What better reprieve is there from the hustle and bustle of Japanese city life than a trip to the local public bath house (sento)? Such is the focus of Toshizo Hirose, who has made it his life’s work to depict the unique characteristics of bath houses all across Japan in an equally unique medium: stamps.
Each of Hirose’s stamp designs depicts an individual bath house in Japan with a particular focus on the bath house’s unique features: a stunning mural of Mount Fuji, a stately front entrance, a water spout in the shape of a lion’s head. By highlighting these specific quirks, Hirose hopes to inspire others to visit local public bath houses more frequently. In fact, traditional bath houses are disappearing in Japan, where one public bath house goes out of business about once a week.
Last month, Hirose held two exhibitions in Tokyo of his stamp designs intended to generate interest in local public bath houses. The first, a partnership with the Tokyo Sento Association, included stamps Hirose created for the 22 public bath houses in Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward, which has the second-highest ratio of bath houses to residents in Tokyo. The second exhibition showcased roughly 100 stamps of individual bath houses all across Tokyo, representing what Hirose describes as a “sento pilgrimage.” Visitors can even embark on their own sento pilgrimages by collecting stamps from each bath house featured in Hirose’s designs.