Photo: Pakutaso

Hilton Japan apologizes for 'disrespectful' ad disparaging traditional Japanese inns

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

A big question for travelers in Japan is whether to spend the night in a modernly styled hotel or in a ryokan, as traditional Japanese inns are called. Obviously, Hilton would prefer that you choose a hotel, since that’s the category the company belongs to. But while nobody begrudges Hilton’s understandable preference in the debate, the way the company recently tried to convince people to skip staying in ryokan prompted a backlash, leading to the chain to take down one of its promotional videos.

Originally posted to the Hilton Japan YouTube channel on October 24, the video opens with a young couple standing at the front desk of a ryokan, where an employee is checking them in and also rattling off a lengthy list of rules and restrictions. “Next, the baths are open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.,” she says, showing that there was even more to the explanation before we joined the scene. “Dinner will be brought to your room at 6 p.m., so no matter what, please make sure that you have finished eating by 9 o’clock,” she continues, as the couple’s faces grow increasingly tense and unhappy at the continuing barrage. “Breakfast is from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., with the last chance to order at 9:30. At around 8 o’clock, the dining room gets very crowded. Checkout is at 10 a.m. Here is your room key.”

“It’s your vacation, but you can’t relax at all,” says the narrator before the scene shifts to show the same couple in the lobby of the Conrad Tokyo, the Tokyo branch of Hilton’s luxury hotel brand.

As they happily snap a selfie with the dazzling lights of the Shiodome district skyline behind them, a Conrad employee approaches them and says “If you’d like to relax a little longer, we can serve your dinner at a later time.” “Really?” the woman asks, prompting a reassuring “Yes” from the employee, before the narrator ends the video with “Your journey is different depending on where you stay” as the beaming pair later sits down to eat.

Initially, the video, which is entirely in Japanese and appears to have been created by the Hilton Japan marketing team, didn’t attract a great deal of attention. As time went by, though, it started drawing negative reactions on Japanese social media from viewers who saw the video as insulting to traditional Japanese inns, and on November 15, Hilton removed the video from its YouTube channel (though copies can still be found online, such as here). The Hilton group has also issued an apology, with a spokesperson saying “We produced the video with the intention of spotlighting warm hospitality, but it ended up upsetting viewers and members of the ryokan industry. Taking into consideration those negative reactions, we have taken down the video…We will make efforts not to repeat [this sort of thing, and] we deeply apologize.”

The video’s juxtaposition between the hotel and ryokan experience isn’t entirely without truth. At most ryokan, the traditional, communal Japanese-style baths are not open 24 hours a day. Instead of an on-the-property restaurant, ryokan typically serve their meals either in your guest room or a dining room, with a narrower window of available mealtimes than what would be offered at a hotel restaurant, and there are sometimes other time restrictions as well, such as ryokan that shut their front gate after a certain time of night or request that guests be awake and up by a certain time so that the maids can fold and put away the futon sleeping mats.

▼ “Sir, please wake up so I can put away the futon,” is something I’ve actually had a ryokan employee say to me.


That said, the juxtaposition isn’t always as stark as the Hilton video portrayed. Hotel restaurants also have times at which they stop serving breakfast and dinner (although ryokan not offering lunch makes their breakfast deadline a little more severe). And while some ryokan communal baths being closed at certain hours of the day is the norm, many ryokan guestrooms also have an in-room shower that you can use whenever you want.

Perhaps the most questionable part of the video’s ryokan-versus-hotel portrayal is the gap in luxuriousness. The video’s ryokan interior is dim and dingy, complete with a flickering lightbulb. The couple are dressed in drab, rumpled clothes, carrying a shoulder and backpack, and with shadowy, sallow faces. When they’re at the Conrad, though? They’re dressed to the nines, the woman in a sleeveless dress and dangly earrings and the man in a sharp black blazer, dress shirt, and slacks. Neither of them is burdened with any luggage, either, having apparently either already dropped their bags in their room or entrusted them to the staff at the desk.

