Japanese people do not go there to swim, but to wash and to clean themselves—and to relax. Apart from the personal hygiene, bathing in Japan has a highly religious meaning. The first sentos were built in a time when people had not yet had private bathrooms in their houses. Many sentos still exist, even though they have become less important due to the increase in private bathrooms. Private showers obviously cannot totally replace the warm and comforting hot water basins of a sento.
Furthermore, the social aspect of a sento visit should not be underestimated. People know each other and like to meet in the afternoon or at night to keep in neighborly touch. There are separate bathing areas for men and women. In most sentos, time seems to have come to a standstill. Therefore, the atmosphere feels intimate and has a nostalgic charm.
Many old sentos are decrepit, and just like the traditional city districts, are threatened by demolition in favor of modern districts. But in Tokyo alone, there are still more than a thousand sentos left.