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Hot Springs a Popular Spot to Ride Out the New Year

September 28, 1999

The spa district of Ikaho hopes computer worries will boost business. (Ikaho Hot Springs Inn Association)

In an information-age marketing move, some of Japan's most traditional leisure spots are presenting themselves as places to take refuge from the problems many fear will result from computer malfunctions caused by the Y2K problem. The ideal travel destination for skittish New Year travelers may be a traditional Japanese inn, well-stocked with food and equipped with a power generator. But it remains to be seen whether inn owners will be able to attract as many guests as they hope.

Head for the Hills
One thing Japanese people have long liked to do over the New Year's holidays is to soak in a hot spring. The Hot Springs Inn Association in Ikaho, a town in Gunma Prefecture long renowned as a spa resort, has come up with a "Relaxation and Reassurance" discount travel package for this coming New Year. Targeted at groups of three or more people who make reservations to stay at local inns for the eight days and seven nights from December 29 through January 5, the package offers a special price of 100,000 yen (952 U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar) per person with two meals per day included.

Many inn owners fear that people will choose to stay home over the holidays because of worries about the Y2K problem, which is expected to affect computers reading years in two-digit format. Widespread problems are expected to hit when computer systems around the globe mistakenly think it is 1900 rather than 2000 on January 1. Many people are preparing by stocking up on food and water for the period around New Year's Eve, and some are convinced that electric and other important systems are likely to fail.

The more than 50 traditional inns belonging to the Ikaho Hot Springs Inn Association are pitching this package to those people. Many of the hot-spring inns in this mountainous area some 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Tokyo are equipped with power generators and have stores of food on hand, making them ideal places to weather any troubles that might hit more technology-dependent parts of Japan. The inns participating in the program are counting on it to fill over 2,000 reservations, or about 20% of their capacity. To guarantee their guests an anxiety-free New Year, innkeepers have begun putting emergency measures in place to safeguard against disruptions in heating and electricity; the Association has also started stockpiling a common supply of food and fuel to further ensure guests' peace of mind.

Help for Those Who Have to Work, Too
Though these measures will no doubt prove reassuring to those staying at the inns during the New Year holidays, inn owners anticipate that at least a few of their guests will be summoned back to their workplaces during the holidays to deal with Y2K-related crises. Some inns plan to console these unfortunates by sending them off with boxed meal kits containing udon noodles, glutinous rice cakes, and other food, plus bottled water and a cooking fuel cartridge.

Of course, innkeepers and their guests alike will be hoping for no disturbances as computer clocks turn over to the year 2000. But for people who are worried about the possibility of troubles at midnight on December 31, a stay in a mountain spa might be just the ticket to calm their nerves. In any case--whether or not Y2K turns out to be the disaster some fear--the Ikaho inns can promise their guests a relaxing time soaking away their cares and ringing in the New Year in a soothing hot spring.

Trends in JapanEdited 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.