Japanese hot springs refocus on therapeutic stays

The Japan News/ANN

TOKYO — More and more hot spring operators in Japan are working to promote modern-style toji recuperative stays that focus on therapeutic bathing.

At one tour site, for example, guests can receive a hospital check for possible dementia. There are also hotels and ryokan Japanese-style inns that offer acupuncture treatments and medicinal cuisine.

The efforts of these operators to reexamine and modernize toji-stays — a role hot spring resorts originally played — has led to more overnight visitors.

About 132 million people stayed overnight in hot spring areas in fiscal 2015, according to the Environment Ministry. That is nearly 10 million fewer than the peak in fiscal 1992.

The ministry has begun a project to vitalize hot spring areas, including providing information to assist them.

A vacation package called “Monowasure Dokku” (Medical checkup on forgetfulness) was launched in October last year in the Kakeyu Onsen hot spring resort in Ueda, Nagano Prefecture. Aimed at helping prevent dementia, the package includes checks on the brain at a local hospital, physical exercise instruction provided by physiotherapists, and dietary guidance from nutritionists.

Only three people are accepted each month for the opportunity, and despite its high post-tax fee of ¥70,200, reservations have been made almost every month. More than a dozen people have so far taken part.

A physiotherapist in his 50s who is in charge of the medical service said the response from visitors has been good. “Many middle-aged and elderly couples have visited and enthusiastically asked me questions about meals and physical exercise plans,” he said.

In March this year, Yumoto Sakakibarakan — a Japanese-style inn of the Sakakibara Onsen hot spring resort in Tsu — launched an accommodation package that includes hot spring bathing, an acupuncture service and yakuzen medicinal cuisine.

The acupuncture sessions are performed by specialists from the Suzuka University of Medical Science in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture. The Japanese Society of Medicinal Dietetics supervises the meals, and the inn serves healthy dishes using ingredients such as black sesame, Chinese wolfberry fruit and seasonal vegetables.

A spokesperson for the inn said many married couples opt for the plan. “Bathing in hot spring water after receiving acupuncture makes the blood flow much more smoothly,” the spokesperson said. “We hope our guests will become healthy from the inside out by having our medicinal cuisine.”

Hotel business operators in Kaminoyama Onsen in Kaminoyama, Yamagata Prefecture, introduced a program for health-conscious tourists in 2015. At the hot spring resort, where toji culture took root long ago, guests can enjoy strolls and eat low-calorie, nutritionally balanced meals. In fiscal 2016, about 55 people took part.

Local business operators and the city government are enthusiastic about collaborations. The municipal government has signed a cooperation accord with Tokyo-based Taiyo Life Insurance Co, and the hot spring resort has started accepting employees from the company who were judged in their regular health checks to be at risk of developing lifestyle diseases.