Whether you are worn out after a stressful day at work, or from trawling round temples, or from working out at the gym, or whatever – nothing beats a good soak in the tub for physical and mental repose. And if you go to a public bath like a Japanese sento or onsen, the negative ions there will boost your mood and relax you much more than would a private bath. Two years ago I wrote about the pleasures of popular public bath, Funaoka Onsen, but now that I live in a more central location I have been going elsewhere for my bathing needs: 五香湯.
Gokou-yu is very good value for ￥410 because it has such variety. On the first floor all the baths boast natural mineral waters that are said to have numerous health benefits; whether you are simply tired, have stiff shoulders, a sore back, rheumatism, piles, acne… here you will find relief. Gokou-yu has a medicinal bath, a jacuzzi, a milky bath (said to be good for the skin), an extraordinarily hot hot tub and the electric bath. I’m not sure what the health benefits of the electric bath are. As the voltage was too high for me I felt only pain and hopped out pretty quickly. An enthusiastic Italian visitor who was there on the same day however, sank into it up to his shoulders and gave it a big thumbs up. I urge you to try it and decide for yourself.
Upstairs are the saunas. The “classic sauna” is hot. The endurance sauna beyond that is hot beyond belief. Remember to take a mat from the rack outside into the sauna with you so you have something to sit on and don’t fry your bum. There is also a hot rock sauna but you need to book that in advance and it will set you back ￥800. Hopping in and out of these saunas and into the ice cold bath outside is said to be a good way to lose weight. It’s kind of fun too. After trying all these baths and saunas, wind down in the Himalayan Natural Rock Salts bath. It’s said to be particularly good for all those negative ions. Finish off with the second floor’s automated “Shower Tower”. It’s very refreshing.
After bathing, your body and mind will feel relaxed, your skin silky smooth, and your belly empty. There is a small eatery at the back of the establishment. They have noodles and icecream and pilafs and beer. Check out the menu here.
Let’s quickly talk you through the bathing procedure from start to finish so you don’t make any horrendous bathing faux pas. In the entryway of Gokou-yu there is a ticket machine. You buy a ticket, hand it in at the counter and walk into the bathing area. However, if the ticket machine is confusing for you – forget it. Just walk up to the counter and look like a non-plussed tourist. The friendly receptionist can pull out an English menu with prices on it. Pay attention to the bathing rules at the bottom of the card! If you have neglected to bring your own towel, soap, shampoo etc., this is not a problem. You can buy these at the counter too. OK. Now it’s bathing time. Boys go right through the blue curtain and girls go left through the red. Once inside you can stow your things in a locker, drink a little water to keep yourself hydrated (the baths are pretty hot), and then hit the bathing area. Now getting back to those bathing rules, a quick word on etiquette. In Japan, it is common courtesy to wash your body and then rinse thoroughly before getting into any of the baths. Use the faucets and showers around the walls. Do not bring your towel, or anything else for that matter, into the baths with you. Then when you are finished bathing, remember to shower yourself off thoroughly. You have after all just been sharing a bath with a bunch of strangers.
One last thing, please don’t try to take pictures inside the bathing area. Remember, some things are sacred.
Gokou-yu is open on weekdays from 2:30 pm ~ 12:30 am, on Sundays from 7:00 am ~ midnight and on public holidays from 11:00 am ~ midnight. It is closed on Mondays and on the third Tuesday of the month. To find it walk one street east of Omiya Street on Gojo and then walk north. It’s on the left. Here is a most convenient map. Tel: 075-812-1126.
Related article: Funaoka Onsen.