Like them, hate them, corpse hotels here to stay

The nondescript building in Kawasaki that houses Sousou, one of Japan's so-called corpse hotels. These morgues in disguise are in demand because there are not enough crematoriums.
The nondescript building in Kawasaki that houses Sousou, one of Japan's so-called corpse hotels. These morgues in disguise are in demand because there are not enough crematoriums.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • Tucked away in a quiet residential street in Kawasaki city in Japan is a refurbished workshop with a plain silver exterior and black draped windows that residents describe as creepy.

The business inside, Sousou, is one of Japan's latest so-called corpse hotels, a camouflaged morgue used to store some of Japan's mounting pile of bodies waiting for a spot in the nation's overworked crematoriums.

"Crematoriums need to be built but there isn't any space to do so, and that is creating 'funeral refugees'," said Mr Hisao Takegishi, who opened the business in 2014.

At a daily rate of 9,000 yen (S$113), family members can keep their deceased relative in one of Sousou's 10 rooms for up to four days until a suitable crematorium can be found.

Unlike other such morgues in disguise, which try to blend in by looking like hotels, Sousou does not refrigerate corpses, relying on air-conditioned rooms instead.

As Japan ages, more people are dying each year. About 20,000 more people are dying each year, with the death rate expected to peak at about 1.7 million a year by around 2040, according to government estimates.

By then, barring any major influx of immigrants, Japan will have 20 million fewer people.

Residents of Kawasaki are unhappy about living next to Sousou's hidden corpse refugees, with placards and flags dotting the neighbourhood expressing outrage at the presence of the morgue.

Ms Yoko Masuzawa, 50, who, lives behind Sousou, demanded it put air ventilation grills above ground level, a request that she said it ignored. "It was built so close, less than a metre away in some places," she said.

Sousou's customers, however, are grateful for a place to keep their deceased relatives.

"I think it is great that families and acquaintances can come and visit before she heads off to the crematorium," said 69-year-old Hirokazu Hosaka, as her mother's body lay in a decorated coffin in Sousou.

Mr Takegishi, who used to help organise weddings, is looking to tap growing demand, with plans to bring corpse hotels to other cities.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2016, with the headline 'Like them, hate them, corpse hotels here to stay'. Print Edition | Subscribe