But both hotels and ryokan come in all sorts of swankiness levels. Just like not every hotel is as fancy as the Conrad, not every ryokan is as modestly appointed as the one shown in the Hilton video. Yes, posh ryokan are expensive, but the Conrad is about as far from cheap travel accommodations as you can get. So despite trying to frame the situation as “ryokan versus hotel,” all the video is really showing is “cheap versus expensive places to stay,” with the not surprising conclusion that spending more money gets you more luxury.


There’s one more aspect to consider, which is that many ryokan are located in Japan’s more rural areas, places where most of the sightseeing attractions are places to visit during the day and there’s not much in the way of nightlife. Because of that, a lot of travelers choosing to stay in a ryokan are planning to return to their room around dusk and be in for the rest of the night, so finishing dinner by 9 or being out of the bath by 11 isn’t really inhibiting their ability to relax and take things easy during their vacation.

Add it all up, and it’s not hard to see how the video has drawn reactions from Japanese Twitter users such as:

“This ryokan-bashing commercial is a really dirty move by Hilton.”

“The Hilton [eventually] closes its restaurants at the end of the night, and they only serve breakfast at set hours. Basically the same thing as ryokan.”

“Hilton, you don’t need to disrespect ryokan to promote yourself.”

“Pushing something else down to build yourself up is classless.”

“Hotels and ryokan both have their own good points. The video doesn’t get that.”

“I guess it’s not inaccurate, but it’s gathering up only all the negative parts about staying at a ryokan. Ryokan and hotels both have their own unique characteristics, so I pick between them depending on what kind of trip I’m planning to take.”

“I like ryokan and hotels. I stay in both.”

As shown in the reactions, not everyone in Japan loves everything about ryokan all the time. Still, ryokan still exist because they still have their own unique appeal, and even their rules and regulations sometimes contribute to an atmosphere of mutual respect between guest and innkeeper that some Japanese travelers appreciate.

All in all, picking between a hotel or ryokan can be a complex decision with several factors to consider. But the backlash to the video serves as a reminder that negative comparative advertising rarely goes over well in Japan, so even though marketing can be complicated, following the simple rule of “If you’re not going to say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” and focusing on your own company’s positives will go a long way in helping build goodwill.

*Source: Maido na NewsJin, *Twitter

Insert images: Pakutaso

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Rakuten Travel reveals the top 5 best-rated, off-the-beaten-track Japanese ryokan inns

-- Learn all about enjoying a traditional Japanese-style ryokan inn from this nine-minute video!

-- Low-cost Japanese inn welcomes foreign guests with hot springs, sake tastings, cosplay backdrops

© SoraNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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After traveling in Japan, it is a refreshing change when we travel overseas to go to a hotel where we are free to do what we want, go where we want and also eat what we want and at the time we want to.

Japanese ryokan and other types of hotels seem run for the convenience of the staff rather than the guests. This can be true overseas for cheap hostels, dorms, etc., but in Japan it seems strange to pay a lot of money for the privilege of being bossed around.

10 ( +39 / -29 )

Breakfast is from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

I stayed at a place recently (Hotel Terrace the Garden Mito) where breakfast was served from 7:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. with the last order from 9:00 a.m. Nice breakfast though.

Moderator: The article above should likely read “10:00 a.m.” Otherwise, that’s a mighty loooong breakfast!

Moderator: Thanks. The typo has been corrected.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

copies can still be found online, such as here

I actually found the ad to be rather humorous. I’ve been in that couple’s situation so many times.

17 ( +26 / -9 )

I stayed at a Ryokan once by necessity, stuck in a snow storm. Horrible experience. Place and food was cold, futon uncomfortable, shared bathrooms. Never again.

After traveling in Japan, it is a refreshing change when we travel overseas to go to a hotel where we are free to do what we want, go where we want and also eat what we want and at the time we want to.

Japanese ryokan and other types of hotels seem run for the convenience of the staff rather than the guests. This can be true overseas for cheap hostels, dorms, etc., but in Japan it seems strange to pay a lot of money for the privilege of being bossed around.

