Amazing non-news: Kyodo: “Tokyo bathhouses look to tap foreigners but ensure they behave”


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Hello Blog.  In an amazing bit of non-news completely devoid of historical context, some cub reporter at Kyodo reports that Tokyo bathhouses are taking steps to put up posters to explain Japanese bathing rules to foreigners!!  To “ensure they behave” (those rapscallions!) and “avoid embarrassments” (such as being turned away at the door before they have the chance to display any deviant behavior?).  Even though these types of posters have been up around Japanese bathing facilities for at least a decade (Introduction:  Book JAPANESE ONLY) — thanks in part to the landmark Otaru Onsens Case (which was not even mentioned in the article as background information).  Again, it’s not news.  It’s in fact recycling news from 2010.

This is another reason that Japan’s obsession with hosting international events (such as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics) is kinda dumb — the domestic media has to reinforce the “Island Society” narrative by manufacturing yet another round of silly navel-gazing articles about how extraordinarily difficult it is for apparently insular Japan to cope with visitors from the outside world.  At least this time the subjects are not hostilely treating all “foreigners” on sight as potential “hooligans” (World Cup 2002) or “terrorists” (2008 Hokkaido G8 Summit), or as the source of discomfort for hotel managers (such as in pre-Fukushima Fukushima Prefecture and other hotel surveys).

Plus these bathhouses are recognizing NJ as an economic force that might help them survive.  As opposed to the even more stupid behavior by, for example, Yuransen Onsen in Wakkanai, which booted out foreigners (okay, consigned them to an unlawful unisex separate “Gaijin Bath” at six times the price) until it finally went bankrupt anyway due to lack of customers.  Good.  But again, Kyodo, do some research.  Arudou Debito


Tokyo bathhouses look to tap foreigners but ensure they behave
DEC 30, 2013

Bathhouses in Tokyo are taking greater steps to welcome foreigners visiting the capital by preparing a guidance manual and poster in several languages to help them understand the proper etiquette for communal bathing so they can avoid embarrassments.

“We would like to receive foreigners with warm hospitality so they can enjoy the culture of ordinary Japanese,” said Kazuyuki Kondo, who runs a bathhouse in Ota Ward.

Public bathhouses, or “sento,” which originally became popular during the Edo Period (1603-1868), are still in use, especially by people who do not have bathing facilities in the home.

After bathhouse operators in Ota and the municipal government completed the manual and poster, they distributed them to about 50 sento in the ward in March, with a view to attracting more foreigners visiting Tokyo for business or leisure, as the ward is home to Haneda airport.

The illustrated manual, written in English, Korean and both traditional and simplified Chinese, is intended for use by sento staff to communicate with foreigners.

It contains expressions such as, “The fee is ¥450,” “I’m sorry, but please remove your undergarments before entering the bathing area,” and “Please be mindful of other customers and enjoy yourself quietly.”

The poster, which shows a typical bathhouse layout and a flow chart for using it, also helps customers understand the sometimes complicated system.

Kondo, owner of Hasunuma Onsen, said the signs are effective and foreign customers are having no problems. He said many visit after learning about his bathhouse over the Internet or from acquaintances.

The Tokyo Sento Association followed suit and provided the same contents in manuals and posters to all bathhouses in the metropolitan area in November, and is considering spreading them nationwide in the near future.

“More and more foreigners will come to Tokyo as Haneda airport will increase its slots for international flights. What’s more, we have to prepare to welcome them ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020,” said Kondo, who previously headed the association’s Ota branch.

Every sento usually has several large baths over 50 cm deep. The temperature of the water is usually kept at around 42 degrees, and some even tap hot natural spring water, technically making them “onsen.”

Besides the basic function of bathing, sento are also community gathering venues that cross generational lines.

As of November, there were 709 sento in the capital, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. There are more in areas with many old detached houses and apartment blocks, some of which have no bathing facilities.

Sento have been closing by the dozens in recent years, due largely to the aging of the owners, a lack of successors and rising maintenance costs.

But now they are being re-evaluated as a kind of spa facility in cities and towns where people can relax inexpensively, according to the association.

“I don’t expect a surge in the number of foreign users, but I am sure sento have gradually become popular with them,” Kondo added.

“Sento can be a good tourism resource, as there must be foreigners who are looking forward to bathing in them, especially among repeat visitors to Japan,” said Masaru Suzuki, a professor at Obirin University in Tokyo.

“What is important is how to promote them to travelers. A useful way would be to ask foreigners who are living Japan to help us,” said Suzuki, whose specialty is tourism marketing.

He suggested that foreigners studying or working in Japan be asked to introduce sento through social-networking sites, such as Facebook.

Setting up a “free-of-charge day” for foreigners would also help them seek out their first bathhouse experience in Japan, he added.


11 comments on “Amazing non-news: Kyodo: “Tokyo bathhouses look to tap foreigners but ensure they behave”

  • Japan; rules for rules sake.
    And in western culture, such rules are meant to be broken. After all, it’s not the end of the world. And yet, nuclear power station operation (for example), an area where (even westerners understand following ‘the rules’ is crucial) in Japan fudges along with bad practice, poor understanding of health and safety, and super-flexible ‘guidelines’ for which no one is punished for breaking.
    The Japanese sure love lots of rules to make daily life miserable.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Groan, yawn. There are many long-term foreign residents living in the downtown Tokyo, and they can easily pick up the information and basic rules and manner about sento/public bathhouses from National Travel Guidebook at the bookstores.

