[5] Prohibition of the Communal Bath / The Sentou in the Meiji Period


As mentioned previously, “YUNA” were completely outlawed in 1841, but it was also at this time that an edict prohibiting communal bathing was declared. In the 12th Year of the Meiji Period (1879) an edict banning the ZAKUROGUCHI was also announced. However, both features of Sentou culture continued for a number of years, the use of the ZAKUROGUCHI lasting until around 1912. As for communal bathing, Commodore Perry states in his NIHONENSEIKI that during both of his visits to Japan in 1853 and 1854, he observed the custom of communal bathing, emphasizing the lack of morals among the local population. This influenced the TOKUGAWA SHOGUNATE to once more declare the prohibition of communal bathing in the Edo, Yokohama and Osaka areas. The custom of communal bathing finally disappeared in the 23rd Year of the Meiji Period (1890) when children older than 7 Years old were prohibited from bathing with the opposite sex. The Meiji Period began in the year 1868 and at the same time the name of Edo was changed to Tokyo (eastern capital). In the 10th year of the Meiji Period (1877) a revolutionary event occurred in Sentou culture. In the Kanda ward of Tokyo, a completely new style of Sentou appeared. The narrow entrance of the ZAKUROGUCHI disappeared, while the floor of the bathtub was constructed so that it was lower than the floor of the Sentou. The ceiling of the bathing area was raised so that it was more than twice as high, rendering the walls much higher as well. Since the Emphasis was on hot water bathing as opposed to steam bathing, small windows close to the ceiling were installed to allow for the escape of the steam. This type of high ceiling Sentou became the norm and was called, “KAIRYOBURO” (improved bath). However, even though this Sentou was considered “improved,” lighting during the evenings was supplied by oil lamps and the floors of both the bathing area and the bath tub itself were made of wood. There were no faucets at the time and all hot water had to be taken from the bath tub. This “improved bath tub” was common until the middle of the Taisho Period (approx.1922). The bath tub was approximately 3 by 3 meters square, while the depth was approximately 1.2 meters. The bathing area was approximately 5.4 by 5.4 meters. According to one source, there were about 1021 Sentou in Tokyo in the 13th year of the Meiji Period (1880). In the following year, the government established guidelines for fire hazard safety standards, consequently and effectively lowering the number of operating Sentou establishments to 908.