This is so true. If I arrive somewhere in the morning I can usually check in if a room is available. Desperate for a shower and a lie down after a long flight for example. In Japan, no you have to wait until 3pm for your shoebox room.

0 ( +22 / -22 )

Staying in a ryokan is an experience by itself, it's not the same thing as staying in a hotel.

7 ( +17 / -10 )

I love the aesthetics of a ryokan and the food has sometimes been good, however I don't like to have to return to room at certain times to eat, to wash etc, etc. Some have no baths or showers open mid day after coming back in the summer sweat. Not great to have to wait until evening. Some don't open the bathrooms until the evening, which means a whole day feeling unwashed before venturing out.

I would rather see the town I am visiting than be confined to the inn all evening, and eat when and what I choose at a local establishment and then enjoy frequenting a local bar or two and meeting other people.

Ryokans are far too constricting for me in general. Although every once in a while, I can reluctantly suck it up for the pleasing surrounds.

19 ( +25 / -6 )

The ad seems true to life. Some people like to be told what to do and when to do it though and will pay for that "experience" and routine. Foreigners stay in ryokan for the social media photo opportunities and "their cultural experience." Not that I have ever been that keen in Hilton hotels. Wonder if the one in Osaka has free wi-fi yet. It was a hold-out for years. I accept that Conrads are a step up.

14 ( +17 / -3 )

Those ryokan just reminder this is Japan, so don't be shock about that.

-11 ( +11 / -22 )

Glad I've stayed in a nice Ryokan - they have their place and are cozy - but I certainly found eating and bathing times restrictive.

No need for ryokan devotees to get touchy at a bit of advertising banter, though. They must be offended by everything.

16 ( +24 / -8 )

as a sort of corollary tale..... some years back I was seated outside a café in Paris, and a maybe univsersity-age couple came along, gave the place rhe once-over, then stood in front of but aw few metres away from, the door. waiters zoomed in and out, and took no notice of them. after a while I took pity and went over to the couple and explained (much surprise at Japanese coming out of my mouth) that no-one would show them where to sit, and that they should just sit wherever they wanted.

-8 ( +4 / -12 )

Agree with most here, AND agree with Hilton. The problem is with the Ryokan and their stupid rules. But that is a very TYPICAL Japanese reaction. Instead of fixing a problem, spend all the time and energy in disparaging anyone who points the problem out. That's why change happens at a snail's pace here.

And ALSO, That's why when we travel, we always stay at a business hotel. We want the freedom to do what we want. Staying at a ryokan makes you feel like an elementary school student on a trip. No thanks.

-10 ( +17 / -27 )

Those ryokan just reminder this is Japan, so don't be shock about that.

Yes, if you come to Japan and do not want the experience, why come?

4 ( +17 / -13 )

??? Can't people choose which experiences they want to... experience? Not everyone wants to eat whale meat, etc.

Yes, if you come to Japan and do not want the experience, why come?

7 ( +14 / -7 )

I met a German tourist who bemouned the formal and extensive nature of the ryokan greetings etc

"It's too much ..."

Got to laugh at some people...this is Japan after's not a prefabricated western experience.

Some hotels set the aircon too high for my liking...."it's too much " !

8 ( +18 / -10 )

If one is willing to pay the same price for a ryokan stay as the would for a one night stay at a Hilton, the experience may not be that different. I've stayed at several Hilton hotels in Japan at a premium price for executive suites. I've likewise stayed at ryokan at the same price range. These usually include in room onsen baths, excellent amenities, outstanding cultural experiences and great food.

The point: you get what you pay for.

14 ( +16 / -2 )

When saying at hotels in Japan, nothing worse than getting into the facilities and notice the entire place and rooms reek of cigarettes. I rather go through the non traditional experience.

12 ( +15 / -3 )

I found the ad quite humorous, to say the least. I've stayed at many ryokans during my time here, and have never had any troubles nor did I feel "bossed around." Yes, there are signs for the times for meals and baths and that's understandable. Any time I stay at ryokans, I do it to experience the local culture and food. I still felt free to walk around or do what I like. No worries.

