Kyoto is littered with sento (public bath houses) but 船岡温泉 is perhaps the most famous. Opened in 1923, it still has some fabulous wooden relief carvings on the walls of the changing rooms depicting Japanese troops invading some part of the world or other (many sources say it’s Manchuria but don’t quote me on that). Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have the nerve to get my big old camera out in a room full of naked men (some of them with very large tatoos) so you’ll just have to trust me (the carvings are quite splendid) or go and see them for yourselves.
At the entrance take off your shoes and stow them in the lockers provided and then pay at the front desk (￥360 for adults). You can also buy soap, shampoo and a towel here if you haven’t brought your own. Then in you go; boys through the blue curtain and ladies through the red, and off with your clothes! A quick point of etiquette, but in Japan it is important to wash yourself before you get into the bath – as the bath water is shared – and then get in those baths! They have a variety of tubs to soak in here; super hot, super cold, herbal ones, ones that shoot jets of water at you from all directions and ones that give you a mild electric shock (no kidding). They also have a lovely outdoor tub (rotenburo), and a sauna with a TV (I defy you to spend more than five minutes in here). And after all that you will be feeling, I guarantee, super relaxed.
If you are in the area, you might as well combine a visit to the onsen with a stroll round the nearby Funaokayama Park and the Takeisao Shrine built in honour of one of Japan’s greatest founding fathers Oda Nobunaga. On a good day, it’s worth a short climb to the top of the hill for some impressive views over the city. The shrine looks like this:
Funaoka Onsen is on the south side of Kuramaguchi Dori between Horikawa and Senbon Dori and it is pretty hard to miss. Funaokayama Park and Takeisao Shrine are a little bit to the north of that. Opening hours are: 3:00 pm ~ 1:00 am (8:00 am ~ 1:00 am on Sundays and Public Holidays). Tel: 075-441-3735. Bus 206 from Kyoto Station will take you to the nearby Senbon/Kuramaguchi bus stop. Here is a map