There are many different looks for a Japanese sento, or public bath. Most traditional sento, however, are very similar to the layout shown on the right. The entrance from the outside looks somewhat similar to a temple, with a Japanese curtain (noren) across the entrance. The curtain is usually blue and shows the kanji 湯 or ゆ (yu, lit. hot water) or the corresponding hiragana ¤æ. After the entrance there is an area with shoe lockers, followed by two long curtains or door, one on each side. These lead to the datsuijo (changing room), also known as datsuiba for the men and women respectively. The men's and the women's side are very similar and differ only slightly.
A public bathing facility in Japan typically has one of two kinds of entrances. One is the front desk variety, where a person in charge sits at a front desk, abbreviated as "front." The other entrance variety is the bandai style. In Tokyo, 660 sent¨ facilities have a "front"-type entrance, while only 315 still have the more traditional bandai-style entrance.
Inside, between the entrances is the bandai, where the attendant sits. The bandai is a rectangular or horseshoe-shaped platform with a railing, usually around 1.5 to 1.8 m high. Above the bandai is usually a large clock. Immediately in front of the bandai is usually a utility door, to be used by the attendants only. The dressing room is approximately 10 m by 10 m square, sometimes partly covered with tatami sheets and contains the lockers for the clothes. Often, there is a large shelf storing equipment for regular customers.
The ceiling is very high, at 3 to 4 m. The separating wall between the men's and the women's side is about 2 m high. The dressing room also often has access to a very small Japanese garden with a pond, and a Japanese-style toilet. There are a number of tables and chairs, including some coin-operated massage chairs. Usually there is also a scale to measure weight, and sometimes height. In some very old sent¨, this scale may use the traditional Japanese measure monme (1 monme = 3.75 g) and kan (1 kan = 1000 monme = 3.75 kg). Similarly, in old sento the height scale may go only to 180 cm. Local business often advertises in the sento. The women's side usually has some baby beds, and may have more mirrors. The decoration and the advertising is often gender-specific on the different sides. There is usually a refreshment cooler here where customers can self-serve and pay the attendant. Milk drinks are traditional favorites and sometimes there is ice cream.
The bathing area is separated from the changing area by a sliding door to keep the heat in the bath. An exception are baths in the Okinawa region, as the weather there is usually already hot, and there is no need to keep the hot air in the bath. Sent¨ in Okinawa usually have no separation between the changing room and the bathing area or only a small wall with an opening to pass through.
The bathing area is usually tiled. Near the entrance area is a supply of small stools and buckets. There are a number of washing stations at the wall and sometimes in the middle of the room, each with usually two faucets (karan, カラン, after the Dutch word kraan for faucet), one for hot water and one for cold water, and a shower head.
At the end of the room are the bathtubs, usually at least two or three with different water temperatures, and maybe a 'denki buro' (electric bath). In the Osaka and Kansai area the bathtubs are more often found in the center of the room, whereas in Tokyo they are usually at the end of the room. The separating wall between the men and the women side is also about 2 m high. The ceiling may be 4 m high, with large windows in the top. On rare occasions the separating wall also has a small hole. This was used to pass soap. At the wall on the far end of the room is usually a large ceramic tile mural or painting for decoration. Most often this is Mount Fuji as seen in the picture to the right, but it may be a general Japanese landscape, a (faux) European landscape, a river or ocean scene. On rarer occasions it may also show a group of warriors or a female nude on the male side. Playing children or a female beauty often decorate the women's side.
Behind the bathing area is the boiler room（kamaba), where the water is heated. This may use oil or electricity, or any other type of fuel such as wood chippings. The tall chimneys of the boilers are often used to locate the sent¨ from far away. After the war Tokyo often had power outages when all bath house owners turned on the electric water heating at the same time.
Many modern sent¨ have a sauna with a bathtub of cold water just outside it for cooling off afterwards. It should be noted that you are expected to pay an extra fee to use the sauna, and you will often receive a simple wristband to signify your payment of the extra fee.
This section describes the basic procedure to use a sentお. The public bath is an area where the uninitiated can seriously offend or inconvenience the regulars.
Taking a bath at a public sentお requires at a bare minimum a small towel and some soap/shampoo. Attendants usually sell these items for 100-200 yen. Many people bring two towels; a handtowel for drying and a handtowel or washcloth for washing. A nylon scrubbing cloth or scrub brush with liquid soap is normally used for washing. Other body hygiene products may include a pumice stone, toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving equipment, combs, shower caps, pomade, make up products, powder, creams, etc. Some regular customers store their bucket of bathing equipment on open shelves in the dressing room.
Entrance and undressing
In Japan it is customary to remove one's shoes when entering a private home. Similarly shoes are removed before entering the bathing area in a sent¨. They are kept in a shoe locker. The locker is usually available free of charge. Afterwards bathers go through one of the two doors depending on their gender. The men's door usually has a bluish color and the kanji for man (男、otoko), and the women's door usually has a reddish color and the kanji for woman (女、onna). The fee is set at 450 yen for all sent¨ in Tokyo. The attendant usually provides at extra cost a variety of bath products including towel, soap, shampoo, razor, and comb. Ice cream or juice from the freezer can also be paid for here. There are usually free lockers with keys (that may be worn on the wrist into the baths) or large baskets provided to put personal effects.
At onsen, or hot springs, the water contains minerals, and many people do not rinse off the water from the skin, to increase exposure to the minerals. In a regular sent¨, people usually rinse off at the faucets.