17 ( +21 / -4 )

"No need for ryokan devotees to get touchy at a bit of advertising banter, though. They must be offended by everything."

Yes, i think so too. some people are a little oversensitive.

"Yes, if you come to Japan and do not want the experience, why come?"

Would you say the same to the hordes of Japanese tourists who staying in nice overseas hotels in Europe, Asia etc, wake up, stroll into a buffet breakfast restaurant and immediately head to load up on rice,miso soup, fish and other stuff in the Japanese food section ignoring all the delicious local food? Seen it too many times to count. Would you ask them why they come? Overseas travel means different things to different people.

7 ( +12 / -5 )

I have stayed in both ryokan and hotels throughout Japan. I have stopped going to both if I can help it. I occasionally use a hotel, but I am over going to ryokan (cant stand the dust and bad smelling futons).

I have found there are camp grounds in all prefectures and I prefer the freedom they provide and the low prices and the extra money to spend on ourselves going places and eating out.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Staying in a Ryokan is certainly an experience, not such a good one though. Once is enough for most travellers.

-3 ( +10 / -13 )

Remember when Airbnb got completely crushed by new laws that require hosts to have a front desk and meet other requirements? I think the hotel industry here will do just about anything to undermine their competition.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

I stayed at a Ryokan once by necessity, stuck in a snow storm. Horrible experience. Place and food was cold, futon uncomfortable, shared bathrooms. Never again.

Sounds to me like you were staying in a minshuku. They can be really nice, but not the full ryokan experience. Every ryokan I've ever stayed in has an en suite bathroom as well as the communal baths/ onsen.

Ryokan are an experience in themselves, and you have to go with the experience. If someone is visiting Japan, I always recommend at least one night in a ryokan, but it wouldn't be practical for a whole holiday. However, a Hilton is just a hotel, nothing more.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

We've not been anywhere nice for years, too many kids to pay for. When our first child was young though, we found that lots of high-end Japanese accommdation would not accept children. That's ryokan and pensions/minshuku that boast about having high end chefs. I've seen "no kids" rules at high end holiday rentals, kashi bessou - now known as "Air BnBs", too. That's private places with no other customers for your children to disturb.

It's quite inconvenient when they won't let you in the door.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Here is the video for everyone wondering

It would have a great effect on the Western audience (I'd particularly swap a ¥5,000 shoujin ryori course for a succulent ¥500 Big mac any day) but disparaging the culture of the audience's country is plain crazy.

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

Stop complaining. Nothing wrong with a ryokan. It is only few nights, not the rest of your life.

-8 ( +5 / -13 )

The oldest Ryokan is 1,380 years old.

"Hōshi Ryokan - Wikipedia

Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan

Hōshi (法師) is a ryokan (Japanese traditional inn) founded in 718 in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. It has been owned and managed by the Hoshi family for forty-six generations and was thought to be the oldest operating hotel in the world until Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, founded in 705, claimed that title."

We like staying in Ryokans but they are more expensive than hotels.

Not good of Hilton to knock Ryokans.

-1 ( +8 / -9 )

Yall seem to be forgetting in many Ryokan you dont have to take the dining package you can take the su-domari. (Not all though)

9 ( +9 / -0 )

I think the first part of the video, in the ryokan, is intended to be tongue in cheek to highlight the contrast between the two accommodation types. But clearly the tongue poked right through for some. I wonder if they picked an actor to play the ryokan staff who looks a bit like the North Korean newsreader for comic effect.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Many Ryokans have bathrooms and showers in their rooms.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Staying in a Ryokan is a personal choice.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

People are actually crying and are upset about this? Folks can spend their money anywhere they want. If ryokans want better business, do some repairs and fix that flickering light. lol Man, people are so sensitive these days. Some people prefer to stay in ryokans for that traditional (sometimes ridiculously expensive) experience while some prefer a more modern upscale hotel experience. It's their choice. There is absolutely nothing a hotel commercial can do to hurt your business if you're running it right. Just do better.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

