Having dinner at an old bathhouse

Good morning everyone,

It's going to be overcast and chilly for the next couple of days-both today and tomorrow will see highs around 9C. It'll slowly start to warm up over the weekend and by mid-week next week, we may see highs around 16C or so. The weekend is looking mostly sunny, but there's a chance of rain on Tuesday.

For all their modern conveniences and fancy high-rise buildings, bustling urban areas like Tokyo still retain an immense wealth of old-world charm in the form of sento, or public bathhouses. These communal bathing establishments often have long histories as central gathering places for nearby residents who didn't use to have home bathing facilities, but with houses these days all having their own showers or baths, these sento are sadly declining in popularity.

In order to survive, these businesses are now adapting and changing to meet the needs of the market. For one bathhouse in Tokyo, this means converting their premises into a casual izakaya pub-style restaurant, and locals are so in love with the novel idea it’s been making headlines around the country.

▼ The new restaurant retains its “ゆ” hot water bathing sign out the front.

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Located in a popular dining district of Tokyo’s Minato Ward, the bathhouse, called “Banzai-yu”, had been serving the local community for the past 90 years. In May, it closed its doors to bathers, only to re-open them again to diners as an izakaya pub-style restaurant called “Bunbuku” at the end of November, following a classy refurbishment inside that retained a lot of the original features from the bathhouse.

At the centre of the restaurant, a beautiful painting of Mt Fuji that used to look down over bathers now acts as an eye-catching reminder of the building’s watery past. The mural itself is extra special as it was drawn by Morio Nakajima, who is well-known as one of only two fully qualified specialist sento painters of Mt Fuji in all of Japan.

▼ Diners can enjoy eating in the tiled shower area, once used by bathers as a place to clean their bodies before stepping into the baths.

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The old bath tubs are also put to good use, as unusual seating areas for diners. While the baths have been drained of water, customers can still get the feeling of being submerged with the low table seating, and enjoy the sense of eating and drinking in a place that was once filled with naked people. But I wouldn't recommend trying that now-you might get arrested.

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Many of the new restaurant’s specialities include a number of seafood dishes, including the scallop and crab steamed dumplings for Y780. Another popular recommendation for diners is the bountiful selection of fresh fish, caught in the morning and cooked to your liking.

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With prices on the menu starting at Y480, there are plenty of affordable options to choose from.

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Looking around the restaurant, even more charming reminders of the bathhouse remain, like this sign by the kitchen that reads: “Please refrain from using hair dye in the bathing area”.

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If you’re looking for an unusual place to enjoy a meal in Tokyo, it doesn’t get much more unique than this! After eating at the restaurant, diners are said to leave with a cosy, refreshed feeling, reminiscent of stepping out from a bathhouse, which is a wonderful way to maintain the beauty of a historic tradition while mixing it up with the world of modern dining.

Now all we need is a way to transport to and from Tokyo to enjoy some of these nice places...

Have a great day!


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