Tucked away in the backstreets of Osaka, the Hotel Relation building is nondescript and bland. It’s the kind of place you’d scroll past if you were looking for a room on a hotel booking site.
But decor and ambiance are probably not a priority for the guests who use the six rooms at the Hotel Relation. That’s because it’s a “corpse hotel”, and the guests at this final resting place are all dead. No need for room service here.
The term “corpse hotel” sounds like a bad setting for a D-grade slasher flick. But in a rapidly ageing society, the demand for these hotels is booming in Japan’s big cities.
Ninety-nine percent of people are cremated in Japan – the highest rate of cremation in the world. And with more and more people dying each year, some families have to wait up to four days for their deceased loved ones to be cremated.
That’s where places like the Hotel Relation come in. They function as a temporary mortuary, and their popularity is evident: every day, their rooms are full.
Inside the hotel, up to four relatives can sleep in an adjacent room with twin beds and a TV.
Yoshihiro Yurisu has run Hotel Relation for the past 10 years. “You can see the deceased whenever you like in our hotel. Even when they are kept in a refrigerating room… you can call them up by pushing a switch,” Yurisu says with enthusiasm.
Another burden for bereaved families is cost. Japanese funerals are among some of the most expensive in the world. The service alone can cost $23,000 with an array of pricey services like fleets of cars, big funeral halls and expensive food as optional extras. Added all together, the cost of a funeral is ten times higher than a memorial service in the UK.
So Yuisu has started holding small funerals in Hotel Relation. “I think we will see the simpler and cheaper funerals like the ones that we hold at this hotel in the future,” Yuisu says.
This may be no surprise, given that Japan is in the economic doldrums. Some of Yuisu’s guests have stayed at his hotel for three weeks. Corpse hotels like the Hotel Relation cost $150 a night for lodging. Not a bad price – but the breakfast buffet is not included.