By Hyun Oh
TOKYO, May 29 – A Tokyo bathhouse is offering classes on topics ranging from comedy to gaming in hopes of luring younger bathers and reversing Japan’s dying tradition of communal baths.
During one recent session of the “Naked School” at the Hinodeyu bath house, nine men sat around the bath, listening to an expert on the ancient board game Go.
“I think young people would be interested and come back to communal baths if they knew these kind of classes are offered here,” Tadashi Manayama, a 37-year-old architect, said after class.
Yuichi Tamura, manager of the Hinodeyu, operated by his family since 1939, said many young people had never been to a communal bath because most homes have modern bathrooms.
“I wanted to give them a reason to visit us by offering an odd event like this naked school,” Tamura told Reuters Television.
In its heyday, more than 500 people bathed daily at Hinodeyu near Tokyo’s Asakusa district. Today that number is around 100, he said.
Traditional bathhouses, known as sento, once numbered more than 2,600 in Tokyo alone in the late 1960s, but since then have seen a gradual decline and prompted some bathhouses to come up with novel ideas to lure customers.
At Hinodeyu, the admission price of 460 yen ($4) allows anyone to attend a class on the topic of the month. Bathers learned about traditional comedy in April, while the topic for March was the public bath industry.
Looking ahead to June, bathers will learn how to deal with the local problem of stray cats.
“It can be anything as long as you have something to teach people,” Hinodeyu’s website said.