High oil prices can cool traditional Japanese public baths.

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Tokuji Ito (53), the owner of the Japanese public bath (or public bath) “Daini Takara-yu”, is preparing to open a facility in Tokyo on November 25, 2021. Photo taken on November 25, 2021. REUTERS / Issei Kato

November 26, 2021

By Elaine Lies

Tokyo (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic has managed to kill the traditional Japanese public bath, Dinitakarayu, on the backstreets of Tokyo, which has been distracting by neighbors since 1949.

However, for Tokuji Ito, the third-generation owner, the next challenge is the soaring oil prices.

In the coldest time of the year, he has to pay 50% more than last year to warm the water in the bathtub, which is part of the cherished life in his neighborhood on the western side of the Japanese capital. I have.

“It’s really hard. It may not be that big for a big company, but it’s really hard for a small family-owned place like us.”

Public baths, or public baths, traditionally serve people who do not have a bath at home, and bathers scrub in separate sections for men and women before soaking in a hot tub. I did. They were also a social gathering place.

Ito has survived the repeated state of emergency of the coronavirus in Tokyo. The public bath had to stay open, but the number of his elderly customers was reduced by about one-third.

But he is now facing a monthly bill of JPY 450,000 ($ 4,000) in January and December. Fuel oil is for heating the boiler that supplies hot water to the bathtub from 300,000 yen last winter.

The price of the bath is decided by the Tokyo government, so he says he won’t raise the price anyway, but he can’t charge any more.

“Immediately after the pandemic, we wanted to get people back, so these high prices are difficult,” he said.

There is no problem with Japanese public baths anymore. The number peaked at 18,000 nationwide in 1968, but is now only 1,964 after decades of social change, including an increase in bathing at home. Many public baths serve beer or have a sauna to attract customers.

Ito wants to do his best until the warm season when fuel is low. A former oil trader who returned to the family business five years ago, he believes prices will never hit record highs.

So far, customers are still in line before the bath opens at 3:30 pm

Shuji Yamazaki (70), who comes three to four times a week, said, “I don’t mind raising the price.” “Without these baths, I would have been really in trouble.”

(Report by Elaine Lies and Akira Tomoshige, edited by Peter Graff and Gerry Doyle)

High oil prices can cool traditional Japanese public baths

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