Stylish public baths draw young and old in Japan

TOKYO - Old bathhouses in Tokyo remodeled with stylish modern designs are attracting young customers unfamiliar with the tradition of attending public baths.

Operators of the businesses have been closing shop in their droves. According to the Japan National Sento Association, the number of public bathhouses was 2,801 in 2014, down roughly 60 per cent from 2000.

Some believe bathhouses still have much to offer. Osamu Oba, a professor at Kyoto Prefectural University, says bathhouses are an extraordinary place for younger generations and that stylish interiors can become talking points and also help attract patrons. Kentaro Imai Architectural Office says that it is necessary for such businesses to have a modern sense if they wish to lure younger customers while holding onto longtime customers.

Hisamatsuyu bathhouse in Tokyo's Nerima Ward originally opened in 1956, but reopened in May 2014 after being refurbished. Surrounded by trees, the white-walled building could be mistaken for a museum. When the decrepit wooden facility was demolished, owner Yukio Kazama thought he did not want to be bound to the traditional image of the Japanese bathhouse.

Although the facility's customers were mostly elderly, the new building attracts both young and old. The bathhouse is currently visited by more than 300 customers daily during the week and 600-700 on weekends, over three times more than before.

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