In Japan, saunas suddenly seem everywhere.

On Instagram, influencers and actors appeared to visit them daily and the app was bombarding me with ads for mountain retreats with cold-plunge pools. Several friends who are dedicated "saunners” insisted I give it a try. Local media speak of a "sauna boom” as they once had of the "tapioca boom,” with facilities popping up in central Tokyo just as boba tea stores had before the pandemic, during a brief and intense social-media-inspired infatuation with the Taiwanese drink.

Public bathhouses have been in decline for decades, with the number of sentō baths in Tokyo dropping by nearly half in the last 15 years. By comparison, saunas are surging, with more than 12,000 facilities listed on leading portal site Sauna Ikitai. For old bathhouses that can afford the capital investment, steam-room facilities are helping some to stay afloat. Finnish equipment makers are eagerly eyeing Japan as a growth market. It’s been suggested that steam rooms have perhaps taken golf’s place for clearing the minds of executives before they conduct multibillion-dollar deals.