Inside Japan's 'corpse hotels'

  • 04/07/2017
Corpse hotel
Hirokazu Hosaka prays to his mother as he stands at her coffin with his wife Minako Hosaka at a 'Corpse Hotel' in Kawasaki. Photo credit: Reuters

With Japanese society rapidly aging and annual deaths advancing, the 'corpse hotel' offers a unique storage space for bodies.

"Itai hoteru," or corpse hotel, is a place where bodies are stored cheaply until the crematory is ready, and where modest services can be held outside the home.

The business serves a growing market for Japanese families seeking an alternative to larger, more traditional funerals.

With community ties dwindling due to urban sprawl, funerals that once involved entire communities have increasingly become more modest affairs for small, immediate family.

Because of the high demand for funerals, families sometimes have to wait several days before a body can be cremated.

But at the Hotel Relation, a corpse hotel in Osaka, about one-third of the customers skip a formal funeral. Instead, they sit in the room with the deceased for a day or two, with only close family, and then send the body for cremation.

A corpse hotel in Kawasaki
A child cycles past a 'corpse hotel" in Kawasaki. Photo credit: Reuters

The rooms come with altars and platforms for coffins, and some have climate-controlled coffins with transparent lids so mourners can view inside.

The hotels are more economical than large funeral homes; the average funeral in Japan costs $24,268(NZD) where the cheapest package at the Hotel Relation costs around $2,425.

The deal includes flowers, a room to spend the night with the corpse, a white gown for the deceased, a simply decorated coffin, transport of the body from the hospital to the crematory, and an urn for ashes. 

Hotel employees move a corpse coffin
Hotel employees move a corpse coffin. Photo credit: Reuters

Based on the numbers produced by the Ministry of Labor, Health and Welfare, the demand for the hotels is likely to grow.

Last year, 1.3 million people died in Japan, up 35 percent from 15 years earlier, and the annual toll is expected to climb until it peaks at 1.7 million in 2040.