More and more onsen (hot-spring baths) have been popping up in urban areas of Osaka Prefecture, reflecting their popularity among foreign visitors hoping to experience Japanese culture and residents looking for places to relax.

Both new and existing facilities at hotels and spas are fighting to win customers.

Solaniwa Onsen, which doesn’t offer overnight stays, opened in the city of Osaka in February.

The largest onsen facility in the Kansai region is themed after the country’s Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603), during which the country was unified under a single warlord.

The facility, touted as an onsen-style theme park, has large baths looking out on a garden and seven different bedrock baths. Customers can also watch shows and wear kimono or samurai-style costumes.

The facility has been highly rated by foreign customers, according to the operator.

“Styles may differ, but bathing is a universal culture,” said Yasuhiro Doko, a public relations representative at Solaniwa Onsen.

“Our challenge is how to make our facility stand out from the rest,” Doko added.

Another facility in the city, Spa Sminoe, was rated third among tourism spots in the prefecture by foreign visitors in a social media survey by Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co.

While pleasantly surprised by the result, Toshio Koyama, the manager of the facility, voiced concerns over the decreasing number of South Korean visitors.

The number of public hot springs in Japan hit a record high of 7,935 as of the end of March 2018, according to Environment Ministry data.

“We can see a change in the styles of traveling, including an increasing trend for refreshing oneself at nearby places,” a ministry official said.

Hotel chain Apa Group has large baths with natural or artificial onsen water at 52 of the 423 hotels it runs in the country.

The company plans to install large onsen baths at 18 to-be-built hotels.

Such baths “improve guests’ satisfaction while helping to lower utility costs,” the company said.

But there is a problematic side behind the success of those onsen facilities.

In late August, the Osaka Prefectural Government warned local public health centers after some bathing facilities were found to be misrepresenting the quality of the water.

“We’re beginning to see promotional messages that are in a gray area,” a prefectural official said.

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