Japanese inn apologizes for changing communal bathwater only twice a year

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Japanese health authorities conducting a test of a luxury onsen’s bathwater found that Legionella bacteria levels were 3,700 times over the standard limit.

On Tuesday, the Futsukaichi Onsen Daimaru Besso inn apologized for failing to conduct a weekly replacement of the water in compliance with Fukuoka prefectural laws.

The guesthouse admitted to only changing the water twice a year, on the days when the inn was closed. Additionally, management failed to maintain chlorine in the bath at the required concentrations, which is 0.4 milligrams per 1 liter of hot water, since 2019.

Makoto Yamada, whose company operates the inn, said during a press conference, “It was a selfish reason” in regards to why the facility had failed to maintain the water properly, adding that he “didn’t like the smell” of chlorine.

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The nearly 160-year-old inn, which once hosted former Emperor Hirohito, had forged documents to claim proper use of chlorine in the water.

In October, the inn self-reported to the prefectural government that their bacteria levels were below the standard.

Health inspectors conducted an examination in August after legionella bacteria caused an individual to get sick after visiting a number of hotels, including Daimaru Besso.

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The inspection concluded that the bacteria levels reached twice the acceptable amount under local law. However, another inspection three months later determined that the levels had reached 3,700 times the limit.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires’ disease, which is a serious form of pneumonia transferred through contaminated water.

The disease results in death for one out of every 10 patients.

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"My understanding of the law has been lax. I was complacent in thinking that legionella bacteria was just an ordinary germ that can be found everywhere," Yamada said.

An investigation is currently underway to determine if the inn violated the Public Bath Houses Act.

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