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Shared Workspace Saunas Prove Hot Topic in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Employees from Kokuyo Co. and Japan Airlines Co. relax in a sauna in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, in February.

An increasing number of shared workplaces are installing sauna baths amid a spike in popularity among workers in their 30s and 40s who view saunas as a place to relax and share ideas. Operators of such facilities aim to help people “recharge,” both physically and mentally while helping them gear-up for work.

Goodoffice Nihonbashi, which opened late last year in central Tokyo, has a sauna bath in its lounge. The shared work space in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward is open 24 hours a day, and the sauna can be used from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. It can accommodate up to 10 people and includes a post-sauna bathtub and a sofa.

“Let’s go to the sauna and clear our heads for a while,” said a company employee at the shared office on a late February night. After a while, eight employees from Japan Airlines Co. and Kokuyo Co. relocated to the sauna.

These fans of high-heat perspiration sessions belong to the Japan Sauna-bu Alliance, which comprises approximately 160 companies, including Japan Airlines, Kokuyo, Ricoh Co. and IBM Japan Ltd. The group aims to promote new encounters and flexible thinking through shared sauna time.

Members of the group meet once every two months to hold discussions — sometimes online — then head to a sauna.

“Leveraging our common love of saunas helps our organization become more vibrant and fosters connections with other companies,” said Naoki Kawata, the 38-year-old director of Kokuyo’s Sauna Department.

According to the Japan Sauna Institute, sauna usage increased in 2019 on the back of a popular TV drama, resulting in an estimated 28 million sauna enthusiasts. In 2021, the word “totonou,” meaning “to refresh oneself,” became a fashionable term.

Due to restrictions on the use of saunas imposed as measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, sauna user numbers dropped more than 40% in 2022, to around 17 million. But with the rise of teleworking against a backdrop of work style reforms, saunas are enjoying a new surge in popularity due to the combination of shared workplaces and saunas.

Rooftop Sauna, a large-scale shared office furnished with meeting rooms and a seating capacity of 200, including private rooms, opened in December 2021 near JR Nishi-Ogikubo Station in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward.

It has Finnish-style saunas for men and women and offers an outdoor rooftop relaxation space. The men’s sauna can accommodate up to 30 people and is thought to be one of the largest saunas in Tokyo.

For its part, Skyspa Yokohama in Yokohama — a sauna with a lodging facility — added a shared work space to accommodate the recent rise in teleworking. According to the operator, following the introduction of the shared office, the number of users in their 30s and 40s have increased and they spend more time at the facility.

Some companies intend to introduce their own saunas. JINS Holdings Inc., which operates the major eyewear chain “JINS,” plans to install a sauna in its new office in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, in spring.

“We’re hoping it will provide physical and mental benefits for our workers and invigorate their discussions within the company.” a public relation official of the company said.