National

'Onsen' at center of sex acts controversy to reopen Aug. 1

by Atsushi Kodera

Staff Writer

A mixed-bathing, open-air onsen in Tochigi Prefecture that was forced to close last month amid complaints over lurid sexual behavior by some users is set to reopen following a deal between tourism officials, the operator and the local community.

Tourism insiders have confirmed that the Fudonoyu onsen in Shiobara hot-springs resort area, will open Aug. 1 and tentatively operate during daytime hours on weekends and national holidays until sometime in November. It will also open every day from Aug. 13 to 16 in anticipation of increased visitors during the Bon holiday period.

The decision, which came after hundreds of messages of support for the facility, followed a meeting July 3 between the Fukuwata neighborhood association, which manages the bath, the Shiobara onsen tourism association, the local police and Nasushiobara Municipal Government.

Under the agreement, an attendant will be hired to watch for indecent acts, including public sex and peeping Toms, while the municipal government will provide support, likely in the form of financial aid, according to Shigeki Tashiro, head of the Fukuwata association.

“Funding to pay for the attendant will be a main issue, but a more important thing is whether we’ll be able to completely eliminate the acts that drove us into closing Fudonoyu,” Tashiro said. “We’re yet to see whether an attendant is enough to prevent the acts, including peeping Toms.”

With onsen users generally left to self-regulate their behavior, the century-old bath last year began to receive an increase in complaints related to people engaging in indecent acts.

In one particularly lurid incident, a group of men and women were apparently caught having sex and shooting a porn video in broad daylight.

However, since the closure, which was initiated to stop the image of the famous resort area from being tarnished further, a Facebook message board has attracted 300 messages of support.

Among the comments from around the nation were suggestions of preventative measures that could enable its reopening, according to Takehito Sugiyama, the local tourism association official who invited suggestions on Facebook.

Sugiyama, who operates the Yuso Shirakaba hotel in the area, said despite the inherent risks of indecency associated with the mixed-bathing hot spring, Fudonoyu has long been able to operate thanks to visitors’ goodwill.

“And that became a blind spot, and those people targeted it,” Sugiyama said. “What was created on goodwill was being trampled.”

Various ideas for how the onsen will operate are still being discussed, such as assigning different hours to separate genders.

Posts on the Onsen Sommelier Facebook board have also included suggestions such as requiring both sexes to wear a towel while bathing, allowing the use of swimsuits and introducing separate changing rooms.

Local officials hope to bring the onsen back to permanent operation, though with some restrictions, Tashiro said.

“Fudonoyu has been protected by older generations for over 100 years, and I don’t want to give in to just some people (who commit indecency),” he said.

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