Photographer yutaka matsubara, with a toyo 4x5 view camera and packs upon packs of kodak ektar 100 & fujifilm pro 160ns film, spent nine years (2006-2017) documenting the aging, charming public baths of mie prefecture in japan. titled "local public bath “sento” ", he held an exhibition of this work at @tppg_tokyo last week.
matsubara's gorgeous 16x20 prints- a cacophony of slick tiles and cracks and faucets- celebrate the showa feel of these bath houses and hint at the culture around them. the clarity and color makes it look like these are windows, not photographs- the viewer can’t help by wish to slip right in- the water looks mighty fine.
the japanese wikipedia page for 銭湯 “sento” (public baths) keeps stats of the decrease in the number of these facilities by prefecture since 1996. by 2018 , only 39% of sento remained since 1996, down to 542 from 1,503. nationwide, only 41% of japan’s bathouses in business in 1996 remained in 2018. i’m saddened to think how many more might close due to the pandemic.
matsubara’s documentation of these vanishing establishment touches on elements of aesthetics, history and culture, and a shared, collective memory of a country.