“Checkout time, for the living and the dead, is usually no later than 3 p.m,” writes Motoko Rich. She’s talking about the Hotel Relation in Osaka, whose accommodations include plain twin beds, flat-screen televisions, and plastic-wrapped cups and toothbrushes — oh, and, the corpses are across the hall. Hotel Relation is just one of Japan’s “itai hoteru,” or corpse hotels, and is an inn-meets-mortuary hybrid that “serve[s] a growing market of Japanese seeking an alternative to a big, traditional funeral in a country where the population is aging rapidly, community bonds are fraying and crematories are struggling to keep up with the sheer number of people dying.”
Checkout time, for the living and the dead, is usually no later than 3 p.m
It’s also a place to rest your weary head while waiting to be cremated: Japan’s 99% cremation rate, the world’s highest, means people can wait up to four days for their turn in the fire. Enter the corpse hotel, which acts as a place to store the body and the grieving family; instead of the “impersonal cold storage” of a morgue, family members can stay next to rooms fitted with altars or climate-controlled coffins with transparent lids, allowing them to look inside and say goodbye.
In addition to convenience, corpse hotels offer another benefit: they’re more economical than larger funeral homes, allowing families to have a modest, intimate service. “The average funeral in Japan runs 1.95 million yen, or about $17,690. The cheapest package at the Hotel Relation costs 185,000 yen, or about $1,768,” Motoko Rich writes, citing recent figures from the Japan Consumer Association. This package includes “flowers, a room for the family to spend the night in the same room as the corpse, a traditional white gown for the deceased, a simply decorated coffin, transport of the body from the hospital and then to the crematory, and an urn to hold the ashes. Each additional night costs 10,800 yen, just under $100. Families who want separate rooms, wakes or funerals pay extra.”
Voa News reported earlier this summer that “Asia’s aging population is projected to hit 923 million by midcentury, putting the region on track to become the oldest in the world.” It will be interesting to see how Japan continues innovating death care as its citizens age and demand continues to grow faster than supply can keep up.
Photos all by Ben C. Solomon for The New York Times
1. The funeral for Hajime Iguchi at Sousou, a so-called corpse hotel in the Tokyo suburb of Kawasaki City, last year.
2. Mr. Iguchi’s body on its way to a crematory.
3. Relatives of Mr. Iguchi departing the crematory with his ashes.
4. A cemetery outside Tokyo. Nearly all people who die in Japan are cremated.