A champion of Japan's public bath culture

Yoshie Takeuchi, 67, has made a goal of not only passing down the culture of sento Japanese-style bathhouses, but also of sharing the charms of sento with foreign visitors to Japan.

Takeuchi runs his own public bathhouse in a residential area of Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, and he also leads several sento promotion activities as the chief of the Tokyo Sento Association's Edogawa branch.

Since 2001, the Edogawa branch of the association has organised an event in which children from primary and middle schools help to wash the backs of older residents at the ward's public bathhouses every September on Respect-for-the-Aged Day, a national holiday.

The branch has also brought people together for a yose traditional vaudeville event titled "Tokyo Nyuyoku Yose" (Tokyo bathing vaudeville) at public bathhouses.

Takeuchi started the event to create an opportunity for the elderly to go out. The event now sees audiences as large as 30 people, laughing along with the vaudeville performance.

In February, the Edogawa branch received an award from the Internal Affairs and Communication Ministry for community development under Takeuchi's leadership. "Our efforts to spread the charm of sento as a place for community and social exchange was regarded highly," Takeuchi said brightly.

Meanwhile, the circumstances of public bathhouses have become challenging. The number of public bathhouses in Tokyo's 23 wards has been decreasing, falling to about 40, just 30 per cent of its former peak.

Takeuchi's bathhouse was started by his father one year before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Nearly a half century has passed since then, and Tokyo is set to host the Games once more.

"I expect a lot of foreigners will come to [public bathhouses]," said Takeuchi. "I want to communicate the special flavor of public bathhouses, while handing out towels bearing the branch's mascot," he said, sharing his promotional plans.