With Kyoto (京都) being one of the biggest cities in Japan, it is rich in history and culture. One of the places in the city that exhibit these qualities is Arashiyama (嵐山). There are many notable tourist spots in this district, like Togetsukyo Bridge (渡月橋) and Daikakuji Temple (大覚寺), that it is quite easy to overlook other interesting places.
Just a stone’s throw away from Saga-Arashiyama Station (嵯峨嵐山駅), is a peculiar but beautiful café. The reason for this is the establishment’s history. Before it was known as a modern café, this establishment was first known as a sento (銭湯) or public bathhouse. In this article, you will get to know more about Sagano-Yu café, the historic sento turned into a modern café in Arashiyama, Kyoto.
A sento is a traditional public bathhouse. It is a place where people pay a small fee to take a bath. Sento have existed in Japan for over 800 years and are considered an integral part of Japanese culture.
Public bathhouses used to be an important public service that a lot of people needed. In recent years, however, with the emergence of homes with their own private bathrooms, the sento have been in decline in Japan.
In 1923, Sagano-Yu (嵯峨野湯) was known as Sagayu, a bathhouse for the public. As with most bathhouses, Sagayu Bathhouse was known as a place for relaxation and recreation. With the declining visitor numbers for Japan’s public bathhouses, which led to the inevitable bankruptcy of the establishments, this sento may have experienced the same fate. Sagayu sento eventually closed as a public bath in 2005. But with its prime location, the interest in the location was still high, and a new life was breathed into the building. After some refurbishments, it reopened again.
This public bathhouse was renovated into a café in the year 2006. You can still see the original tiles, faucets, mirrors, and other interiors from its bathhouse days.
On the first floor are tables and chairs, the kitchen, and a gift shop. On the second floor, you can see artisan wares that are available to purchase. As you get to explore more of the café, you will notice that the calming white interior mixes well with the greenery of the plants and the wooden furniture. The mixture of all these aspects together makes it a very relaxing place for you to visit.
From Kyoto Station, go to Platform 32 or 33 and take the JR Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station. The train ride will take about 20 minutes. From Saga-Arashiyama Station, it will take you less than a minute on foot. From the station, just go to your right and you will see Sagano-Yu café right away.
Sagano-Yu café is a perfect example of traditional Japan adapting to the modern world. It is quite sad that the number of public bathhouses in Japan is declining, but it is admirable that the people wish to preserve the sento in another efficient way. Instead of demolishing a beautiful establishment and building something new, they instead chose to incorporate the new with the old.
With this concept, everyone can enjoy the aesthetics of this place. For the Japanese, they can feel the nostalgia of the sento. For the tourists, they can feel relaxed in familiar territory, with the western touch of the place, while appreciating a part of Japanese culture. If you are visiting the Sagano area, please make sure to drop by and enjoy a cup of coffee in this beautiful cafe.
Sagano-Yu Café website *Japanese only
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