Sunday, November 9, 2008

Asahi Sento - A Standard Bathhouse with a Great Sauna

Asahi Sento is one of the smaller bathhouses with only 30 lockers in its narrow changing room and 13 washing stations inside the tiled room with the three bathing pools. Patrons bring their own washing materials or buy them there. I had forgotten my thin washing/drying off towel and was ready to buy or rent one, which is the normal case. Unexpectedly, the proprietor just gave me one to use and told me to leave it in the red basket. Before that happening, I guess he had warmed up to me because I had commented in Japanese that what was said on TV, 'more white people voted for McCain' was true and I further explained that this was especially true for those white males over 45 years old. I wonder why he gave me a towel to use rather than renting it. Maybe it was because I was sociable or because I was an unexpected foreigner who spoke Japanese with him.

This bathhouse is near the Hanshin Railway line and traditionally along this line and to the south, to Osaka Bay, medium and large industries were established. And, until 20 years ago, many people in this area rented an apartment without a shower or bath so they had to go out for a bath. This is not so much the case these days but a hot bath at a sento or onsen would be easier to prepare than a bath at home so some patrons still find their way to one. It is probably more popular with middle-aged people and above. Local women may find it a community center for catching up on gossip. An aged, bent-over woman with a cane and a push food cart/basket was leaving at the same time I was.

Asahi Sento has no naturally heated mineral water, only artesian well water. It is rightly called a sento, bathhouse, but with the artesian well water at natural temperature it is surely a notch above those. The natural well water changes its temperature depending on the season. The proprietor said it is now, in early November, at 18° C but it gets colder during the winter. Today, this water felt cooler than the natural pool at Nada Onsen in July but not as cold as I have experienced during the colder months.

The bath area has three hot pools which may actually be city water, and the natural artesian well water. The furthest one has three, reclining jet sprays and is at a comfortable 41° C. The center bath, with electrical panels on one side, is at 42° C. The electrical current was strong enough to exit through the arm that was out of the water touching the side of the tiled pool. Really too much for me. The deeper, nearest pool to the door is at 43° C. I saw one man get out of this pool showing a noticeable, lobster-red tone where he had been submerged. This deep red is a clear sign that the pool is a bit hot. I tried it but didn't find it so pleasant.

The Asahi bathhouse seemed below-average for this part of Kobe City but my impression of it heightened after I found the sauna: it is one of the best ones that I've discovered to date. It is a 7-meter wide, all-wood, dry sauna at about 108° C with a low level and a high level bench. I would think that six men could easily sit and watch TV there. It took me eight minutes to produce a stream of sweat flowing off but this delayed sweating might be due to soaking in the ambient 19° C pool just before. Still, it didn't seem as oppressively hot as some saunas are and it seemed a bit roomier than most, as well.

Getting there. The easiest way to find Asahi Sento is by walking east for 3-4 minutes on the south side of the Hanshin railway track from Hanshin Oishii station. It is one block south. The map is an approximation. Address: 4-5-14 Oishii higashii, Nada-ku, Kobe-shi. Phone: (078) 871-0578.

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