The coronavirus pandemic has hit the tourism industry hard, including in Japan — ninety percent of ryokan inns in the famous Arima hot spring resort town has been closed since the prefecture of Hyogo went under a state of emergency this month, according to The Mainichi Shimbun. In response to the situation, a group of ryokan owners have started to upload VR footage of their hot-spring baths to YouTube to help bring the onsen experience to people self-isolating at home.
“Japanʼs hot springs can help to heal people in quarantine around the world, as well as increase the efficacy of the quarantine,” the group says in a press release. “This way, we may, even if only slightly, help reduce infections and suffering from the new coronavirus.” So far, the project includes videos from five ryokans including Arima Sansoh Goshobessho, Takayamasou Hanano, Taketoritei Maruyama, Tocen Goshoboh, and Motoyu Ryuusenkaku.
Obviously I had to try this out. I dug out my old Daydream View headset (because it’s a dead platform and I would be much less concerned about dropping it into hot water than I would my Oculus Quest), filled my tub at home, added some salts, and soaked. “Users should be cautious not to slip or drown,” the press release warns, which I would agree is good advice.
I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t feel ridiculous, but it was oddly relaxing. The footage is pretty high quality as far as spherical YouTube video goes, and the sound of the flowing water does make for a chill experience. Unfortunately, I only lasted a few minutes before the goggles started to fog up — steam and lenses don’t really mix, turns out.
Still, I appreciate the ryokan owners’ gesture, and if nothing else it makes me want to see the real places for myself once things get back to normal.