Sentos, or Japanese communal baths, have a long history in the country. Interestingly they where first used in Buddhist temples in India, then spread to China, and finally introduced to Japan in the Nara period. Visiting a sento will introduce you to a deep cultural and traditional Japanese experience.
Any sento you visit, there are two important factors to consider. First, in case you have a tattoo, double check if they are accepted. Many of them still refuse people with tattoos. The original reason was to keep away the yakuza or members of the Japanese mafia.
Second, is very important to follow the proper etiquette while visiting the facilities. Customers might get upset if not. Given that is a public bath, is very important to wash yourself before going into any of the pools. Make sure to completely remove all soap and shampoo from your body. Consider as well that everyone inside the sento will be completely naked. Men and women are divided.
As soon as you arrive to the sento, pay your entrance fee. On average expect to pay ¥450. Take off your shoes and head to changing room. Undress and leave all your clothes and belongings in one of the available lockers. Just take your toiletries with you. In case you don’t have any, you can buy them (around ¥200 for shampoo or soap).
Head towards the bathing area. You will find small stools and buckets in front of a washing station. Choose one available, sit down, fill your bucket with the hot and cold faucets. Pour the water all over your body and bathe as you would do normally. After completely washing yourself, you are good to go to any of the pools or sauna. Just relax and enjoy.
There are many types of bathtubs. They might differ on the temperature, on the style of whirlpools, or on the type of water being used. You might even find denki buro (electric bath). I tried it and felt I was receiving electric shocks, however many of the customers seem to really enjoy it.
After spending as much time as you want switching from one pool to another, take a final bath sitting on your stool. Go to the dressing room, dry yourself, and enjoy the final step of the sento tradition. Sit down at a chair or couch and get a tea or refreshing drink from one of the vending machines. Many sentos have massage chairs, which would make a perfect ending of a relaxing shower.
Although most of the sentos open since early morning to late night, I personally prefer to go at night. After spending so much time in the hot water and having a long shower, I can go to sleep almost immediately!
I recommend the sento I visited in Wakayama City. It had a very traditional and local feeling. Additionally, there is no problem if you have tattoos. Koufuku-Yu is located at the Shintori district at Kitakyukamachi street.