A STEAMING HOT BUSINESS:
Greater Privacy Boosts Demand for Natural Spring Baths
December 20, 2002

A popular way to relax and escape the bustle of city life in Japan is to travel to an onsen (hot spring) resort, especially during the cold months from autumn through winter. The large, natural spring baths at these resorts are usually communal, but there has recently been an increase of hotels and inns offering greater privacy. They are allowing couples and families to reserve any of the smaller baths, and some provide suites that have their own open-air bathing facilities. For those who want to enjoy the luxury of a spa in their own homes, meanwhile, condos with natural spring water are being built in and around Tokyo. While these moves are attempts to attract customers and survive the increasingly fierce competition, they seem to have struck a chord with modern-day consumers and have succeeded in generating new demand.

The Luxury of Private Baths
An old inn in the Nishiura Onsen district of Aichi Prefecture parted with tradition when renovating its facilities in the summer of 2001 by building open-air baths that either could be reserved by guests or were designed as part of guest rooms.

"We came here because we wanted to bathe with just the five of us," commented a woman who reserved an open-air bath overlooking Mikawa Bay with her parents, husband, and daughter. "If we used the large communal facilities, we'd have to split up into the men's and women's baths and worry about keeping our appointment to meet up afterwards. We wouldn't be able to really relax."

Another woman who was staying with her elderly parents chose a suite with a private bath. "My father's legs are quite weak," she explained, "and I was worried about him tripping and injuring himself while he was alone in the men's bath."

Travel agencies are seeking to cash in on the growing popularity of these baths by advertising them in their brochures of onsen tour packages. Travel magazines too have been compiling features of inns with private facilities.

The number of reserved and private baths has jumped over the last two years, according to the research division of a leading travel agency. It reports that one in four Japanese-style inns that added a new structure or renovated existing ones in fiscal 2000 (April 2000 to March 2001) built such facilities. Most people in the travel industry expect customer demand for these facilities to continue to grow.

Spa Apartments in the Tokyo Area
In and around Tokyo, meanwhile, a number of condominiums have gone on sale that eliminate the need to travel far to enjoy natural hot springs. One building in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward will have 145 units with individual hot spring baths - the first of its kind to go up in the nation's capital. Sales began in November 2002, and construction is expected to be completed in 2004.

Natural spring water at a temperature of about 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) will be drawn from 800 meters underground and heated to a comfortable 42 degrees (108 degrees Fahrenheit). The monthly cost for the use of the onsen water will be about ¥2,000 ($16.70 at ¥120 to the dollar) per household. The natural spring, which contains sodium bicarbonate, is said to help ease pain in the nerves, muscles, and joints and improve symptoms of chronic skin diseases and other ailments.

The developer has been building hotels and condos with onsen facilities for over 15 years. Last year it completed a 158-unit onsen condo in the city of Sakura, Chiba Prefecture, and it also plans to construct such buildings in the cities of Yachiyo in Chiba Prefecture and Machida in Tokyo.

In Tokyo's residential Ota Ward, a large-scale condo complex with onsen facilities is under construction, with completion slated for September 2003. The 758 units will not have direct access to hot spring water; instead, residents will share deluxe facilities that use onsen water, including large indoor baths, open-air baths, and a swimming pool. The developer responsible for the project built a similar condo two years ago in Hyogo Prefecture and is proceeding with the development of more such properties in Kanagawa Prefecture.

The Ota-Ward apartments are expected to be priced most commonly around ¥62 million ($516,700), and units in this bracket will have an average floor space of about 85 square meters. The median-range Shinjuku condo, meanwhile, will have two bedrooms and a price tag of around ¥50 million ($416,700).

Competition in condo sales is particularly fierce in the Tokyo area, where there has been a rush in the development and construction of new complexes over the last several years. Both developers hope to turn customers' heads by offering homes perked up with the luxury of a hot spring bath.


Copyright (c) 2002 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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