Two prefectures, both famous for their onsen, are particularly opposed to the switch.
Japan is extremely excited about hosting the 2020 Olympics. Since the Games were awarded to Tokyo three years ago, hardly a week goes by without an announcement or report about how some organization is getting ready for the influx of foreign visitors that will be coming to the capital to watch the world’s finest athletes compete.
Among the measures being considered are reforms regarding the iconography used on Japanese maps, signs, and tourist literature. In January, the government began looking into replacing the traditional symbol for Buddhist temples to avoid confusion with the Nazi swastika, and in July, it unveiled a new symbol to be used to designate the nation’s numerous hot springs, or onsen, as they’re called in Japanese.
The currently used symbol consists of three pillars of steam rising out of a pool of naturally heated water. However, the Japanese Industrial Standards Committee, part of the government’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, worries that this could be misconstrued as indicating a restaurant that serves hot food, and so created a replacement that adds a trio of bathers to the design.
On December 6, the Industrial Standards Committee released the results of a poll in which 70 percent of surveyed foreigners said they found it easy to grasp the meaning of the new symbol. However, the same study also showed that 60 percent of the Japanese residents who were asked for their opinion are against abolishing the old onsen symbol.
Opposition to the change is particularly strong in Gunma and Oita. Both prefectures draw large numbers of tourists to their popular hot spring resorts, and both also claim to be the birthplace of the current people-free onsen symbol. Yasuhiro Nagano, the mayor of Oita’s town of Beppu (who’s been making headlines recently for his plan to build an onsen theme park in his constituency), went so far as to assert that the current onsen symbol is a part of the town’s traditional culture, and added that “As a citizen of Beppu, I have concerns about the symbol being discontinued so quickly.”
Hospitality providers have also voiced concerns about doing away with the current symbol, which is heavily featured in graphic designs used for rail stations, sightseeing maps, and souvenirs in hot spring communities. In light of the unexpectedly strong opposition, the Industrial Standards Committee has announced that it is rethinking its position as it weights the pros and cons of keeping the onsen symbol as it is, and that it will make its final decision in March of next year.
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