Asia

Sento bathhouse gets a new lease on life as a Tokyo cafe and office space

A very unique place to telework and surprise your colleagues during online meetings.

Public bathhouses, or “sento”, as they’re known in Japanese, used to be a thriving business back in the day, when people didn’t have baths or showers installed at home. These days, there’s not a lot of demand for public bathing anymore, and in Tokyo alone, the number of sento in operation has dropped from 963 in 2006 to just 499 in 2020.

One of the public baths that had to close their doors was a Taito Ward bathhouse called Kaisaiyu, which had been looking after local patrons for years in a beautiful 90-year-old building. It was a sad day in 2017 when Kaisaiyu turned the taps off at their bathhouse, but thankfully its history lives on, as it reopened in July 2020 as a cafe, which retains a lot of the original charm from its bathhouse days.

Rebranded with the name “rébon Kaisaiyu”, the cafe’s interior includes original features from the bathhouse’s Showa-era (1926-1989) heyday, with wooden ceilings, shoe racks, old clocks, and a grand mural of Mt Fuji.

▼ Murals of Mt Fuji were commonly painted in bath areas to help spirit bathers away to a holiday resort setting.

Now, the cafe is offering a special plan so that visitors can reserve areas of the cafe entirely to themselves, opening up the chance for the space to be used for private events or even cosplay photography. There are three rental plans available, offering either exclusive use of the cafe space, formerly the bathhouse dressing room, the office space, formerly the bathhouse, or the entire building.

▼ The cafe space has kitchen facilities and includes six tables and 16 chairs, plus a refrigerator and microwave.

Next to the cafe space is the office space, featuring the mural of Mt Fuji, which comes with eight tables, 15 chairs and a whiteboard. The cafe and office areas can be rented separately at an hourly rate of 5,500 yen (US$50.05) each, or together for 11,000 yen per hour.

There are discounts of up to 50 percent for people hiring the space for two consecutive days or more, and hourly rental times for the office and the whole building can be arranged via consultation with staff. The cafe is open to the public from 12 p.m.-7 p.m., so in principle this area can only be rented between the hours of 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. or 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Whether you choose to stop by the cafe for a beverage or handmade ice cream, or rent out the space for an exhibition or private event, rébon Kaisaiyu is waiting to greet you and help spirit you away to a bygone era. It’s heartening to see Japan’s sento culture being preserved in such a unique way, and hopefully the cafe will have more success than this sento-turned izakaya, which sadly closed its doors last year.

Cafe information
rébon Kaisaiyu / レボン快哉湯
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Shitaya 2-17-11
東京都台東区根岸3-6-23-12
Hours: 12:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. (weekdays) 11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. (Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays)
Closed irregularly
Website

Images: PR Times
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