Public baths (sento) are essential nodes of local communities, creating warm human connections and breathing life into neighborhoods. Although the culture of communal bathing in urban Japan dates back centuries, these spaces are now disappearing from Japan’s neighborhoods at an accelerating pace.
In Tokyo alone, the number of public baths has fallen from more than 2,500 to fewer than 500 in 2020. This decline is driven by a wide range of factors, including the aging of proprietors and falling numbers of customers, building and equipment issues, and the pressure of redevelopment.
Sento & Neighborhood is a non-profit organization that seeks to highlight the social and cultural importance of these endangered common spaces and ensure their preservation into the future. We work to cultivate the potential of sento within their surrounding neighborhoods while respecting their historic character.
Through our projects, we collaborate with local communities around sento and activists around Japan to increase the social value of these spaces and find creative ways to preserve sento and their neighborhoods for the next generation.
Sento × restoration
We plan and implement restoration of sento with special care to preserve historic elements and local character of each space.
Working closely with sento owners to plan repairs and maintenance, we offer consultation and proposals for renovation, and provide support to develop new sources of revenue and ensure business sustainability. We aim to implement comprehensive plans to preserve and enhance the cultural integrity of sento and surrounding heritage.
Sento × research
With backgrounds in architecture, ethnography, and sociology, we conduct documentation and research into the role of sento in the historical development and social networks of local areas. How have public baths functioned in the city's social and cultural development, from the smallest street corner to the scale of the metropolis?
Sento × neighbors
Sento are commons embedded in the fabric of local neighborhoods and cultivated by their neighbors. Our interventions are designed to engage the surrounding context, through regular events such as markets, collaborations with nearby restaurants and shops, and the social use of nearby vacant properties, targeted to enhance the natural function of public baths as places of social gathering.
Sento × network
We collaborate with researchers, companies, NPOs, and local financial institutions, as well as sento owners and other community activists focused on restoring sento and their communities. Additionally, we leverage public resources through cooperation with municipalities and other governmental organizations.
Sento × education
Preserving sento into the future will require a new generation to take the reins at many baths. We seek to encourage and match younger entrepreneurs with public baths in need of assistance. To spread understanding of the cultural and social value of sento, we also seek to promote the value of sento as a symbol of Japanese culture overseas and help sento owners in attracting and welcoming foreign visitors.
Inari-yu restoration &
Inari-yu (Takinogawa, Kita Ward, Tokyo) was founded in 1915.
The current building was constructed in the miya-zukuri style in 1930. In 2019, Sento & Neighborhood worked closely with Inari-yu to register the building as a national tangible cultural property (one of three sento in Tokyo) and apply to the World Monuments Watch, World Monuments Fund's global program to spotlight and take action on behalf of heritage places, which resulted in its inclusion as one of 25 endangered cultural sites worldwide.
With generous support from World Monuments Fund and American Express, this project will restore and transform a century-old two-room tenement building attached to Inari-yu into a new community space and archive of sento culture. Completion is planned for 2022. About Inari-yu
Project supported by:
Sento & Neighborhood is a young and growing organization, and we welcome support from everyone who shares our interest in preserving Japan's public baths and neighborhood culture. We seek supporting members at ¥3,000 / year (¥10,000 / year for corporate members), and also appreciate donations of any amount.Become a supporting member or donate
Supporting members will receive updates from Sento & Neighborhood, copies of future publications, discounts to participate in public events such as walking tours, and invitations to special member-only events.
Donations can be made by credit card through Square below. If you have questions or wish to become a member via bank transfer, please contact us at sento.to.machi (at) gmail.com. Thank you for your support!