[6] The Sentou in the Taisho and Showa Periods


In the beginning of the Taisho Period, the “improved bath” evolved again with the wood being replaced with ceramic tiles. The use of tiles among the common folk began during the first years of the Taisho Period. It was perhaps first seen used in show windows, on barber shop floors and on the walls of sinks. Tiles were also used decoratively on the exteriors of brothels. Of course, in the Sentou as well, tiles were used on all surfaces, from the walls to the floor to the bath tub as well. In Tokyo, from the 12th Year of the Taisho period (1923) just after the Great Kanto Earthquake in which most of Tokyo burnt to the ground, all sentou were reconstructed with tiles. The use of white tiles began during the second half of the Taisho Period. In the second year of the Showa Period (1927), the use of the “KARAN” faucet began in the bathing area, leading to an improvement in hygiene.


The Sentou During, and After World War Two


In the 16th year of the Showa Era (1941), on the 8th of December, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, immediately leading to war with the United States and the other Allied Forces. Because the Japanese government required all able men to fight in the war, many Sentou owners and workers went off to the front lines, leaving only the women to manage the establishments. During the war, there was another edict requiring all citizens to hand over all metal articles to the army for the manufacture of weapons, including air planes, Ships and bullets. Business hours of the Sentou were also limited, and additionally, business was often suddenly halted due to air raids and other corresponding alerts. The year the war began, there were 2,796 Sentou bathhouses in Tokyo. When the war ended in the 20th year of the Showa Era (1945), those Sentou that were not destroyed numbered approximately 400. When the war ended, some of the Sentou resorted again to communal bathing, but due to the fact that many had been destroyed during the war it resulted in them always being very crowded. Certain people took advantage of the resulting lack of space, stealing from other bathers, which lead to a generally negative atmosphere in the Sentou. During the 30s of the Showa Era (1955-1964) the number of Sentou suddenly increased, becoming one of the most important places for the post war population.


The Contemporary Sentou in Japan


In the late 40s of the Showa Era (1965-1970), a trend began towards the installation of showers in the Sentou. During those same years, many private homeowners began to install bathrooms as well. If we examine the Sentou in Tokyo, in the 43rd year of the Showa Era (1968), there were as many as 2,687 Sentou bathhouses. This number has been gradually decreasing so that at the time of writing this article, Heisei 22 (2010), the number of Sentou establishments is 800; which is less than half than when the Sentou was in its most prosperous period. Presently however, the Sentou has more modern features, for example, Sauna Rooms, Jacuzzi Jets and open air bathes that have brought about a new era of Sentou enjoyment. Consequently of course, the Contemporary Sentou provides a much larger bathing space with more to offer than most private homes. Clientele seeking these extras are on the rise. Even though the number of Sentou has decreased, there is, and always has been no better place for relaxation for us, the Japanese.