The owner of a 158-year-old Japanese inn has apologized for only changing the water in its spa bath twice a year after it was discovered to be contaminated with potentially fatal bacteria.
According to Japanese media TV Asahi, a health examination of the onsen, a traditional Japanese bath employing water from volcanically heated hot springs, at the Daimaru Besso Hotel in Chikushino, Fukuoka Prefecture, found legionella bacteria at 3,700 times the allowable amount.
The water at the onsen should have been changed weekly, according to municipal laws. Yet, hotel management confirmed that it was only replaced twice a year.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Makoto Yamada, the president of the firm that operates the ryokan (traditional guesthouse), bowed deeply and apologized for the lack of action, saying, “I am extremely sorry.”
Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia, can be caused by Legionella bacteria. Humans can become ill if they breathe in minute droplets of bacteria-infested water, resulting in a lung infection. Antibiotics can be used to treat the condition.
Bacteria can be found in shower heads and faucets, hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, decorative fountains, and major building plumbing systems.
Yamada admitted that he was unaware of the significance of changing the water. “I was not aware of the law myself and assumed that legionella bacteria was a common bacterium that could be found anywhere, and also that it was safe because the enormous baths were free-flowing thus the water was changed quite frequently,” he said at the news conference.
The baths were temporarily shut down after the bacteria were discovered last year, but they have now reopened. Yamada stated at the press conference that he continued to utilize the tubs after the bacterium was discovered.
“Our bath waters come from the Futsukaichi Onsen, which has been flowing for over 1,300 years, a symbol of the area’s unchanging history,” the ryokan’s website claims of its baths.
“For decades, government dignitaries and religious have visited Futsukaichi Onsen. Its soothing and silky waters soothe your skin and put your mind at ease.”
According to the website, the water relieves “chronic joint pain, nerve discomfort, gastrointestinal disorders, burns, and skin difficulties.”
Yamada stated at the press conference that his crew did not add chlorine to the water for hygienic reasons “because we selfishly loathed the scent of chlorine.”