THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
August 15, 2020 at 07:00 JST
MAIZURU, Kyoto Prefecture--This city, with a seaside district likened to Venice, will soon make history in the bathing industry.
The Hinodeyu “sento” public bathhouse, which will mark its 100th anniversary this year, is set to be designated as a tangible cultural asset.
That would make Maizuru the first municipality in Japan with multiple operating sento on the registration list, according to the Cultural Affairs Agency.
The Hinodeyu sento is located in the Yoshihara district, which has flourished as a fishing town since the Edo Period (1603-1867).
The district, facing Maizuru Bay, features boats and waterways behind houses, leading to comparisons with the canal-lined city in Italy.
A red and white striped fabric banner hanging from the eaves of the gable-roofed sento distinguishes it from the traditional “machiya” townhouses on a narrow street.
Customers entering the building by ducking under “noren” shop curtains can expect Ichiro Takahashi, 71, to greet them with “okini” (thank you) in the local dialect from the counter located between the sento’s sections for men and women.
The fee is 450 yen ($4.30) for adults to use the bathing facilities.
The changing room has an old-fashioned massage chair that was installed 60 years ago and still functions at a charge of 10 yen per use.
The sento does not sell coffee-flavored milk at the room as a typical bathhouse does, but it has a retro feel.
Takahashi said the bathroom was initially built with stones, but they were replaced with tiles during renovation work around 70 years ago.
The soft hot water in a bathtub in the center of the bathroom eases tension in all parts of the body. The light of dusk can be seen in a skylight that has been there since the sento opened, according to Takahashi.
The sento draws riverbed water that flows from nearby Gorogatake mountain, which overlooks Maizuru Bay.
“Customers often say the water is soft and makes them feel relaxed,” Takahashi said.
‘HINODEYU USED TO BE PACKED WITH FISHERMEN’
The sento building, which was originally a communal bath in the town, was constructed in 1917. Takahashi’s grandfather took over the bath and opened it as a sento in October 1920.
The current manager is Takahashi’s mother Tsuya, 96. Takahashi began helping her run the sento after he retired from teaching at an elementary school 11 years ago.
“Hinodeyu used to be crowded with many fishermen,” Takahashi said, recalling those days. “They talked so loudly that people mistakenly believed they were quarreling. The fishermen were full of energy.”
The Council for Cultural Affairs on July 17 recommended the sento to the culture minister for registration as a national tangible cultural asset because its appearance blends in with the surrounding landscape.
Wakanoyu, another sento in Maizuru that opened in 1903, was designated as a tangible cultural asset in 2018.
Many fans visit both sento. The city was home to 20 or so sento in the 1960s, but only the two sento remain today, according to the city government.
“It’s natural for me to run Hinodeyu,” Takahashi said. “I was really surprised and delighted at the news since I’d never thought it would be a cultural asset. I feel like I’ve received huge encouragement to cherish the sento.”
HUNDREDS OF KYOTO PREFECTURE STRUCTURES ON LIST
Along with Hinodeyu, 16 other structures in Kyoto Prefecture were also recommended for registration as national tangible cultural assets. Their listing would bring the total number in the prefecture to 608.
Among the 16 recommended structures are the main building of the house of Japanese painter Kijiro Ota (1883-1951), which doubles as an atelier in Kyoto’s Kamigyo Ward, and the former front gate and stone wall of schools operated by Koka Women’s Educational Institution in Kyoto’s Ukyo Ward.
Based in the Kansai region, Ota painted landscapes of Japan. His house was built in 1924. Famed architect Koji Fujii designed the main part of the wooden two-story structure.
The two were colleagues who taught at the department of architecture at Kyoto Imperial University, which is now Kyoto University.
Fujii’s early style can be seen in a tatami-matted space in one corner of a Western-style room and built-in lighting on a coffered ceiling made with “shoji” paper screen.
The atelier, designed by Ota and added to the house in 1931, has a large north window that can take in a stable amount of light.
The former front gate and stone wall in Kyoto’s Ukyo Ward were built around 1941, when a school building was constructed. The gate features a Japanese-style design with hollowed-out concrete copestones placed on the top of the gateposts.
(This article was written by Naoki Okubo and Rikako Takai.)
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