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Kagawa is the venue for the Setouchi Triennale, Japan's largest contemporary art festival. In the town of Tadotsu near the festivities is Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen, a remodeled cafe that has over 100 years of history. Enjoy art and local cuisine inside this unique public bathhouse-turned-cafe.
A sento is a kind of public bath unique to Japan. Sento are where you can easily experience Japan's bathing culture, making them a great choice along with onsen (natural hot springs).
Public baths have been commonplace since the Edo Period, so many historic buildings remain to this day. In recent years, these bathhouse structures have been renovated into cafes across Japan.
Among these sento cafes, the art-themed Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen is a popular destination, located in Kagawa Prefecture's Tadotsu Town.
Kagawa Prefecture is also known as a venue for the Setouchi Triennale—one of Japan's most significant contemporary art festivals. This writer visited the festival area and dropped by Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen, experiencing its art-themed atmosphere.
Tadotsu is a port town facing the Seto Inland Sea. It used to act as a gateway, leading to one of Japan's most famous shrines: the Kotohira-gu Shrine. In the past, it busted with worshippers and merchants alike.
Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen is tucked away in the corner of this town, which is filled with historic homes and streetscapes that gently reflect the color and elegance of a bygone era. Constructed during the Taisho Period, the sento's building exceeds 100 years of history.
When paying a visit to the Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen, the shop's noren will grab your attention.
Men who can read Japanese kanji characters may be slightly confused when they see a sign that reads, "onna yu" (women's bath). But this isn't a problem, as everyone is welcome at Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu.
When you pass under the noren, the bonsai plant on your left-hand side will be a soothing sight. The owner of Shimizu Onsen cares for this plant devotedly.
The entrance doors indicate that the left side is the "onna yu" (women's bath), and the right side is the "otoko yu" (men's bath). Feel free to enter through either door.
Upon entering the shop, you'll spot a shoebox. However, you don't need to remove your shoes.
From the retro admission fee sign to the colorful paintings. The building's interior has an undeniable historical and traditional feel to it.
Customers' clothing and personal belongings are kept in the lockers shown above. There are also signs recommending visitors to leave their valuables at the counter and place clothes into the lockable storage area—a reminder of this sento's long and storied past.
In the past, sento customers would leave their valuables at the reception area, remove their clothes in the locker rooms, and head for the bath. You can probably picture this busy and lively scene.
There are various kinds of seats inside, but this one is especially popular among visitors (see picture above). This tiled bathtub, preserved from the past, is now a seating area for customers.
This seat will make you feel like you're submerged in a bath, especially for those who have bathed in hot springs before. There shouldn't be any problems relaxing here.
Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen has a varied menu from sweets to savory lunch and dinner items.
Ninomiya Kintoki Kakigori (a mound of shave ice topped with azuki beans) is an exceptionally refreshing dessert while the tofu hamburger steak is a lunch and dinner favorite.
The Ninomiya Kintoki (800 yen including tax) is a shave ice treat doused with a syrup made from Takase-cha, a specialty tea produced in Kagawa Prefecture.
Crafted in small amounts, Takase-cha is a rare brand-name tea that's difficult to taste outside of Kagawa. It is known for its full brew with a refined flavor.
Additionally, the Ninomiya Kintoki is garnished with rice-flour dumplings (shiratama) that contain tofu from a shop in Tadotsu Town called Amikiyo.
Amikiyo is a long-standing shop that's been in operation since the 1950s. The creamy soy milk that's added to the dumplings makes the texture distinctively smooth and mellow.
Picture courtesy of Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen
The tofu hamburger steak (1,000 yen including tax) is made with olive-fed cattle called "Olive Beef" and tofu from Amikiyo, the tofu shop mentioned above.
Olive Beef is a specialty of Kagawa Prefecture's Shodoshima. It's a variety of wagyu beef where cattle are raised on a diet that includes pressed olives (olive oil is produced on Shodoshima). This beef has a melt-in-your-mouth texture and a refreshing aftertaste.
This superb dish is the perfect match between Olive Beef and Amikiyo's rich-tasting tofu.
One thing you'll notice when visiting Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen is the cute artworks alongside beautiful ornaments and objects throughout the shop's interior. This is something that owner Akimichi Hidaka wants to feature in his cafe.
Mr. Hidaka formerly managed an art studio in Nara Prefecture. He moved to Kagawa in 2017 when he had the opportunity to be involved with Tadotsu Town's regional revitalization plan. Then, in May of 2018, he opened Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen.
One of the objectives of opening the cafe was to inject some much-needed energy and vitality back into the neighboring area.
However, Mr. Hidaka had one additional thought on his mind.
"When people come into contact with art, they tend to forget about their position in society and become their natural selves again. With this cafe, I wanted to create a kind of place that encourages all people to live a life that's true to themselves. With that in mind, I named my shop Geijutsu Kissa ("geijutsu" means art, and "kissa" means cafe)."
Mr. Hidaka continued, "I think what's central to the foundation of art is the freedom to interact with it in a fun and playful manner. When people stop in here, I'd like them to enjoy the history of the building and the art through the eyes of a child."
Inside Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen, there are numerous objects on display, such as unique toys and kitschy ornaments. There are also souvenirs, including keyrings and stickers decorated with adorable illustrations. However, the long-time favorite of visitors is a wooden tub filled with bottles of milk coffee and other amusing objects (see above picture).
Mr. Hidaka is also thinking of holding an exhibition featuring works from art students and offering classes for the general public to enjoy art more easily.
Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen is just 15 minutes away on foot (about 750 meters) from JR Tadotsu Station.
To get to Tadotsu Station from Takamatsu Station, the central station in Kagawa, it's 30 minutes by local train. From JR Okayama Station, it's 40 minutes by the limited express train and 50 minutes if using a combination of the rapid and local train lines.
If you're arriving by a rental car, there's a parking lot right next to the cafe with ten spaces.
Next to Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen is Tetsuya, a delicatessen. Lunch is served here on some days, so we recommend taking a peek inside.
To reach Kotohira—where the popular Kotohira-gu Shrine is located—it takes 30 minutes by car and just 15 minutes by train from Tadotsu Town. It's an ideal place for sightseeing.
The Ninomiya Kintoki Kakigori was also introduced earlier in this article. We'd also like to point out that on the 192nd step of the stairs leading to Kotohira-gu Shrine, you can enjoy some treats at Goriyakuya.
Additionally, a 15-minute walk from JR Tadotsu Station is where you'll reach the Tadotsu Port—a departure point for Takamijima, one of the host venues for the Setouchi Triennale. During the contemporary art festival period, you can enjoy special artworks.
In cooperation with Geijutsu Kissa Shimizu Onsen