Large public bath (Ichinoyu) in Kinosaki Onsen
In the past, many homes in Japan were not equipped with a bathtub. To fill this void, the neighborhood sento (lit. money hot water), or public bath was a place where the locals could go to wash themselves, soak in a tub and socialize with neighbors.
Nowadays, as most households have their own bath, the number of traditional sento has decreased. However, new types of public baths and bath complexes, which feature a range of different pools, saunas, fitness centers, etc. have been emerging, some of which more resemble theme parks than simple bath houses.
Some sento, typically in hot spring resort towns, utilize natural hot spring water for their baths. In this case they are considered an onsen bath. Public baths that are not supplied by hot spring water, use heated tap water instead.
Small neighborhood onsen sento in Nozawa Onsen
Public baths (public in that anyone may use them as opposed to the private baths of ryokan and hotels which may only be open to guests) can be found throughout Japan and typically cost 200 to 2000 yen. Some, found in larger cities, are open 24 hours with special overnight rates, and can be used as alternative budget accommodation.
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