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rebon Kaisaiyu: Coffee and Ice Cream at a Public Bath Turned Cafe

If you're interested in public baths (sento) but feel awkward bathing among strangers, why not visit a sento-turned-cafe instead? As you sip your coffee, enjoy the authentic ambiance of a charming bathhouse with its colorful mural, wooden shoe boxes, and other unique features.

2021.05.09

A Cafe That's a Former Public Bath

A sento, or public bath, is an important part of Japanese culture. Historically, they functioned as a place for many people to relax. Today, however, the number of public baths has been on the decline.

These bathhouses are filled with the sentiments and memories of many visitors. To preserve these facilities, an increasing number of people have come up with unique ways to repurpose them.

One of these is rebon Kaisaiyu, which is located in a traditional shopping and entertainment area in Tokyo.

rebon Kaisaiyu: A Cafe Renovated From a 90 Year Old Public Bath

rebon Kaisaiyu

Located on a side street in Iriya, next to Tokyo's Ueno district, is rebon Kaisaiyu. With its old-fashioned exterior, this former sento has a 90-year history and is beautifully preserved.

When it operated as a public bath, it was called Kaisaiyu. Opened in 1928, the bathhouse quickly became a favorite with locals. However, this beloved facility closed due to deteriorating conditions. Fortunately, it was renovated as a cafe thanks to the efforts of one of its fans.

Interior of rebon Kaisaiyu

"To be honest, I didn't think I was going to get involved in this project."

This statement is from Naoki Yasuda, the creator of rebon Kaisaiyu. Yasuda, a native of the Iriya area, originally planned to join an Iriya hotel project. However, he was introduced to Kaisaiyu by his boss and asked if he could do something with the property.

Public Bath and Coffee: A New Challenge

Yasuda was put in charge of converting this public bath into a new business.

First it reopened as a construction company office. But there was an excess of leftover space. To use the rooms more efficiently, Yasuda came up with the idea of opening a cafe.

rebon Kaisaiyu Cafe

"Lots of people are running cafes, and every shop has its own unique characteristic. I felt that simply operating a cafe without any special attention would prove to be difficult," Yasuda explained.

He had previously worked in a coffee-related job, and thought that a more novel concept was necessary.

rebon Kaisaiyu

We were told that Yasuda himself loves public baths. He revealed that sento traditionally weren't just for bathing. They also served as a place where people in the neighborhood could interact with each other.

So, in the end, he decided to build a space where everyone—including children and parents with baby carts—could comfortably drop in for a visit.

A Cafe Showcasing a Unique Menu

The cafe's concept is visible on the menu as well. In fact, the cafe serves only drinks and ice cream! Why ice cream, but no cake or other treats?

"After a hot bath, you naturally want to eat something cold. Ice cream is popular with everyone from children to adults. In fact, many people eat this frozen dessert following their bath," Yasuda chuckled while revealing this fun fact.

Therefore, unique traditions hailing from sento culture have been preserved on the menu.

rebon Kaisaiyu Ice Cream

The ice cream is homemade on the premises. There are four flavors, including chocolate and seasonal fruit flavors.

The ingredients for the fruit-flavored ice creams are sourced from a farm in Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture. The flavors change regularly and include citrus fruit, various types of berries, and kiwi.

rebon Kaisaiyu Ice Cream and Coffee

With his coffee expertise, Yasuda selects his beans carefully. Then, they're roasted on premises. Finally, he pairs the coffee with different flavors of ice cream.

Yasuda confidently states that these are the best coffee-ice cream combinations.

His recommended combos are also listed on the menu.

Kiwi Fruit Ice Cream and Costa Rican Coffee

rebon Kaisaiyu Kiwi Fruit Ice Cream

Kiwi Fruit and Costa Rica (980 yen after tax) is one of their signature combinations.

They use kiwi with the seeds intact to give the ice cream a distinct texture. This creamy concoction is paired with the slightly acidic Costa Rican coffee.

rebon Kaisaiyu Kiwi Fruit Ice Cream

Next, we'll show you the best way to enjoy your dessert. First, take a bite of the ice cream. Then while the ice cream is melting in your mouth, take a sip of coffee.

When about one-third of the ice cream and coffee remains, pour the coffee into the ice cream dish. It will completely melt and transform into a delicious beverage. This drinking style is a Yasuda original.

rebon Kaisaiyu Coffee Jelly Au Lait

This writer's favorite item is the Homemade Coffee Jelly Au Lait (600 yen after tax).

The refreshing coffee jelly is first doused with cold milk, then lemon syrup is added to give it a tart and sweet taste.

This Fun Space Makes Full Use of a Sento's Features

rebon Kaisaiyu Mural

Despite converting it into a cafe and office space, Kaisaiyu's exterior and interior don't look any different from its days as a sento.

The bathing area's mural (a sento signature), noren curtain, bandai (*1), and other bathhouse elements have been faithfully preserved.

If you climb up to the bandai and look across the room, you'll feel just like the owner of the establishment.

*1 Bandai: an elevated booth at the entrance to a public bath (sento) where the attendant sits and takes payment from customers (see the middle of the photo below).

rebon Kaisaiyu Interior

The kitchen, tables, chairs, and other new additions blend perfectly with the sento's rustic atmosphere.

Clothes baskets now serve as storage bins for customers' personal belongings. Guests can even weigh themselves on an old bathroom scale that remained behind.

The work that was done to reinforce the building at the start of the renovation is still visible. Thanks to their desire to give this sento a new lease on life, you can truly feel each person's effort in this renewal project.

Have a Genuine Sento Experience at rebon Kaisaiyu!

There seems to be no shortage of old public baths that have been converted into cafes and restaurants. However, this space wasn't used just to create an eating establishment. Instead, the concept is carried through to every facet of the project, starting with the menu. As a result, many of the sento's features have been faithfully retained.

The cafe hopes to attract bath lovers as well as those who have never been to a bathhouse.

As you savor the delicious taste of ice cream and coffee, why not take a dip into Japan's bath culture at a traditional sento?

For more details on rebon Kaisaiyu please see their official homepage (Japanese).

*A construction company occupies the office space, but the cafe is separately managed. Through the window, you can see the wall painting in the former bathing area. However, this space is off-limits to visitors.


In cooperation with rebon Kaisaiyu

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.