all photos by Kohei Yamamoto
Public baths, or sento as their called in Japan, are a dying breed. Their beloved architecture, endearing interiors and murals of Mt. Fuji have not been enough to maintain the flow of customers and keep them alive. It’s said that in Tokyo every week another sento goes bust. One of those was Miyanoyu, located in the Nezu district of Tokyo.
Miyanoyu was built roughly 70-years ago in post-war Japan as the country was emerging from rubble. And over the span of several decades it delighted patrons but slowly fell into disrepair and was forced to close its doors for good.
But for the historically-conscious owners, bulldozing the building was something they wanted to avoid at all costs. So to preserve this relic of history they turned to Kenchiku Saikou Kikaku, an architecture firm specializing in renovating and repurposing buildings that have fallen out of building code and bringing them back up to standard.
After a lengthy renovation, the Miyanoyu art gallery and cafe opened during the summer of 2020. Tokyo is also home to Scai the Bathhouse, another contemporary art gallery built in an old sento. Miyanoyu, however, decided to go in a slightly different direction, charging a cover charge of 1300 yen (which included a drink) and combining the concepts of gallery and cafe. Miyanoyu has also chosen to preserve much of the smaller details of the sento such as lockers, faucets and even the buckets patrons would use to bathe themselves.
Photos seen here are from an Okazaki Ryunosuke exhibition, which has since ended. You can check the Miyanoyu website for current exhibitions.