Electric Sento

Near Ebisus’s there is a small sento or public bath. A sento follows the same principle as an onsen – another type of public bath – but there are small differences: The biggest one is that a sento does not draw its water from its own well. Sento use normal tap water which does not have any minerals in it. Also, traditionally, a sento consists of an entrance/changing room and then the bathroom with at least one large tub. The facilities for men and women are next to each other, mirrored along a separating wall – which does not reach to the ceiling! So, you can hear what’s going on on the other side. Modern sento are almost sterile and boring affairs with white tiling all over, but I have seen old ones with beautiful paintings on the walls – and a considerably lower separating wall…

Image of a sento
Image of a traditional sento - the women's side - from an old book

The other day I went, one of my housemates in tow, to said sento nearby Ebisu’s. It had four adjacent tubs, all with the same water temperature (onsen usually have several, differently tempered tubs). One tub was scented with lemon (the smell of the week), there was a large and deep normal tub and one Jacuzzi style, also relatively common.

However, I have never before encountered a tub with electrified water. It was a very small one only, meant for one person, and, at the left and right walls, about 20 cm under the water level, there were some type of pads, maybe 12 x 60 cm in size. Between them, a current was flowing. The feeling when passing through was … strange, scary almost.

At first, there was only a small tingly sensation on the skin. Standing right in the middle of the pads though, the current forces the muscles to contract. It is nearly impossible to voluntarily counteract this contraction, and I am not sure this is entirely owed to a lack of strength on my part. It’s not really painful, or not meant to be, but it is an odd feeling if your body is doing something you cannot influence one way or the other.

Personally I found the experience interesting, but I will not repeat it again very soon. Unfortunately I have had some problems with my hip for quite some time now, which has certainly been aggravated by sitting on the floor and running around for days on end… When I passed through the current, my hip muscles contracted involuntarily, there was a sharp pain – and now walking around is more painful than before and I will need to take even more frequent breaks on my trips through town… Well, good to know that this kind of electric shock therapy is not doing me any good.