The head of an upscale Japanese inn apologized on Tuesday for only changing the water in its hot-spring bath every six months, allowing bacteria to breed 3,700 times over the standard limit.
Local ordinances stipulate a weekly replacement of the water in which guests traditionally soak naked together after taking showers, with men and women bathing separately.
Makoto Yamada, president of the company that operates the nearly 160-year-old inn, said the facility had neglected to keep the water hygienic by using enough chlorine.
He “didn’t like the smell” of the chemical, he said at a press conference.
“It was a selfish reason,” Yamada added, describing the lapse as a “wrongdoing that completely disregarded the health of our customers.”
The lax measures at Daimaru Besso inn — where Japan’s emperor Hirohito once stayed — began around December 2019.
Since then, staff at the facility in the southwestern Fukuoka region grew even more complacent as the number of guests dropped during the pandemic, Yamada said.
Even before the scandal made headlines, there had been red flags.
An inspection last year by authorities found double the permissible amount of legionella bacteria — the bacteria responsible for— in the inn’s bathwater.
At the time, the inn “falsified documents to claim that the chlorine had been properly added,” Yamada admitted.
A subsequent probe by health authorities detected a whopping 3,700 times the standard limit of legionella.
The germ reportedly caused an individual who had visited multiple hotels including Daimaru Besso to fall sick.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Legionnaires disease is a serious and sometimes fatal type of pneumonia which can be caught by breathing in mist from water contaminated with the bacteria.
Legionnaire’s disease is most harmful to those age 50 and older, people with a chronic lung disease or people with cancer or other health issues that weaken the immune system. The CDC says it kills about 1 in 10 patients.
“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.
The inn opened in 1865 and was about to commemorate its 160th anniversary when the scandal emerged.
“I feel sorry for our ancestors,” Yamada said.
According to the inn’s website, the baths have been “visited by government dignitaries and priests for centuries.”
“Its soft and smooth waters leave your skin feeling supple and your mind at ease,” the website says.