Soaking in Tokyo

Until just a few decades ago, when people began installing bathrooms at home, life in Tokyo's residential neighbourhoods focused round the sento , the public bath. Though you no longer find them every few blocks, a surprising number of bathhouses survive, of which we've given a sampler below. Three are genuine onsen (hot spring) baths, filled with brown, mineral-rich water, while the rest use heated spring- or well-water. For the cheaper places, take soap, shampoo and a towel - or buy them at the door.

Asakusa Kannon Onsen , 2-7-26 Asakusa. Not the cheapest onsen experience around, but this big old ivy-covered bathhouse is right next to Senso-ji. The clientele ranges from yakuza to grannies - very Asakusa. 6.30am-6pm. A?700. Asakusa Station.

Azabu-Juban Onsen , 1-5-22 Azabu-Juban. Of the two options here, the casual ground-floor baths offer better value (3-11pm; A?400) while upstairs is a much classier affair (11am-9pm; A?1260). Either way, the water is scalding hot. Closed Tues. Roppongi Station.

Ginza-yu , 1-12-2 Ginza. No-nonsense neighbourhood sento that's been soothing stressed-out locals for nearly thirty years. It consists of just two segregated baths, each with a row of taps and a colourful mosaic mural. Mon-Sat 3-11pm. A?400. Giza-Itchome Station.

Jakotsu-yu , 1-11-11 Asakusa. Spruce bathhouse down a back alley just south of Rox department store; watch out for the bath that gives you a mild electric shock. Each section has a small rock garden and a handy coin laundry in the changing room. Daily except Tues 1pm-midnight. A?400. Tawaramachi Station.

Rokuryu , 3-4-20 Ikenohata. The third of the onsen baths boasts a lovely traditional-style frontage. Inside is more ordinary, but clean and spacious. Tues-Sun 3.30-11pm. A?400. Nezu Station.

Other useful information for tourists (each section contains more specific sub-sections):