Ex-Hotel Boss Dies by Suicide After Admitting to Changing Communal Bathwater Only Twice a Year

70-year-old Makoto Yamada was found dead on a mountain road less than two weeks after he quit the hotel.
japan, inn, onsen, suicide, bathwater, hygiene
Makoto Yamada, president of the Daimaru Besso inn (right), said he instructed his staff to falsify bathwater chlorination records. Photo: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

The former boss of a traditional Japanese hotel has died in an apparent suicide while he was being investigated for hygiene issues at his upscale hotel, police said on Sunday. 

70-year-old Makoto Yamada was facing a criminal complaint filed by the local government of the southern prefecture of Fukuoka after authorities found that his inn, Daimaru Besso, changed the water of its communal bath only twice a year. 


A November health inspection found that the water in his upscale inn was teeming with legionella bacteria—a potentially deadly germ—at 3,700 times the permitted level. Communal baths are popular in the country, which has a culture of using public bathhouses even as such facilities have dwindled in popularity in recent years. 

Yamada, who stepped down from his post as president of the business on March 2, publicly apologized after the information came to light. He claimed he didn’t know that local ordinances required the water be changed weekly and explained that he had told his staff not to change the bathwater because so few people used it.

But on Sunday, less than two weeks after his resignation from the 158-year-old inn, Yamada was found dead on a mountain road by a passerby. Police found a note, believed to be by Yamada, in a nearby car that read: “I am very sorry. I feel morally responsible for everything. Please take care of the rest."

A senior officer of the Fukuoka prefectural police expressed sadness over Yamada’s death.

“It is unfortunate that he passed away, and our hearts ache. We pray for his soul,” Japanese public broadcaster NHK quoted the officer as saying on Sunday.

At a press conference held on Feb. 28, Yamada also admitted that he had instructed his staff to falsify bathwater chlorination records that were submitted to a public health office “because we selfishly disliked the smell of chlorine.”

Founded in 1865, Daimaru Besso inn is a traditional hotel featuring a Japanese-style garden and a karaoke room. Past guests include Emperor Showa, more commonly known as Emperor Hirohito, who ruled Japan from 1926 to 1989. 

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available. Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or text START to 741741 to message with the Crisis Text Line.

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