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Gunma hot spring resort to pull plug on traditional role over legal concerns

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A “yumomi” board is used to adjust the temperature of a bath at Jizo-no-yu in Kusatsu, Gunma Prefecture, on July 26.

The Yomiuri Shimbun KUSATSU, Gunma — The Kusatsu onsen hot spring area in Gunma Prefecture has abolished the role of “yucho,” a person who instructs people in a traditional bathing method, out of concerns that their actions could violate the Medical Practitioners’ Law.

In the “jikan-yu” (see below) method, bathers immerse themselves in water as hot as 48 C to attempt to improve their physical condition. Long-time aficionados have expressed unhappiness over the departure of the yucho, although people will still be able to engage in the practice.

Jikan-yu is available at two public bathhouses run by the town — Jizo-no-yu and Chiyo-no-yu. There had been two yucho, a man and a woman, who used their experience and the knowledge passed down to them to regulate bath temperature depending on the customer, provide bathing instructions and supervise safety. Jikan-yu has become a well-known symbol of Kusatsu onsen’s therapeutic hot spring culture.

However, when the role of the yucho was reexamined by the Kusatsu town government during renovations to facilities in May, it was discovered they were conducting what could be considered medical interviews, such as asking bathers about their chronic illnesses and health condition.

The town government decided to end its contract with the Kusatsu tourism corporation, which supervises and operates the baths and employs the yucho, at the end of the current fiscal year.

The town also decided to keep the water temperature of the baths constant at around 42 C starting in August. This was decided after consulting with experts, such as a doctor, who said bathing in high-temperature hot springs carried the risk of causing thrombosis. In line with this safety measure, the town also decided to end yucho services at the end of July.

The town decided to make bathing at these facilities free. Jizo-no-yu, which has many long-term users, is introducing a registration system, while Chiyo-no-yu is for tourists.

Kusatsu Mayor Nobutada Kuroiwa appealed for understanding during the transition, saying, “We plan to carry on our therapeutic bathing culture.”

Not everyone is happy with the changes.

“My physical condition improved from high-temperature baths. I want them to keep the system in which yucho use a ‘yumomi’ [board] to adjust the temperature to suit a person’s symptoms,” said a 53-year-old woman from Hyogo Prefecture who said she had been coming to Kusatsu for more than a decade.

One of the yucho said: “To tell the truth, I’m disappointed. I want to keep working to the extent possible.”

The job of the yucho will mainly consist of managing the baths during the remainder of their contracts.

Some long-term users have started a petition calling for maintaining the traditional jikan-yu system.

■ Jikan-yu

Bathers immerse themselves in water from a highly acidic spring that has been adjusted to somewhere in the range of 38 C to 48 C. They remain in the water for three minutes at a time, and bath a few times per day. Established in the Meiji era (1868-1912), this method is aimed at improving health and is practiced by more than 7,000 people every year. Wooden boards called “yumomi” were developed to stir up the water to lower its temperature during jikan-yu sessions. Speech

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