Riding the sauna boom: User-operated saunas in Noboribetsu and Toyako hot springs
The hot spring districts of Noboribetsu and Toyako are internationally popular Central Hokkaido tourist areas. And a new style of sauna is popping up there that allows users to adjust the temperature and humidity on their own, with an eye on business after the COVID-19 pandemic tapers down. Thanks to being featured in comics and television dramas, saunas are enjoying a nationwide popularity boost. After being hit by the impact of COVID-19, hot spring districts are intent on riding this new boom wave.
In late April, hot spring spa Noboribetsu Manseikaku (Noboribetsu City) renovated its bathing area and introduced a user-operated löyly sauna in its sauna room. This type of sauna is growing in popularity because the user can adjust the room heat and humidity to personal preference by pouring water on heated sauna stones to generate steam.
People in their twenties and thirties are particularly growing interested in saunas, and the hot spring management is expecting an increase in visitors who come mainly for the sauna facilities after the pandemic is under control. Noboribetsu Manseikaku Assistant Manager reports, “Once you experience the feeling of ‘totonou’ (a sauna trance), you will be addicted to it.”
The spark that lit the recent sauna boom is “Sado”, a comic book set at a sauna that was even made into a television drama. The sensation of cold bath water or the outside air enveloping your skin after enjoying a sauna is referred to in that story as “totonou”, and this is thought to be what sparked the boom.
“Toya Sun Palace Resort & Spa” (Sobetsu Town) Assistant Section Chief Ikeda asserts a similar feeling, “We want to use the sauna to attract guests moving forward.” This hotel resort also installed a user-operated löyly style sauna with a panoramic view of Lake Toya in October of last year. Toyako Manseikaku Hotel Lakeside Terrace also installed a löyly sauna in 2019.
In order to maintain the temperature, sauna interior rooms have poor ventilation, and they also tend to carry a high infection risk from the “Three Cs” (closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings). The Hokkaido Government cautions, “In the sauna room, follow thorough infection prevention measures including maintaining a safe distance between others when sitting and observing the ‘silent sauna’ practice of avoiding conversation.”
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