    Don’t know why this has to be the news. This is patently absurd.

  • This is where the Japanese simply do not understand the concept of “rules”. A rule is not the Law, it is simply social control or acceptance by a wider group, nothing more. There are many “rules” which go unchecked daily in every country. Yet in Japan the real written “Law”, is ignored and the “rules” are the defacto Law! Japan is not a nation of Laws or defined or governed by Laws. It is a country that requires 100% acquiescence to social control via “rules” passed down from centuries ago, without any explanations and without criticism.

    As JDG notes….rules are meant to be broken. Which points to its inflexibility to all citizens behaviour, hence, to be broken. Japan simply does not get this….I tend to view Japan/Japanese as “Catholics”. If the religious person that practices Catholic beliefs commits a “crime” in the eyes of their god, they go to church and confess their sins and hey presto, say 7 hail Mary’s and you’re fine…no punishment and you still go to heaven. Committee fraud, murder, perjury etc etc…hey no prob’s…just bow, sincerely apologise and all is fine with the “wa” of the world. Laws…what are they, they don’t matter..only the Wa.

  • They should be sure to write them in Japanese as well considering all the Japanese people I see breaking the rules all the time.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Japan’s written constitution, like Stalin’s “western” style one, is a postmodern construct imposed on a society more accustomed (pun intended) to customs and unspoken, follow the crowd behavior.

    Hence the constant “checking” with other people if its ok to do the smallest action.

    Hence the recent security laws from Abe, which essentially just codify and err on the control freak side of what is already a custom in Japan- people having to constantly second guess what is acceptable to say or do.

    The result? Silent Japan, Procrastination and Inertia.

    Come to think of it, that’s how it has always been, apart from a brief “Prague Spring” of entrepreneurial mold breaking in the 90s, arguably inspired by Hosokawa being elected in 92.

    Since 2000 though, as I have said before, its back to being a Salaryman Taro, now the bubble has burst, along with that radical non-tie wearing bloke from Livedoor (Horie) who really was the nail that got hammered down.

    But the daily example that impacts most on NJ lives is the boss who ignores “laws” on things like insurance or maternity/paternity leave, instead using the catchall “Japanese custom” to exploit the naïve NJs.

    Customs trump laws in Japan. Especially labor laws and in the private sector (which the Govt seems to have little control over).

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ G #5

    But whenever I have pointed out examples of this to Japanese that I know, they blame the Chinese (naturally, you might think).
    It’s interesting though. One of my pet Japan hates is the constant spitting on the side walk, train station platforms, even inside elevators. I can’t remember the book which referred to it (perhaps someone could ask Dr. Richard Siddle?) but spitting in public places became a social issue in Japan in the Taisho era, with newspapers running editorials urging Chinese immigrants to stop doing it. I now think that it was the Japanese all along, and that this might be an early documented case of Japan blaming its immigrants for its own failings.

    –Well, FWIW, I for one haven’t seen all that much spitting in my decades in Japan (nothing as noticeable as my four days in Hong Kong). Never in an elevator. Plus I think we need a more concrete source for the Taisho editorials.

  • Are you kidding? You never saw much spitting? I see spitting on a daily basis. Always men, usually old or middle-aged ones. And yes, occasionally there are gobs of spit inside my apartment elevator. In fact, there are even signs inside my apartment elevator appealing to people to stop spitting. It is no surprise to me that rates of tuberculosis are still relatively high in Japan. All that nasty spitting. And don’t get me started on the peeing!

    — Yes, peeing I can attest to.

  • Don’t start me on pissing!!

    I live opposite a nice park. The taxi driver/deliver drivers, dog walkers etc etc….all stop and take a piss in the park.
    My office directly over looks the park…I can see them all taking a piss…..shocking. A daily occurrence…

    — Whoops, seems we got you started…

  • Bitter Valley says:

    The image of the the police in Sapporo (I think it was) testing out their hooligan nets, as a story on prime time TV, just before the FIFA World Cup in 2002 I remember angered me so much.

    It wasn’t just the us and them narrative. The context was blatantly and nastily prejudiced. The messages were clearly that the poor police were preparing for hoards of barbarian gaijin animals. Sort of Japanese “white man’s burden” to protect the peaceful Japanese against a surge tide of drunken scum.

    This news was I remember accompanied by a story about how local shops were boarding themselves up against the thugs and thieves descending on them.

    I thought what sort of a country do I live in when the media and police think and act like like this?

    What’s worse is that things don’t seemed to have changed that much. Perhaps Debito can do a subsection on how Japan is going to “welcome” the gaijin for the “Tokyo Olympics.”

  • Related to spitting in Japan:

    JR East has posted signs warning people not to spit on their staff. This one was up in Ikebukuro as of tonight. A quick translation might read something like this:

    “Spitting on railway crew members and others is a criminal act. It is malicious, offensive, and harshly punishable by law. Do not do it under any circumstances. Please inform a station attendant or a police officer if you see others engaging in such behavior.”


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