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Japan and Korea both have similar concepts of communal bath houses. In Japan they are called sentos and in Korea they are called jjimjilbangs.

In Korea it is usual that jjimjilbangs offer very cheap overnight stays. I paid about $5 a couple of weeks ago. But while I have heard that sentos are very similar in most regards I have never heard of them offering overnight stays. Can somebody confirm whether they do or not?

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Someone ought to ask some time who can and can't use love hotels. –  Andrew Grimm Jan 30 '12 at 3:33

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

In Japan, a Sento usually refers to a neighbourhood public path which has a more old fashioned image. Sentos don't have accommodation and are not usually open 24 hours a day.

Health Spas or inner city Onsens which are open 24 hours usually have comfortable chairs that you could relax and fall asleep in. It is more of a place to hang out and sweat out a hangover for people who have missed their last train home than tourist accommodation.

For cheap accommodation you might like to look at capsule hotels in the big cities.

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Yes Korean jjimjilbangs seem to mostly be used by people who missed their last train home too. Much like the manga/internet cafes in Japan, which situation I have been in in both countries (-: They are a fraction of the price of a capsule hotel. But thanks for the confirmation both ways! It sounds like jjimjilbangs may be more like these inner city onsens. My experience isn't broad enough. –  hippietrail Jul 9 '11 at 4:15
Is "health" a euphemism, or used literally? –  Andrew Grimm Jan 30 '12 at 3:29
There is nothing sexual happening in jjimjilbangs, onsens, or sentos supposedly. Not like the reputation bath houses in Western countries have. In Korea, barber shops have some euphemistic corollary though! –  hippietrail Jan 30 '12 at 5:33
@hippietrail: I've read that soaplands used to be called toruko-buro before Nusret Sancaklı got in a lather about them. And that onsen geisha were regarded as the most downmarket geisha. As for barber shops, this is apparently also the case in Japan: japanese.stackexchange.com/a/2081/91 –  Andrew Grimm Feb 3 '12 at 9:07

I have never heard of a sento that offered overnight accommodation. If you want somewhere cheap to stay in Japan, look at renting a Karaoke box all night or staying in a manga-cafe.

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Yes manga cafes/internet cafes are great for a cheap and surprisingly comfortable place to crash and I've used them at least twice. –  hippietrail Jun 27 '11 at 2:02

You can find cheap accommodations at onsen ryokan, or Japanese style hot spring inns, if you can find one that will allow you to reserve without meal service. In most cases, people go to onsen with the expectation of an elaborate meal, but there are less extravagant ones and some that offer at least a portion of their rooms without meal service.

However, sento don't generally do this. A hot spring will offer a public bath (usually with water from the hot spring), and many of them are attached to ryokan.

In general, a minshuku or pension will be the most cost-effective option for a budget traveler beyond the hostel/backpacker mode. Many minshuku or pensions have no English-speaking staff, however.

I've stayed in a small number of basic ryokan that offered shared baths for cheap, even in Tokyo, but "cheap" in this case was $45-80/night.

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