May 20, 2016

    Japan bathhouses soak up new ways to draw traffic


    JAPAN'S once-popular communal bathhouses have been taking on new functions over the years as private baths spread, turning first into spas and then partying venues, and lately into daycare centres for the elderly and performance sites, the Japanese media reported.

    Hideo Takenobu, an 80-year-old living in Tokyo's Mitaka city, visits the Chiyonoyu bathhouse twice a week for daycare, reported Kyodo news agency.

    He suffers from rheumatism and has found relief in soaking in the big tubs in the bathhouse - which is called sento in Japanese.

    The Hara family, which operates Chiyonoyu, have been adding and altering facilities since 2001 to make the place barrier-free and suitable for the aged and the disabled.

    "I am happy because people who used to bathe here have resumed visiting for our daycare services," said Taeko Hara, 58.

    Over in Osaka, Asahi hot-spring house has taken another tack since 2008 - staging performance events, including music concerts and storytelling, to draw business.

    In 1965, there were about 2,678 bathhouses in Japan but there are now fewer than 700 left, according to the Qorokke lifestyle website.

    In 1955, there were more than 10 companies bidding to paint traditional murals in sento but now there are hardly any left, the Japanese website Home's pointed out.