“Super sento” (Super bathhouse) and “kenko land” (“health land”; health spas) have been developed to offer more features and amenities than regular “sento”, such as open-air bath, Jacuzzis, a sauna, and some even have a restaurant or a massage room to their customers.
These facilities are now coming up with new business concepts to further improve their business model. In part 1, we covered services aimed at women as well as the Showa-Era retro style bathhouse facilities. In part 2, we’ll talk about the growing popularity of the “Ofuro café.”
“ofuro café bivouac” Customers enjoying a game
■Ofuro café utatane
Ofro café utatane
In 2013, ONSEN DOJO, which operates Tamagawa Onsen, started ofuro café utatane in Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture. This establishment was created by taking over and reforming the facilities of a regular super sento that had closed due to poor management.
This business model is aimed at young women and combines the relaxing atmosphere of the ofuro (bath) with the ultramodern and stylish ambience of a café.
The ofuro café
concept was further developed for “ofuro café bivouac”, which adds a component known as “glamping.”
■“ofuro café bivouac”
“ofuro café bivouac” Exterior
“ofuro café bivouac” opened in September of 2016 in the city of Kumagaya in Saitama Prefecture. ONSEN DOJO renovated the facilities of a former kenko land to create this establishment. According to CEO Yamazaki, construction of a new building would have cost around 1 billion yen (approx. 9.2 million US dollars), but the cost of renovating an existing site was only 1/3~1/5 of that cost, making it a more financially sound option.
“Glampling” is a blend of words combining glamorous × camping, and is a style of luxury camping that allows you to enjoy camping without sacrificing an ounce of comfort. Although glamping is usually done outdoors, “ofuro café bivouac” has a concept that allows you to experience the joys of glamping entirely indoors.
Upon entering the establishment, you’ll notice various outdoor goods like tents and mountain bikes. There’s a lounge with a fireplace where you’ll see people lounging around reading manga by the fire or hanging out and reading in a hammock. The establishment has a wide array of more than 10,000 manga to choose from, and also has free all-you-can-drink coffee, giving it a feel like that of an internet café. There is also a workspace with computers and WIFI that can be used like a shared office space.
Meanwhile, next to the lounge there is an indoor bouldering wall with a hidden space above where you can hang out and enjoy board games.
“ofuro café bivouac” Bouldering Wall
“ofuro café bivouac” Visitors enjoying a board game
“ofuro café bivouac” is a unique environment that combines the calm atmosphere of a living space
with the boisterous atmosphere of a play space.
Yamazaka says that ofuro café utatane is a “tiny theme park” aimed at accommodating young women and families.
He also says that there was a conscious effort to make a stylish atmosphere for exposure on Instagram and social media, and that the combination of various concepts means that the establishment can be featured not only in books about onsen and spas, but also in other media such as fashion magazines.
Yamazaki said he has made it his life’s goal to visit commercial establishments all over the country in order to get inspiration from other types of businesses for future concepts.
“When I visit a place with a comfortable environment, I think about what it is that specifically creates that feeling. There are numerous things to take into consideration when creating a layout that has a spacious feel but at the same time makes it seem like the space is full and inviting.”
Despite the declining market, ONSEN DOJO has been able to expand their business by seven times in the 6 years since their establishment in 2011. Yamazaki explains, “Even though there’s a shrinking of the market, this doesn’t mean that there’s a decrease in potential clientele. If you look at it from a macro-perspective, there will be an expansion in the tourism and leisure markets. The most important things to consider are marketing, setting apart your business from the competition, and giving customers a real incentive to visit your establishment. I plan to continue creating establishments with fresh new concepts by anticipating the market needs and the desires of the customers.”
According to the official government report on leisure for 2017, data analysis shows that “sports, day-trips, and spare time spent near one’s home are gradually becoming more popular” as there is an upward move in the market.
Perhaps this doesn’t simply mean people are looking for regular “local leisure,” but are rather looking for new and exciting concepts to experience during their free time. For example, in the Showa retro model, by refocusing the customer base to include family business, the atmosphere invokes a sense of nostalgia for older visitors and at the same time provides a new and interesting experience for kids, making it fun for people of all ages. As for the ofuro café, it is not just a bathhouse with a café, but instead is place that combines various concepts and amenities such as a lounge area with hammocks, campsites, and a bouldering wall, making it a big hit with a variety of people.
Furthermore, we learned from Yamazaki that it is also important to create a “comfortable environment” in addition to offering a fantastic new experience.
These places have perfected combining comfort with interesting new concepts. Don’t you wish you had one of these places near you?
Ofuro café utatane
Ofuro café bivouac
Fields Research Institute (FRI) conducts research in entertainment.
This article was written by a member of FRI, through the original coverage of his/her interests observed in their daily lives.