Sadly, this venue has closed on March 31.

Take a bath in Arakawa

Don't chicken out

Health and beauty Spas Nippori

Teikoku-yu's gorgeous wooden architecture immediately distinguishes this venerable bathhouse from your average neighbourhood sento. In business for over a century, it's seen all sorts of visitors over the years. A bird once made it into one of the tubs, but escaped with ruffled feathers after encountering the 43°C water.  Teikoku-yu

Peek into the future of public bathing

Health and beauty Saunas and baths Arakawa

Established in 1951, Ume no Yu turned a corner 65 years later when it reopened as a certifiably modern, almost spa-like shrine to relaxation equipped with an enviable variety of baths. We love the trendy and colourful noren curtains, towels and T-shirts – and they have craft beer, too.  Ume no Yu

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Score some spooky sweets

Shopping Nippori

Cute and quirky Japanese sweets are the speciality of this wagashi shop with an impish sense of humour. Its Yokai Daifuku, bean paste-filled rice cakes shaped to resemble ghosts, are inspired by Yanaka Cemetery nearby – each one has a whole strawberry, apricot, or other seasonal treat stuffed in its mouth.  Edo Usagi

Discover a new jet lag remedy

Health and beauty Machiya

The cryptically named Time Resort entices passers-by with a gaudy neon sign and a mysterious ‘radon bath’ that appears wine-coloured thanks to its shimmering red tiles. After entering, close the door behind you and soak away – the sauna-like effect is supposed to be a potent cure for lingering tiredness.

The resident shiba inu, Hachi, will greet you if you visit early enough, but he's usually a bit wary since a traumatic incident in his younger days when he was bitten by a pug. Time Resort
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Beat the heat

Health and beauty Machiya

If you like your baths hot and your Mt Fuji murals majestic, there's no going wrong with this time-honoured sento that still uses a wood-burning boiler. All three tubs at Nozaki Yokujo are heated to a stiff 43°C, which can feel a bit steamy for first-timers. Nozaki Yokujo

Lie down under Mt Fuji

Health and beauty Arakawa

Spotless and functional, Yu-Land is ideal for larger bathers: both the main tub, which features extra-powerful jets, and the rotenburo (open-air bath), complete with a recently repainted mural of Mt Fuji, are spacious enough to stretch yourself out in. A basic sauna and a cold tub complete the package. Yu Land

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Rehydrate with a Hoppy

Bars and pubs Arakawa

Thirsty after a hot bath? Make a beeline for the Ume no Yu sento's very own pub, where the people's drink of choice is Hoppy, a beer-like carbonated beverage usually mixed with shochu. The strong bit is called ‘naka’, so just ask for that when you need a refill. Umekyo

Slip into a hidden oasis

Health and beauty Machiya

Kodakara-yu can be a bit hard to find – there's no sign out front – but this charmingly retro spot is well worth seeking out, if only for the old-school massage chairs and wood-framed mirrors in the changing rooms. The water temperature varies by bath and ranges from 39°C to 42°C.. Kodakara-yu

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Mix up a beautifying bath

Health and beauty Machiya

Take no Yu stands strong in between two noticeably modern buildings, attracting bathers with a dry mini-sauna and milky waters said to work wonders on the skin. The baths are quite hot, so do remember to mix some cold water into the tub of your choice before getting in. Take no Yu

Bathe like an Edoite

Health and beauty Nishi-Nippori

Said to help improve circulation and relieve back pain, the brown-coloured ‘medicinal’ bath at Chitose-yu is tried and tested: it's based on a recipe from the Edo period (1603-1868). There's free-to-use shampoo and conditioner, and towel rental is included in the entrance fee. Chitose-yu

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Bathe your way back in time

Health and beauty Machiya

Boasting a vaguely castle-like entrance, a certifiably retro interior and almost 70 years of history, Yamato-yu is a real blast from the past, where the basic but comfy baths are kept steamy with a wood-burning boiler. A resident turtle hangs out in the tiny garden on the men’s side. Yamato-yu

Go tub-hopping

Health and beauty Arakawa

Low on décor, high on variety – if you care less about frills and more about the core sento experience, New Ebisu is your spot. Its deep, L-shaped tubs are split into several sections, including an ‘ultrasound’ bath, and there’s even a small steam sauna. New Ebisu

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Partake in the future of Machiya

Restaurants Machiya

Run by a local nonprofit, this expansive and welcoming café-restaurant attracts a diverse clientele, ranging from families with young kids to local creatives. The place has sizeable screens for watching sports and offers free, reliable wi-fi. Tokyo Local Base

千代の湯
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Tend to tired legs

Health and beauty Arakawa

Hidden away on the ground floor of an apartment building, Chiyo no Yu features cat-themed noren curtains and a spacious ‘medicinal’ tub, the mineral-rich water of which relieves muscle and joint pain. The ¥500 entrance fee includes towel rental, and shampoo and conditioner are also provided. Chiyo no Yu

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Set out on a fabric hunt

Shopping Nippori

Fans of fabric designs from all over the world flock to this one-kilometre stretch of street where more than 90 textile stores carry both Japanese and Western fabrics at surprisingly low prices. You'll also find an endless variety of buttons and other accessories. Nippori Fabric Town