As a proud ex-Hilton conceirge for many years, where I was trained in Australia (and then even had a stint at the Tokyo Bay Hilton) the word 'NO' was not in my vocabulary anymore. We would literally do anything to make the guest's stay and experience better. It was a sensational job to have as a youngster and I loved every minute of it. Still carry the lessons I learned through to life today. If it can be done, do it, and do it well! Unfortunately, that memo never arrived to much of the hospitality industry here and the Ryokans for sure aint my cup of tea. Quaint and nice, some of them, worth experiencing at least once, but don't blame the pros for playing to their strengths.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

I enjoy it when the Japanese push the envelope a little with their humour. Unfortunately many Japanese are so concerned about causing offence that they become easy to offend. I have a cheeky friend who always apologises for his funniest remarks, which does dilute the intended aim somewhat.

Ryokans are easy targets though. As mentioned before, you get what you pay for.

I can still understand first-timers wanting to go and I would still recommend any first-time visitors to go for a uniquely Japanese experience but I have done enough tours of duty to happily decline repeating the ordeal.

Not a fan of onsen, sleeping on the floor, too much food, Japanese TV, bottled beer, communal toilets or going to bed at 20:30.

My last ryokan experience was spending 3 hours by myself after dinner sitting next to a droning drinks machine knocking back cans of super dry until I had to sleep. The long, silent corridors filled me with such existential dread that a boy appearing on a tricycle would have been sweet relief.

10 ( +10 / -0 )



you are client paying for service and want relax well,not be annoyed at 7am that breakfast is ready so get out of bed in 5mins...

this is why we have skipped to stay in ryokans a years ago.iranai.

-6 ( +5 / -11 )

??? Can't people choose which experiences they want to... experience? Not everyone wants to eat whale meat, etc.

You do not have to eat whale and you do not have stay in a ryokan. But if you do, ryokan is not an hotel, it is not the same.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Staying at Japan's Beautiful Onsen Ryokan in Hakone

I have stayed at a number of Ryokan, mostly with a good spa, hot spring, Onsen.

I think this is good example, great views, stress free, with calming vibes.

Pick one with a range of J food choices, Sukiyaki, fish, meat, etc.

Ask about beds, if you suffer from back pain.

Hotels are for convenience, no comparison.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Haven't been to a ryokan in ages. I did like when they served a meal in your room.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Is there such a thing as 'Bed and breakfast' in Japan......I see there thousands in the UK and Germany and probably through the EU?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I have no problem with the limited hours of the meals; when in Japan, I usually have a very full day planned with many things to do every day that I'm there, there is no time to lounge around and laze till late hours.

And by the time I'm ready for bed, am usually so tired that I could sleep on a concrete floor, the futon is a luxury !

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Our favourite room in our favourite ryokan has a copper sink. And a private garden!!!!

2 ( +5 / -3 )

If someone is visiting Japan, I always recommend at least one night in a ryokan,

Me too. However, I find most gaijin have trouble with the traditional breakfast in ryokan. We have never found a place that does the full English. (Which might not be a bad thing actually).

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I've enjoyed quite a range of ryokans and hotels in Japan. Only real annoyance is finding ones that do not permit people to blow cancer clouds in all directions. I think the Hotel Otani's complete renovation was partly driven by decades of smoker's stench embedded in all the walls. Yikes. Anyway, some good comments above.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Breakfast served at a ryokan is essentially washoku (Japanese food). But changes are happening because more Japanese are eating bread and coffee for breakfast. Some Ryokans are providing Western breakfasts.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Some Ryokans are providing Western breakfasts.

Sounds horrific. If true.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Elvis is here

Some Ryokans are providing Western breakfasts.

> Sounds horrific. If true.

It's not horrific because you inform those Ryokans of your breakfast preferences, Japanese or Western. It's what some Japanese clients want.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

What's the point of going to a traditional inn if you order imitation western food? Sounds like you would be better to stay in the 和室 option in the Hilton.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

The food served and certainly expected in a 旅館 is a style called 懐石料理.

