A cemetery outside Tokyo. Nearly all people who die in Japan are cremated. Credit Ben C. Solomon/The New York Times
Japan’s “Corpse Hotels”: It’s There That No One Will Stare | Haute Macabre

Japan’s “Corpse Hotels”: It’s There That No One Will Stare

The funeral for Hajime Iguchi at Sousou, a so-called corpse hotel in the Tokyo suburb of Kawasaki City, last year. Credit Ben C. Solomon/The New York Times

“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.”

Mr. Iguchi’s body on its way to a crematory. Credit Ben C. Solomon/The New York Times

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.

A cemetery outside Tokyo. Nearly all people who die in Japan are cremated. Credit Ben C. Solomon/The New York Times

A cemetery outside Tokyo. Nearly all people who die in Japan are cremated. Credit Ben C. Solomon/The New York Times

h/t Erin Blakemore at the Smithsonian

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.

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Sonya
The devil may care but I don't mind. Pronouns: they/them.

1 Comment

  1. My best friend of well over a decade left the earthbound realm in a sudden and violent way last year. It felt like I was gasping for air after repeatedly being punched in the gut at regular intervals. Even though he lived with AIDS since 1985 when I was just a little girl his attitude was both accepting of the pain that went with being one of very few who survived the NYC outbreak he was stubborn and had an astounding will to live despite being disowned by his mother, a woman who hated him even as a baby according to his sister and who referred to him as “It” she was of the mindset that she gave him life and that alone should be enough. My best friend could light up a room with his deep chainsmoker’s laugh and his approachable and kind demeanor but he was fiercely protective of animals, he despised anyone who would dare harm the helpless and I’d always feared that one night I’d lose him in his sleep, but that would’ve been a blessing compared to scrubbing his blood out of the carpeting and picking up a lampshade he crushed when his obsessive meth addicted ex boyfriend shoved him in a fight. Even with my best friend dead in the apartment his ex still managed to take his bag, his ipod, his phone, his meds, and his handwritten will making me the executor. His Sister who was not aware of the abuse or the police questioning him more than once felt overwhelmed and since the will was gone all I knew was he wanted to be interred at Hollywood Forever, and I was going to make sure he ended up there, and he did but it was not a very comforting process and his body was at the Morgue for a week before being released for legal reasons. He then was transported to Hollywood Forever and I was told I could see his body but I was warned his face was swollen and he would feel like a block of ice. I have a post mortem photo of him and he looks peaceful, and seeing it made me realize the finality of his death. I found a company that made reasonably priced jewelry meant to hold cremains and they filled it with some of his ashes and gave it back to me sealed in an hourglass pendant. We had made a pact long ago that whomever went first would wear the ashes of the other, and that ended up being me. I would’ve loved something like this, as it’s respectful, and practical something I felt Hollywood Forever wasn’t. They had us wait awhile to cremate him, and it took about three days due to all the metal replacement surgeries he’d had over the years from AIDS related issues. He was in a plastic box at his memorial and his sister and I both thought that his remains should be in an urn not this impersonal plastic box, and the funeral director said it didn’t matter because no one could see him. I felt like I was in an episode of Six Feet Under: the corporate conglomerate version. She even attempted to charge me to fill the pendant with some of the cremains, something I would’ve preferred to do myself but they said due to a code violation I could receive the remains only if they were tightly sealed and I heard one employee make a joke about “Aids dust” when I was waiting. I really love how great this is, it has the personal aspect that I was denied when dealing with a difficult death. I think Americans in general have forgotten how important certain rituals can be during the process of mourning. I have a lock of his hair that my stylist braided for me, and even now I’m crying as I type. Sonya if you see this, I always look forward to your lovely articles and I always feel better for having read them. Ironically right when I was going through the mourning process HM was putting out a lot of content having to do with death, mortality, grief and loss and using the line “It’s there that no one will stare.” from Rasputina also was pretty cool since “The new zero” Is one of my favorites of theirs.

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