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Questions about Covid and Onsens 2021/9/17 22:16
I will not be going to Japan for a long time, but Ifm kind of curious about the current situation there with regard to onsens (and other multiple-user baths such as sentos and the facilities that are popular in certain business hotel chains). Ifm wondering about risks of transmission and also about etiquette and social behaviors, and thinking that this is actually a good time to ask, when transmission rates are relatively high and people are most worried about getting sick. A year or so from now, risks will presumably be much lower, but I will be needing to make choices and decisions based at least in part on documented transmissibility and credible reporting, and not on peoplefs tainted memories of a time they basically just want to forget. (I think a lot of us will have warped perspectives.) I have the following questions, mainly for people who are currently in Japan or are close to people who are living there now:

1. Are people still going to onsens and sentos as in the past, or have they cut way back? What is public perception regarding the risks?

2. Is there any respectable data or credible news reporting regarding transmission rates in public baths? Are warm, humid conditions favorable or unfavorable to coronavirus viability (how long shedded viral particles can remain active)? Have there been any reports of infection clusters originating at onsens, especially under conditions that did NOT involve tight contact in an indoor setting?

3. Are people wearing masks while soaking? Of course you would need to try to keep a mask from getting wet, but are people wearing them anyway? I have never seen such a thing in an onsen, but that was pre-covid. It used to be that people would often wear a mask in public (on trains, in stores, etc.) if they had a cold, to protect others, but of course now they wear them to protect themselves as well. Would wearing a mask in a bath tend to cause other people there to assume that you have a contagious disease? (I realize the answer could change as things return to "normal.")

Any input on the above questions would be welcome, thanks!
by Curious (guest)  

Re: Questions about Covid and Onsens 2021/9/18 07:07
Are people still going to onsens and sentos as in the past, or have they cut way back?

They have cut back because in many parts of the country people are asked not to travel and to stay home, and many people are cautious. But most bathing facilities remain open.

What is public perception regarding the risks?

If you keep social distance, then the risk can be kept low. Baths and changing rooms tend to be well ventilated, so they are not considered among the most risky places. People do not wear masks inside the bathing area. Therefore, they are ask not to talk with each other in a loud voice.
by Uji rate this post as useful

Re: Questions about Covid and Onsens 2021/9/18 10:39
There are still a few apartments in Japan without bath/shower, so a bath facility is a necessity for many residents.

If you Google (in Japanese) bath facilities, you will find a note on Covid-prevention policies.
Here are a couple of illustrated examples I happened to find:
https://www.ousama2603.com/about/tabid308.html
https://onsen.nifty.com/onsen-matome/200716997916/

As you can assume, when entering the facilities, you will be checked your temperature, will wash your hands with alcohol and wear a mask. While bathing, you can take your mask off, but you should refrain from talking. So, the idea is generally the same as going to restaurants.

But a couple of days ago, I was watching TV when a popular comedian was showing his new resort home. He said that he had it built so that he could build a private sauna on his premises. He said that he would go to public saunas in the city, but other customers would chat without masks on, and he never felt comfortable about it. I've heard another man complaining on TV about people chatting inside a sauna, so I would assume it's not uncommon.

In fact, if it's regular bathing, the bathing room would be spacious with high roofs and windows slightly opened, and you'd also be free to walk out to the outdoor bath. But a sauna is a very small closed room, so I understand the concern.

Have there been any reports of infection clusters originating at onsens, especially under conditions that did NOT involve tight contact in an indoor setting?

The thing is that most infection sources being reported today are either "unknown" or "at home". But I'm guessing that patients just don't give out sources any more, because they want to "protect" the businesses of whatever facility they went to.

But the other day, TV was showing an honest restaurant owner that he unintentionally created a cluster. You can see on TV that he always had all the necessary precautions perfectly laid out in his spacious restaurant. But, according to the owner, it so happened that a Covid-positive person was sitting right below the air-conditioner. The air from the conditioner was hitting that person before spreading the air all around the restaurant. I feel that information like these are necessary in trying to improve precaution policies.

On a related note, I think it's interesting that, under the pandemic, there seems to be more TV dramas on the theme of "enjoying solo".

For example, your question about baths reminded me how Megumi had put an end to partying with girlfriends she's not even interested in, and start adventuring to do things on her own, like bathing. She would then find herself striking quiet conversation with fellow solo people she would encounter.
https://www.tv-tokyo.co.jp/solokatsu/story/

The 2015 manga "Yurucamp" (Laid-Back Camp), about a group of high-school girls individually enjoying camps often solo, was adapted into the second season of the anime, a spin-off anime, two seasons of live-action TV dramas all amid the pandemic, and a movie version is coming up for 2022.
https://yurucamp.jp/news/information/6469

Of course, the protagonist of the long-running "Kodoku no gourmet" now wears a mask when he orders and takes it off as he enjoys his variety of solo lunches while imagining a great story on his own.
https://www.tv-tokyo.co.jp/kodokunogurume9/
by Uco rate this post as useful

Re: Questions about Covid and Onsens 2021/9/18 19:07
Thank you, Uji and Uco, for your very informative posts. That was just the sort of information I was looking for. It's not that I intend to worry about catching Covid at an onsen when I can finally get back to Japan as a tourist, and I'm sure things will be different then, but it's interesting to see what is happening at the present time. I enjoyed the links to those super-sento type places, which are obviously taking many precautions. I have actually never been to one of them but have always wanted to try them.

