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Public Baths, Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan, Asia
Japan's insider take:

After World War II, most Japanese didn't have baths in their homes, and the neighborhood bathhouse, or sento, served not only as a hygienic necessity but as a social place, where you could soak in the big communal tub and visit with your neighbors. The number of bathhouses has been plummeting, so visit while you still have the chance. It's a unique cultural experience, and a great way to relax. Many have saunas as well. For a small fee, you can buy a towel, soap, and shampoo to wash before you enter the baths—rinse carefully, if any soap gets in the tubs they must be drained and then refilled. And no, they're not coed. Girls go in one entrance, boys in the other. Ask your hotel or inn for directions to the neighborhood sento. Most are open from mid-afternoon until late at night, and all day on Sundays. Entrance is usually around $3. Two of Kyoto's best known are Funaoka Onsen (82-1 Minami-Funaoka-cho, Kuramaguchi-dori, Murasakino, Kita-ku; 81-75-441-3735) and Goko-yu (590-1 Kakimoto-cho, Goji-agaru, Kuromon-dori; 81-75-841-7321).

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