I quote"Placing emphasis on balance and harmony with nature, every course is designed to reflect the time of year and the location where it was made, with the belief that fruits and vegetables are at their most tasteful and nutritious when they are in season.".

As you tell, It is not your standard Japanese food 和食 and is one of the main reasons why Japanese people go to 旅館.

I can imagine a Japanese inn's "western breakfast" not being the tour de force on the menu and only offered in places that are only 旅館 in name.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Japanese ryokans charge per person not by room rate and because dinner is often included, they are often overpriced. And yes....then there are the rules.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I want to say the general change to room rates happened either very shortly before or during the pandemic 

I think that is the case. There has been a change and it seemed to happened quite suddenly, probably not noticed by most casual domestic tourist like me, during the stay at home period of the pandemic, that coincided with the Olympics; the biggest tourist draw since the Beatles...

0 ( +3 / -3 )

A good onsen ryokan is a wonderful and unique Japanese experience, but they do sometimes make you feel a bit jama.

I stayed at a minshuku for two nights in Nagano with some customers last month. After the first night they insisted that we vacated the rooms at 8am for an hour so they could clean it, despite us asking them not to. I could have vacuumed it in 2 minutes, and there was no ensuite.

Checkout was at 9am. My customers were a bit annoyed with me for choosing that place, probably rightly so

Sometimes Japan does need to chill out just a little bit.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

When I go to a Ryokan, I bring a list of my own rules. If they don't like it, I walk.....lots of businesses want my cash(or bitcoin to sound relevant)

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

Stayed in them when J was a novelty. Long stopped being that, so no thanks. Hotels for me.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

While things are evolving, ryokans are meant for typical Japanese vacations. This mean usually for a couple or family that has only 1 or 2 days off and is paying a lot of money to soak in an onsen or hot bath several times a day, have a nice Japanese style dinner and breakfast, maybe some fun in the small onsen town.

It's definitely not designed for elite international travelers busy visiting around. You're free and right to think that a ryokan is less conveient, but it's just another world.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The truth hurts.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

Ryokans are extremely rude, and extremely overpriced. I wouldn’t recommend for anyone. I booked once and the last time. I got a threatening message as soon as I booked saying they will not serve dinner or any food if I check in after 6pm and they will not refund, (dinner included in the booking since there is no restaurant around). Price is.over 1000 dollar per night. Hilton is a different class, no comparison.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

Ryokans are a great Japanese experience..

That was a dirty move from Hilton..

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Look, another one of those "this is how the west do it, Japan, you must follow!"

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

There have been fewer less enjoyable "holidays" I have ever taken than having to sit through a lecture of times at which I may do basic things such as eat an unvarying menu of prescribed oishii meals at a time dictated by the Ryokan owner, and having the entire weekend devoted to lying on the floor ("relaxing", I was informed) with NHK the only source of entertainment, alternated with sitting in the bollock-water of a dozen octogenarians.

I took a stroll out to look at the environs I'd paid to visit and was chastised because maybe the owner thinks his hotel isn't good enough and I should consider other people.

Ryokans are fine if you enjoy being told what to do, what to eat and when and where to do it.

Not my idea of a holiday.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Japanese service providers need to get over themselves and adapt to the foreign customer as that is where the money is…

2 ( +3 / -1 )

That rypkan

0 ( +1 / -1 )

People are to sensitive, the ad is perfectly fine!

Japan has lots of rules for everything.

If you don't like them stay away.

unfortunately all the westerners visiting japan are changing the Ryokan experience, lots of places now have beds on the tatami mats vs futons.

I long for the 70's-80's when there were very few Westerners in Japan.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

It depends solely on you, what rooms do you prefer, how much are you willing to pay. When we travel in Japan we do it by car and we avoid ryokans at all costs, we prefer a hotel room. In general much cheaper and we go to a restaurant for our meals. Now Western-style hotels can be found almost everywhere in Japan, there are often resort hotels even in remote areas. Your choice.

If you consider however ryokans to be overpriced, I can say the same about upper class foreign hotels in Japan as well.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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