Lately in Tokyo’s Tamachi district there is an “izakaya“-style restaurant that has recently become a hot topic: “Bunbuku”. What once was a historic public bath located in a buzzing shopping street, has now been transformed into a restaurant while preserving the characteristics of a typical Japanese public bath. This is our experience at the public bath restaurant!
In the past, when there weren’t bathtubs or showers in most Japanese homes, people went to public baths, called “sento”, every night. It was a place where they could meet their neighbors, and wash away the tiredness of the day with hot water, chat and relax. During this time, what has now become the sento-restaurant “Benpuku”, was a popular public bath known under the name “Manzaiyu”. A couple of years ago “Manzaiyu” closed its doors after been running for 90 years, and has since then transformed into a witty and stylish restaurant.
In this restaurant, you take your shoes off and climb into tiled, small bathtubs. Nowadays, there is no hot water inside of the tubs of course, but you’ll sit at the same height as if you were in a public bath. So it actually feels like being in a public bath.
At one wall of the restaurant, you will see a large picture of Mt. Fuji. In the past, public baths often had a painting of Mt. Fuji. When looking up while soaking in the bath, you could see it the majestic mountain from both the men’s and women’s baths. Since there once was a high need for Fuji paintings, there even were professional artists who were specialized in painting Mt. Fuji pictures for public baths. At Bunbuku even such wonderful details of the original place has been preserved!
Drinking in the bathtub!
Bunbuku’s menu is very nice and varied, with them being especially famous for their fish dishes. You can also order many other traditional izakaya (pub) dishes, including gyoza, egg-rolls, edamame beans, and potato salad.
Don’t forget to order one of the drinks served in a milk bottle! They have both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions. The reason is that in Japan there is a custom of drinking milk from bottles in public baths in Japan, so the drink menu is inspired by this tradition.
The characters for Bunbuku mean “sharing happiness”. Eating in a bathtub allows you to spend a very close time with your friends and family. It truly is a “sharing of happiness” experience. If you’re staying in Tokyo, be sure to visit the retro-modern Bunpuku with its cozy and unique atmosphere!