Get the best of both worlds

Health and beauty Machiya

Reopened in December 2018, Daimon-yu mixes the traditional (imposing entrance, tall chimney) with the contemporary (a clean, polished interior). The refreshing ‘lemon bath’, sakura-themed Mt Fuji mural, and cute goldfish tiles on the bottom of the tubs are particular highlights. Daimon-yu

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藤の湯
Keisuke Tanigawa

Soak among sea life

Health and beauty Arakawa

It doesn't look extraordinary, but Fuji no Yu is a wonderfully homey sento with helpful and welcoming staff and an aquarium-themed tile mural that's one of the cutest we've come across. The herbal bath is changed up daily, encouraging repeat visits. Fuji no Yu

Hit up a reborn classic

Health and beauty Nippori

One of the longest-operating bathhouses in all of Tokyo, the 80-year-old Saito-yu received a comprehensive makeover in 2015, when it also launched its own line of totes, towels and other cute merchandise. The five tubs, including the microbubble-rich, ‘silky’ rotenburo (open-air bath), are all suitable for bathers with sensitive skin. Saito-yu

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Dine among dinosaurs

Restaurants Machiya

The already high entertainment factor of an okonomiyaki meal gets turned up to eleven at this dinosaur-themed joint, where paintings of prehistoric beasts stare at you from the walls, the menu features dishes such as ‘Edmontosaurus’ and ‘Pteranodon’, and the owner, when in the right mood, treats unsuspecting diners to a mechanised ‘dinosaur show’. Okonomiyaki 110

Opt for a silky soak

Health and beauty Arakawa

Kanda-yu has been a fixture of its neighbourhood since the ’70s and shows no signs of slowing down: the latest addition to its tub repertoire is a microbubble-rich ‘silk bath’ that’s said to both improve your circulation and smoothen your skin. The free-to-use rubber ducks are a nice touch, too. Kanda-yu

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Tuck into secret sashimi

Restaurants Nishi-Nippori

Former martial artist and World Order frontman Genki Sudo's seafood store looks much like your average fishmonger but hides a 30-seat restaurant in the back, where you can pair super-fresh fish with quality sake. The hearty kaisendon (sashimi over rice, ¥980) is especially good value. Genki na Sakanaya-san

Koganeyu
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Learn from the locals

Health and beauty Nippori

Regulars fill this simple neighbourhood bathhouse every evening, but are more than happy to welcome newbies into their midst. This sense of community is Kogane-yu's greatest asset, though we do like the warm light of the ageless signboard too. Note that the sauna is currently out of order. Kogane-yu

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Unwind beneath a masterpiece

Health and beauty Nippori

It's one of the least modern bathhouses around – think push-button taps instead of showers – but Unsuisen has plenty to see for art buffs. The highlight is a vivid twin mural that features Mt Fuji on the men's side and the Yatsugatake peaks on the women's, painted by the late great sento mural master Toshimitsu Hayakawa. Unsuisen

ジョイフル三ノ輪
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Grab a snack on the go

Shopping Arakawa

Being able to fill up on the cheap is one of the joys of a shotengai (traditional shopping street): you won't go hungry with ¥500 at Joyful Minowa, where a rice ball can be had for ¥100 and a set of eight gyoza dumplings for ¥330. Joyful Minowa

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大勝湯
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Take a one-room hot spring tour

Health and beauty Arakawa

Situated along the Joyful Minowa shopping street, Taisho-yu offers a miniature circuit of some of Japan's most renowned hot springs: the onsen room behind the tile mural features baths with water from high-end resorts such as Kusatsu in Gunma and Wakura Onsen on the Noto Peninsula. Taisho-yu

Have dessert at the noodle shop

Restaurants Ramen Nippori

This ‘noodle izakaya’ unites two unlikely bedfellows in its ramen and anmitsu set (¥780): you can choose a bowl of either shio or shoyu ramen to go with your serving of translucent jelly, sweet bean paste, seasonal fruits and black sugar syrup. The fruit-packed whisky highballs are worth a punt, too. Futabaya

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Kounoyu
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Traverse stormy waters

Health and beauty Minowa

A steep step up from your average jacuzzi, the main bath at Kou no Yu is equipped with punchy ‘Body Power Jets’ that keep the tub in a constant state of upheaval. If you don't mind the waves, a soak here makes for a unique experience. Kou no Yu

Kusatsuyu
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Push all the right buttons

Health and beauty Minami-Senju

Heated with a wood-burning boiler, the baths at Kusatsu-yu can feel a bit hot at first but work wonders on tired joints – especially if you take advantage of the button-activated jacuzzi and jet functions. The handsome Mt Fuji mural is the work of Mizuki Tanaka, the only female sento-e artist in Japan. Kusatsu-yu

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Loosen up the old-fashioned way

Health and beauty Arakawa

A local institution watched over by a charming receptionist, Kiraku-yu gets crowded early, so you may have to wait for a chance to scrub yourself down before bathing. Some of the tubs are equipped with a ghastly-looking but actually quite effective massage contraption that works wonders on stiff shoulders. Kiraku-yu

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