© Reuters. Tokuji (53), owner of the Japanese public bathhouse or sento ‘Dai-ni Takara-yu, is preparing to open his facility at Tokyo, Japan, November 25, 2021. Picture taken November 25, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato
By Elaine Lies
TOKYO, Reuters – Dai-ni Takarayu was not killed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This traditional Japanese public bath is located on a Tokyo backstreet where neighbors have soaked away their worries since 1949.
Tokuji Tokuji Ito, third generation owner of the company, sees high oil prices as his next hurdle.
The coldest months of this year are upon us, so he has to pay 50% more for hot water.
Ito, 53, said that it was really difficult. It might not seem like a big deal for large companies, but it is really difficult for small family businesses such as ours.
People who don’t own a home bath, such as sentos, used public baths to wash their bodies before they went into hot tubs. These baths have been used to meet up with others.
Ito conquered Tokyo’s coronavirus crises of emergency. Although sento had to be open during these times, the numbers of his older customers dropped by around one-third.
However, he is now facing bills of up to 450,000 yen ($4,000 per month) each for oil heating the boiler. The boiler heats the hot water in the tubs.
Tokyo’s government sets the price of the bath, and he cannot charge any more. However, he said he would not raise the prices.
We were trying to bring people back just after the pandemic. He said that high prices make it difficult to get people back.
Japan’s public bathrooms don’t have any problems. After decades of social change, which includes more home baths, their number has fallen to 1,964 nationwide, from 18,000 in 1968. To attract people, many sento offer beer and saunas.
Ito expects to make it through until the warmer months when fuel consumption will decrease. Former oil trader, Ito believes that prices will remain at current record lows.
Customers are still able to line up in front of the baths at 3:30 p.m.
Shuji Yamazaki, 70 years old, said that he doesn’t mind if the prices go up. He comes 3-4 times per week. “Without these hot baths, it would have been a real problem.”
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