• Chunichi Shimbun

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Tent saunas set up along a river in the historic mountainous village of Shirakawa, Gifu Prefecture, are attracting sauna lovers from across the country, becoming a new tourist spot in an area known for traditional thatched-roof farmhouses.

Yoichi Arihara, 51, a mountaineering guide for the village and a sauna-lover himself, launched a tour this spring for people to experience a sauna in a private setting in nature along the Sho River, which has its source on the 2,702-meter Mount Haku straddling Gifu and Ishikawa prefectures.

He came up with the idea because he wanted tourists to stay in the area longer, instead of only looking at the gassho-zukuri farmhouses with steeply sloped roofs in the village, which is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

People taking part in the tour start by setting up a 3-square-meter tent by themselves. Then the air inside the tent is heated up to more than 90 degrees Celsius with a Russian firewood stove that has long been part of the tradition of banya steam baths. After enjoying the sauna, they get to cool themselves down by soaking in the river right next to the tent.

Reservations started arriving during the Golden Week holidays in May, mainly from young people and women, and inquiries have come in as to whether bookings can still be made for the summer holidays, the main season for outdoor activities.

Arihara says he chose to offer the service at a quiet place along the river so that visitors can enjoy the clear, cold snowmelt water from the mountain.

“I hope people will fully enjoy the private sauna in nature and the clear river water to their heart’s content,” Arihara said.

The tent can only be used by a few people at a time.

Yoichi Nebata, 34, president of Tokyo-based sauna tent importer Banya Japan, says that in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections, people should avoid the tents if they don’t feel well.

“It is better if the tent is used individually or with family members,” he said. “I would also ask people to refrain from talking loudly in the tent.”

The set of items necessary for the tent sauna can be rented for ¥10,500 with a reservation.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published July 10.

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