The Great Shitamachi Sento Crawl, Part 2: Yudonburi-Sakaeyu

Yudonburi is the best.  In a way, that’s all that needs to be said here.  If you have the time to visit only one sento in the Shitamachi area, and you are wondering which one would be most worth your time, you can stop reading right now and just go to Yudonburi.  The directions are in English on their website.  You’re welcome.

I first heard about Yudonburi from one of my old lady friends at Jisshi-yu, a small but charming sento near Nihonbashi. When I told her that I often go to Daikoku-yu, she shook her head disapprovingly.  “Donburi is much cleaner than daikoku-yu,” she told me, “they just re-modeled and renovated the entire building.  Just go and take a look for yourself.  There is no comparison.  You’ll see.”  She then proceeded to give me directions.

Here is a map of Yu-donburi.  It is pretty impressive, and unlike Daikoku-yu there are two rotemburos, which means that the baths don’t have to rotate.

And my old-lady-friend was right: Yudonburi is cleaner than Daikoku-yu.  Daikoku-yu is nice and all, but Yudonburi is beautiful.  Every stone and tree outside is carefully placed, and every nook is picturesque.  Cleanliness is pretty important where bath houses are concerned, so this is the main reason why Yudonburi ranks above Daikoku-yu in my humble estimations.

The sauna at Yudonburi may be its most celebrated feature; my friend couldn’t stop raving about it.   As for me, though, I will tell you all about the famed sauna at Yudonburi as soon as Covid is no longer a thing.  In the meantime, here’s a picture.I’m looking forward to trying it out someday.  And while I am stealing pictures off Google, here is the kusuri-yu, which smells amazing.  (Like kanpo, but not the gross kind.)The rotemburo is particularly enticing, complete with two personal “donburi” baths.  These are there in case you have ever wondered how it feels to be cooked in a giant rice bowl filled with natural hot spring water.  (Spoiler alert: it feels amazing.)  Chilling naked on the bench by the rotemburo, it is easy to forget you are at a budget sento, and not spending all your cash on a day at LaQua.

Indeed, Yudonburi’s dominance is what happens when a sento invests less in anime collaboration gimmicks and more in what the customers actually come to enjoy, namely, an extraordinary bathing experience.

And the mizuburo is just as stunning.  The water is seriously fucking frigid, and the tiny, bubbling jets make it seem even colder.  I haven’t purposely frozen myself so thoroughly since I was stuck at a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains for 4 1/2 months at the start of the Pandemic, and took up ice swimming to calm my nerves.  (It helped.) Anyway,  Yudonburi’s mizuburo provides a delightfully mind-numbing chill, which is sure to hit the reset button on your entire nervous system.   And who doesn’t need that?Just look at it again.  You know you need this.On the social side, I would place Yudonburi a few hairs above Daikoku-yu in terms of general friendliness.  The atmosphere has a warmer feeling to it, and there is a sincere sense of welcoming towards all manner of visitors.  (This is not to be confused with omotenashi, which is lame.  Rather, I’m talking about actually considering the needs of other people, and the fact that different people have different needs.  For example, the management always leaves out water toys and bath seats for babies and young children to use.

The only real drawback to Yudonburi, is the neighborhood.

“And then you get off the bus at Yoshiwara Omon.” My old-lady-friend continued giving me directions.

“Wait what?” I stopped her.  “The Yoshiwara Omon?  Ayashikunai?” I asked.  Isn’t that a sketchy neighborhood?

Though dangerous neighborhoods scarcely exist in Tokyo to the extent that they do in, well, almost any other city in the world, I would say that Tokyo’s sleaziest area would have to be the vicinity of the former Yoshiwara Pleasure Quarter, a couple blocks up from Yudonburi.

“Oh no, it’s fine.” The older woman shrugged off my concern. “It’s just Japanese history.”

And it’s true, there is a lot of history there.  But history has a habit of catching up with us.  So if you are female and heading towards Yudonburi at night, it doesn’t matter how hard you try not to resemble a prostitute, you are bound to be propositioned by a senior citizen at some point.  Aside from that though, my old-lady-friend was right.  The neighborhood isn’t actually all that dangerous.  It just may make you feel a bit like you need a bath.

And as luck would have it, Yudonburi is there for you.

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