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Japan town puts its hot spring resorts on sale, appears to get no interest

The sand bath facility "Sunayukko" is seen in the city of Nishiwaga, Iwate Prefecture, on Oct. 29, 2020. (Mainichi/Tomoe Sanpei)

NISHIWAGA, Iwate -- The local government of this northeastern Japan town, known for its hot spring resorts, put seven of its 10 municipal spa facilities on sale following falls in visitor numbers, but as of Oct. 29 -- the day before the deadline to register interest -- it had yet to receive a single application.

    The sale's centerpiece is "Sunayukko," the Tohoku region's first sand bath spa, which is going for a minimum selling price of 13.75 million yen (about $132,000). On the other end of the spectrum, the Fukujuso spa facility can be bought for 0 yen. Applicants can acquire the right to negotiate the purchase of the facilities via document screenings and presentations. Conditions also apply: for at least five years the buyer must operate the hot spring facility and cannot resell the property in the period.

    Nishiwaga's local government started to build municipal hot spring facilities in the mountain town from the 1980s, and it has aimed to develop the town as a spa resort location. But the town has been hit by serious depopulation in recent years, and the number of visitors has continued to decrease.

    According to the town government, the population in fiscal 2018 was about 5,600, a decrease of 15% from fiscal 2010. The annual number of visitors to the facilities has also dropped by 30% to about 240,000. In addition to the decrease in income from usage fees, cost burdens for repairs and maintenance have soared due to aging facilities. For the five years up to fiscal 2018, all 10 spas posted a deficit each year, forcing the town to shoulder a shortfall averaging about 125 million yen (about $1.2 million) annually.

    Taro Sato, head of the town government's tourism and commerce department, said, "We received some inquiries, and some people told us they wanted to apply if they can use the properties as businesses other than hot springs. However, the town government's aim is to ask buyers to maintain hot spring facilities as they do have local users." If no applications are made, the local government will consider transferring the facilities to a local store association that currently manages the hot springs.

    (Japanese original by Ikuko Ando, Morioka Bureau)

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