The first public baths in Japan were established in 8th century BC by Buddhist monks serving in shrines of Nara, the ancient Japanese capital. In fact, monks provided free baths for the poor up until the 16th century, when this tradition was abolished due to the constant wars between samurai clans. By the end of this century, when the country was united under Tokugawa family, the first commercial bath opened in Edo (present day Tokyo). The novelty was extremely successful, which brought about the boom of bathing. Soon Japan boasted 600 bath houses.This expansion process never ended: in the 1960s Japan had almost 23,000 public baths, or sento.
As with many other cultures all around the world, sentos acquired a great social importance. Today, Japanese bathhouses are more like clubs, where people meet each other, discuss local news, and simply spend time with their friends.