For the last six years, Tanaka has been driving up and down Japan in her old white truck, scraping off the peeling paint of faded bathhouse murals of yesteryear and refreshing the tiles in an effort to preserve this age-old art for future generations – and she doesn’t have much time.
Since most sento can’t afford to close more than once a week, Tanaka must start and finish each project in a single day. She arrives at each bathhouse early in the morning, lays wooden planks over the pools to form a walkway, mixes her colours and then climbs ladders or balances on upside-down crates to reach her floor-to-ceiling canvases. Many of Tanaka’s murals, like the one inside the Taishoyu sento, are massive scenes splashed across 8m walls. She estimates it will take her about 11 hours of work to complete this faraway fairy tale, but knows that for most bathers, stepping into a sento is an escape from the outside world, and her murals are an essential part of that experience.