Ahh, solo travel....! Solo travel in Japan has been one of the joys of my life. Unfortunately my Japanese conversational ability is weak, but I have still managed to have some very memorable encounters with delightful people I have met in baths, on trains, and while waiting for buses. I do have a mate, and we travel happily together but have found that one or more periods of separation on a vacation suit us both very well. Having our own hotels, destinations, and personal space for a few days somehow makes a trip so much richer. I don't know why more couples don't try this, but for some reason it is considered rather odd, or at the very least highly unusual.
by Curious (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Questions about Covid and Onsens 2021/9/18 20:26
In fact, nowadays, a lot of regular sento has become super-sento-ish with a variety of bath tubs and amenities. From the sento union website, here is a list of sento in our city of Yokohama.
https://k-o-i.jp/search_area/yokohama/

Under each photo, you will see blue icons telling you what kind of amenities they provide. You can see that many of them have more than ten amenities which may include various kinds of tubs or often "runners station"s where joggers can drop by. You can click each photo to access to a video of each facility.

As for "deviating" with your spouse during a trip, I would say it depends on how much your spouse loves solo travel. As for myself, I chose to travel without my spouse, from the first place, but sometimes with a group of married friends who don't mind traveling without their spouse and don't mind deviating at the destination.
by Uco rate this post as useful

Re: Questions about Covid and Onsens 2021/9/18 21:50
Thank you for that link, Uco. I like to stay in Kawasaki or sometimes Yokohama for a few days at the beginning and end of a trip involving Haneda Airport and am gradually learning how much your city has to offer, beyond the well-known tourist venues.

My spouse did not know that he liked solo travel until the experience was essentially forced on him a few times. He would grumble and act like he was doing me a huge favor by "allowing" me to go off and do my own thing for a couple of nights or so. But he discovered that he loves it, too! It has become an essential part of our itineraries. And given that single hotel rooms in Japan don't cost much more than half the price of a double (at least at the types of hotels where we usually stay), it doesn't add a lot in terms of cost. Well, I'm not suggesting that people try to pressure their mates into this arrangement, but it sure works for us!
by Curious (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Questions about Covid and Onsens 2021/9/19 07:42
One of the local sento I pass reasonably regularly seems to still have a steady stream of neighbourhood customers, but they may have cut down on overall numbers allowed at any one time.
For a slightly different perspective, I was looking at doing an short onsen trip in October (after the current state of emergency) and checked a few places within two hours of Tokyo to see what options and prices were like Of the four destinations (Nikko/Kinugawa, Atami, Hakone and Kawaguchiko) all looked to be busy with high prices across many of the properties that I looked at. My eventual pick was certainly not cheap (in Gora), but does include a private/in-room onsen which is a bonus. There is still an obvious demand from the traveling domestic public.
by JapanCustomTours rate this post as useful

Re: Questions about Covid and Onsens 2021/9/19 10:30
Thank you, JapanCustomTours. Ifm glad to hear that some lodging establishments are still quite busy. I really worry about some of my favorites that are small, family-run properties in out-of-the-way places. I hope they will survive.


by Curious (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Questions about Covid and Onsens 2021/9/20 16:15
great thread! thank to OP for raising this interesting topic, cause i always thought of same questions.

and off-topic: solo traveling is great - especially when one of the people is an onsen otaku (who loves to visit sometimes multiple onsen per day, while the other not so much ) :-)
by Glimpigumpi rate this post as useful

Re: Questions about Covid and Onsens 2021/9/20 23:59
I have been to onsen, and I would actually say people are not "cutting back" at some of them. My impression is that a lot of people view onsen as "safe" ways to enjoy themselves.

Some are very crowded. They operate the same as usual except that some onsen ask that you don't talk when you are in the sauna rooms. I have not been to any onsen that told you not to talk outside of the saunas.
by Rabbityama rate this post as useful

Re: Questions about Covid and Onsens 2021/9/21 08:27
Yes, there are some exceptional onsen towns and baths that see higher numbers or only small decreases in visitors. But overall and nationwide - especially far from the big cities - this year has been absolutely devastating to onsen towns, ryokan and baths!
by Uji rate this post as useful

Re: Questions about Covid and Onsens 2021/9/21 09:39
Ujifs perspective is sort of what I was expecting, although Ifm encouraged by other reports that at least some properties are quite busy.

None of the little ryokans and hotels that are really dear to my heart have closed, but I know they must be hurting these days. When we do finally get back to Japan, I think I will to try to be a better customer and not quite such a cheapskate. Wefve always gloated at finding super deals on stay plans, been too cheap to buy nice sake at dinner, etc., and done other things that cut into their already thin margins. Of course, theyfve still always given us the royal omotenashi treatmentc.
by Curious (guest) rate this post as useful

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