All you need to know about the communal bathing experience in Tokyo can be answered by Stephanie Crohin—sento aficionado and creator of Dokodemo Sento.
[Editor’s note: Stephanie’s first language is not English. If you’re not reading the interview with a French accent, you’re reading it wrong. 🙂 ]
How long have you been in Tokyo and where were you before?
I am now in Tokyo for almost 3 years but it is the 2nd time I am living in Tokyo. I spent a year as an exchange student at Rikkyo University in 2008/2009 where I was studying sociology and literature, then after a master degree in France I worked almost 2 years in Djibouti, Africa. Almost 3 years ago I had again an opportunity in Japan so I came back to work in Tokyo.
What brought you to Japan/Tokyo?
The first time I was studying Japanese and especially literature that I really like. This time I went back in Tokyo because I had a job opportunity.
Tell us a bit about your work life in Tokyo.
I am actually working as a PR and also doing marketing in an organic and natural cosmetics company. It is a Japanese company so my daily working life is exclusively in Japanese. Except that I am also writing about sento and doing some events, and guiding people who want to experience sento. I am also drawing postcards I am exposing in my favorite bakery in Tokyo.
Briefly describe a typical day in your life?
From Monday to Wednesday I am in the office from 10am to 7pm. As I really like (and need) green space I am enjoying often Aoyama Gakuin park for the lunch time. After work I have some other freelance jobs time to time and also many activities such practicing yoga, going to sento on my own or with friends. From Thursday to Sunday some freelance jobs, sento shooting for Tokyo Sento and discover some places I don’t know yet is one of my favorite activity in Tokyo.
What do you like most and least about Tokyo?
You can never get bored in Tokyo. For sure I really like to explore Tokyo’s sento, there are almost 650 publics bath in Tokyo so it will takes me some time to experience all. I also really enjoy art and photography exhibition as well as architecture. I really avoid places such as Shinjuku, Omotesando, Harajuku, Shibuya as much as possible and especially on weekends as I am really uneasy in crowded places.
What’s your biggest expense?
That’s for sure rent and facilities expenses. I am very careful with my expenses so I don’t like to spend money for partying when I can I really enjoy going on a trip. For example last year I went for 10 days in The Yaeyama islands only with my bag and no plan. It was one of my best travel.
What do you blow out money on (i.e. what’s the fruit of all your cheapo savings)?
What are your top three Tokyo cheapo tips?
-Avoid commuting a lot (I prefer to walk 1 or 2 stations if I can save a ticket).
-Buy food with a short the best before date, the products are often sold with 30-50 % off.
-Have lunch in universities cafeteria.
Why should someone visit a sento?
Sento are an affordable mini paradise in Tokyo, at only 460 yen. Sento are great for beauty and health, for me it is the best place to relax after work, but also to go before a date. They are also a great place for communication, you can easily talk with people in the bath (it is not the same in super sento) as the customers are most of people living near the sento and coming almost every day, I had great encounters in sento.
I also really recommend it for people who like design and art. Each sento is a personal and family business with its own “personality’’. You can admire great Fuji-san mural but also various mosaic art, Japanese garden…the architecture is also very different all the time as well so each sento I visit is a surprise.
Are there different kinds of sento?
I am talking about only sento, the city one, at 460 yen in Tokyo (prices is slightly different according to the city). I could classify 3 types of sento (it is non official):
– The very traditional one, most of them are in traditional Japanese bath with a ‘bandai’ (old style desk entrance in the middle of women and men’s baths), with retro stylish tiles and a beautiful mural of Fuji-san. Example of one of these sento with a video by Tokyodouga in which I was interviewed.
– The one which have been renewed 30,20 or 10 years ago, with an 80’s or 90’s kitschy design that make the charm of the place, such as Azuma-yu.
– The designer’s sento, recently renewed in a very modern and design way,such as Shimizu-yu or Fuku no yu.
What are your top sento picks in Tokyo?
- Tsuru no yu, located at 7-4-16, Kita Koiwa, Edogawa-ku
- Shinsei yu near Hatanodai
- Nakonobu Kinenyu near Hatanodai
- Hotta yu near Nishiarai
- Matsu no yu in Nishi-Waseda
Where can people/stalkers find out more about you?
For more information about sento such as sento glossary, a presentation about the paint, the bath event, bath etiquette, and I introduce in detail some sento I pick in Tokyo: