Sunday, July 25, 2010

I heart bath + art

Even in this sweaty summer weather, a good soak at a sento or onsen is one of my favorite Japanese traditions. It's refreshing, relaxing, and often comes with a surprise or two - like the electrified bath I accidentally slid into in Kyoto once, or the three gripping volumes of Keitae Kurono's manga Dragon Head that I found in the comfy post-bath relaxation room of my hotel's rooftop tub.

Imagine how pleased I was, then, to take a break from the heat in artist Shinro Ohtake's sento on Naoshima Island. I (heart) Yu, the "yu" being the Japanese kanji character for hot bath water, is both a multimedia installation and a fully-functioning public bathhouse, where locals and tourists alike let their hair down and soak away the stress of the day.

Forgot your towel and your soap? Well that's okay: the vending machine out front will dispense a ticket for your choice of colorful souvenir bath sets starting at just about 500 yen (that's $5 or so, depending on the exchange rate).

For obvious reasons I was unable to take photos inside the space itself, but hopefully the poster of the men's side (above) will give you a sense. Every inch of the space was packed with Ohtake's signature work, from the video installations inset in the changing-room benches to the object-filled knobs on the showers and elaborately-decorated porcelain of the toilets to the stained glass and the montaged structure of the building itself.

After a refreshing soak I felt rejuvinated enough for some midday hiking around Naoshima's incredible Benesse House museum and some of the site-specific works they've got studding the island. Curious to know more about I heart Yu? Check out this great interview with Ohtake about the bathhouse courtesy of the Japan Times.

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