Deep in the town surrounding Mt.Fuji, there are many sento - Japanese public bath houses where you pay a small fee for a relaxing bathing experience. While maintaining hygiene is a highly pragmatic and respectable goal, I have found sento to be more than just a dip in a hot tub. Rather, there are certain steps in going to a sento that I see as integral to the entire experience.
First and foremost, you must take your shoes off upon entering and put them in a locker near the entryway. You spend the rest of your time either barefoot or wearing slippers, immediately triggering your body to just relax and let go.
Sento are generally single sex, so you enter your respective gender's locker room and get naked. Yay! Japanese friends and coworkers will often come to sento together as a social experience. I used to think that was the strangest thing cause everyone was naked: the idea of my boobs and butt hanging out in front of my boss was slightly unsettling. But after the first few minutes, you realize that everyone is pretty chill about it. It's only weird if you make it weird.
Before entering communal baths, you must shower first! It is a serious faux pas to go straight into the baths, as you may introduce your body's contaminants and dirty the water. Once you've cleaned yourself, you can enjoy indoor and outdoor hot tubs. When the water has volcanic minerals in it, the bath house is called an onsen. Aside from this key difference, the experience is generally the same between onsen and sento.
Given the nature of a public bath house, photography is strictly prohibited. Being a weekday morning though, I was lucky enough to have the whole sento to myself and was able to photograph the inside.
There's more to sento than just bathing though. Usually, there is a restaurant or cafe where you can get beer, ramen, or whatever else your heart desires. My go to post bath drink is chocolate milk, and my uncle had us share some sake as well.
Post meal, it is also acceptable and encouraged to lay on the tatami mats and take a short nap. The sento experience is truly about relaxation and wellness, and I felt both clean and rejuvenated after our time there.