Built in 1923, Kyoto's Funaoka Onsen is one of a few remaining public baths that have not changed in a significant way or been knocked down.
In spite of the spread of home bathrooms in the 1970s and 1980s, Japanese public baths have held on. Their numbers have declined considerably, but for many the nearly scalding water, the many types of baths (hot baths, medicinal baths, electric baths, cold baths, jet baths, outdoor baths, hot spring type baths, etc.), and the communal feel of getting naked with a bunch of strangers for the purpose of cleaning--ensure that a handful of baths will survive.
Most of those are newer, multi-story baths, often with other facilities. Some, though, are the old traditional bath houses.
The best-known of the latter in Kyoto is Funaoka Onsen (Funaoka hot spring). The main reason for this is the amazing carvings on the ceiling and walls of the changing rooms.
In addition, there is a sauna, several types of baths, and a small outdoor bath with a garden (rotenburo).
How to bathe
Pay as you go in. 350 yen for adults. Towels and toiletries are available at the counter for a small fee (most bath houses will have soap and shampoo inside the bath for no charge; Funaoka does not); it is of course ok to bring your own supplies. Be sure to go into the correct changing room (女＝women, 男＝men).
Undress, store your clothing in a locker, and enter the bathing area. Bring a small towel.
Sit in front of one of the shower heads and faucet. Wash yourself before you get into the large baths. Rinse your body well. Then enter the bath for a soak. Never ever wash inside the large soaking baths; only wash outside the bath.
Most public baths will have many types of baths, and often there will be a sauna. You can stay as long as you like.
Last, dry yourself well before returning to the changing room.
82-1 Minami-Funaoka-chō, Murosaki no Minami
Kyoto, 26 603-8225 Japan
+81 75 441 3735
Hours: 4pm-12pm; closed Tuesdays
Fee: 350 yen
Bus: From Kyoto Station, bus 206 to Kurama Guchi Station. 5 minute walk.
Yahoo Japan Auction Service
Book a hotel in Japan with Bookings
Tokyo Serviced Apartments
The Japanese Spa: A Guide to Japan's Finest Ryokan and Onsen