The coronavirus pandemic and soaring fuel prices are dealing a heavy blow to Japan's "sento" bathhouses. An NHK survey shows that half of public-bath operators in Niigata Prefecture are at risk of going out of business.
NHK jointly conducted the survey in December with a union of sento operators in the prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast. Sixteen out of 17 bathhouses that belong to the union responded.
Eleven of them said surging fuel prices are hurting their businesses. One said it is hardly making a profit. Another said it expects its annual revenue to decline by around 2 million yen, or about 15,500 dollars.
Half of the respondents said they may shut down. Aside from the pandemic and fuel prices, many of the operators cited the high cost of renewing aging facilities and the lack of successors.
The union's chief says that the result is regrettable, but that he hopes young people will join the industry to protect Japan's sento culture.