A sentō (銭湯) is a type of communal bathhouse found in Japan. These establishments were once the norm for people to visit for daily bathing routines, but since the second half of the 20th century when bathtubs became a more standard feature in Japanese homes, their numbers have decreased significantly. According to a survey in 2018, there are now fewer than 4000 bathhouses remaining countrywide. Still, dedicated bathhouse regulars insist that sentō are not just about bathing—they carry social and cultural importance, too. The time spent bathing and relaxing with fellow community members in such an intimate environment has a clear influence on maintaining strong relationships.
A common feature found throughout many bathhouses in the Kanto region of Japan is the large, painted murals of Mount Fuji looming over the premises. The very first mural was painted in 1912 in the Kikai-yu bathhouse in Chiyoda, Tokyo. The painter, originally from Shizuoka, wanted to make customers happy by painting a symbol of his hometown for all to enjoy. The mural drew attention and its popularity inspired other bathhouses to follow suit. Today, there are only three remaining mural painters left in Japan, including 38-year-old Tanaka Mizuki—Japan’s first and only woman mural painter.
What is a riso print?
These prints use risograph technology, a method of printing developed in Japan in the mid-1980s. It can be described as a mix between screenprinting and photocopying. The risograph process produces prints with extremely vibrant, crisp inks. Sometimes these inks overlap during the printing process to create interesting and unique details—these slight variations and colour shifts are part of the charm of riso, adding character and a handmade feel to the art. These soy-based inks also have a lower environmental impact.
Please note: Riso soy ink is similar to newspaper printing in that they never get fully absorbed into the paper, so take care not to handle the print or touch the ink directly to avoid any risk of smudging.