Traditional Sento Public Bathhouse Opens Branch in Harajuku, Tokyo’s Youth Culture, Fashion Hub

Courtesy of Kosugiyu
Interior of Kosugiyu Harajuku

A sento public bathhouse has opened in Harajuku, the center of Japanese youth culture and fashion in Tokyo, aiming to pass on the traditional bathing culture to the next generation.

The bathhouse is located on the first basement floor of the new commercial complex Tokyu Plaza Harajuku, which is nicknamed “Harakado.”

Called Kosugiyu Harajuku, the new bathhouse is a branch of Kosugiyu, which is a long-established business in Suginami Ward, Tokyo. The facility started operations on April 17 and was open exclusively to residents and workers in the Jingumae district where the commercial complex is located during the pre-opening period through Sunday. On Monday, the bathhouse opened to the public during certain hours.

“I’ll strive to make it a community sento in Harajuku that is loved by many people,” said Yusuke Hiramatsu, 44, the third-generation owner of Kosugiyu

Kosugiyu was founded in the Koenji district in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, in 1933. Its building with a classical “miyazukuri” design is registered by the central government as a tangible cultural asset.

Hiramatsu became the owner of the bathhouse in 2016 and incorporated it the following year. He has created various community-based human networks and unique projects based on the bathhouse, such as a project using vacant apartments and an online salon for reviving the sento culture.

“In the eight years since I became the owner, I’ve realized that sento are in demand by society,” Hiramatsu said. “At the same time, it has been difficult as I was unable to set up a financial foundation to maintain and pass on sento to future generations.”

Then, Hiramatsu received an offer from Tokyu Land Corp., the operator of the Harakado commercial complex, to open a sento in the Harajuku complex.

It was 2021 and the coronavirus pandemic was raging. Hiramatsu found the offer challenging and decided to accept it, thinking he would prove that the public bathhouse culture could stimulate the community’s economy. He then spent three years designing the sento.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yusuke Hiramatsu, the third-generation owner of Kosugiyu, says that he wants the new sento in Tokyo’s Harajuku area to be loved by people in the community.

Steamy dreams of Mt. Fuji

The Harajuku sento has six bathtubs, three each for men and women. In addition to a “milk bath” and “alternately taking hot and cold baths,” both of which are specialties of Kosugiyu, it also has an indoor space for relaxing. A must-see is its painting on the wall of Mt. Fuji, a typical image found at sento, created by an artist specializing in sento paintings.

The theme of the first basement floor of the Harakado commercial complex is a “city having a public bath at its center.” Cosmetics companies, sporting goods makers and breweries have joined as partners so visitors can enjoy their products along with taking baths.

Hiramatsu said, “Community public bathhouses created with companies will become a new model case.”

Kosugiyu Harajuku, which is located underground, did not meet the criteria for traditional “ordinary public bathhouses,” but was approved under the criteria for “other public bathhouses” that include “super sento” deluxe public bathhouses. Still, the cost is ¥520 for adults, ¥200 for children ages 6 to 11 and ¥100 for children under 6, on par with the Tokyo metropolitan government’s fees for public bathhouses.

As Harajuku is a youth culture mecca, the new bathhouse is expected to attract young people who have never been to traditional sento public bathhouses and overseas tourists.

“I hope Kosugiyu Harajuku will become a gateway to the public bathhouse culture for a wide range of people,” Hiramatsu said.

Kosugiyu Harajuku is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. but is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The business hours from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. are exclusive for residents, workers, and people who go to schools or are staying at hotels in the Jingumae and neighboring districts. The admission policy may change from August.