Students from Segawa nursery school visit a "sento" public bathhouse for bathing education in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, on June 23. (Mari Endo)

IKEDA, Osaka Prefecture--Grown-ups are doing their best to convince their little children in this region that the shrinking public bath culture of Japan is well worth saving.

A movement to educate the children on how to take a public bath as an extracurricular activity at nursery schools, kindergartens and elementary schools is gaining in popularity in Osaka Prefecture.

On June 23, a class of 30 4-year-olds visited Satsukiyu, a “sento” bathhouse here, before its usual opening time. They were from Segawa nursery school in neighboring Mino city.

Each was carrying a towel and fresh clothing to change into, all wrapped in a “furoshiki” cloth. They carried coins for the bathing fee in a little purse made from origami paper.

The pupils plant-dyed the furoshiki and made the purses by themselves for the special public bath visit.

The name furoshiki literally originated from a piece of cloth used to take things to public bathhouses and which was then put on the floor to stand on so kimono would not be soiled when dressing.

After they washed each other’s backs, they soaked in a big bath that was as deep as their shoulder height and also dipped themselves into a special herbal bath.

Once they were clean and fresh, the pupils toasted with a small bottle of milk in the lobby, drinking it all up in one gulp.

It is all part of the “public bathing education” program the association of public baths in Osaka Prefecture is promoting, targeting preschoolers and first- and second-graders of elementary schools. Such bathing tutorials are now offered at 53 bathhouses in the prefecture.

The idea of bathing education came about two years ago when the association invited entries for a children’s drawing competition of sento, and the children could not draw pictures of sento as they “have never been to one.”

Many of the young children attending the bathing workshops have never used public baths. So, before they are separated into boys and girls, they are taught manners and rules of taking a bath at sento using picture story cards.

The cards explains basic things that need to be done, such as taking their undies off in the changing room before entering the bathroom, washing their body before soaking in the tub and wiping excess water off the body before going back to the changing room.

“While having fun visiting a sento, pupils learn self-management and living skills such as preparing the necessary items to take and learning bathing rules and etiquette at communal baths,” said Kayo Kakei, 56, directer of Segawa nursery school.

By teaching young children the manners and joy of freshening up at a public bath, the sento association is also hoping they might return with their parents in the future.