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Central Japan outdoor hot spring becomes footbath after persistent nudity, noise issues

Funsenchi outdoor hot spring, situated on the banks of the Hida River that runs through the onsen resort area of the city of Gero, Gifu Prefecture, is seen with bathers in swimwear and others using it as a footbath, on Nov. 25, 2021. (Mainichi/Tadayuki Otake)

GERO, Gifu -- Funsenchi outdoor hot spring, a free public bath in this central Japan city adored by local onsen enthusiasts and tourists alike, is set to become a footbath from Dec. 1 due to persistent problems with users' behavior and public nudity.

    The hot spring lies within the Shirasagi Ryokuchi green space on the banks of the Hida River that runs through the center of Gero, and is close to the Ideyu Ohashi bridge that leads from the JR Takayama Line's Gero Station to the center of its onsen resort area. Funsenchi onsen is symbolic of Gero's baths. Its waters are taken from a hot spring source, and in the past naked bathers could often be seen enjoying a soak.

    But because the Funsenchi onsen is in a position where the many passersby from the bridge can clearly see it, incidents have emerged of people reporting what they see as possible public indecency to police, and there have been issues between bathers on how to use the facilities. The Gero Municipal Government, which manages the hot spring, has since 2009 changed the rules to require guests to wear bathing clothes, but there are reportedly still cases of people entering the hot spring without any coverage.

    Gero Mayor Noboru Yamauchi is seen explaining the changes to usage rules at the Funsenchi outdoor hot spring at the municipal government office in the city of Gero, Gifu Prefecture, on Nov. 25, 2021. (Mainichi/Tadayuki Otake)

    Mayor Noboru Yamauchi explained, "Now, almost no tourists get in the hot spring. If bathers are in there, it creates an atmosphere where tourists such as young people and families with children feel uncomfortable approaching, and it's become a facility that doesn't match the times."

    A local woman who has enjoyed using the hot spring since its opening told the Mainichi Shimbun, "It's a shame, but in recent years, particularly, there have been users with bad manners, and on weekend nights young people drink there and cause disturbances. Looking at the empty cans and trash scattered around the next morning, I think it can't be helped."

    The municipal government's tourism section and its tourism association have reportedly not received any complaints or opinions on Funsenchi onsen's transformation into a footbath.

    (Japanese original by Tadayuki Otake, Takayama Local Bureau)

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