Aug 10, 2016

    Japan's historic prison may be saved as a hotel


    ASIAN travellers wanting to experience the living conditions of a prisoner without giving up basic comforts and the freedom of movement can try out prison hotels like Germany's Alcatraz and Canada's HI-Ottawa.

    But soon these will not be the only choices.

    For an option closer to home, a prison hotel may open in Japan's Nara city, about 43.5km south of Kyoto - the first in Asia to mirror eight existing ones across the world.

    Many Japanese are urging the justice ministry to approve the idea of converting the Nara Juvenile Prison into a hotel, in the view that it would be the best way to preserve its vintage architecture.

    As a potential prison hotel, the reformatory is as strong in history as Alcatraz and HI-Ottawa, given that it is more than 100 years old.

    It is one of five major prisons built during the reign of Emperor Meiji (1868-1912) and the only one with its original "colonial-style" structure completely intact, the Kyodo news agency pointed out.

    But the prison is scheduled to close in March for relocation, mainly because it needs to be retrofitted to be more resistant to earthquakes.

    Two domed turrets flank the lattice gate of the prison, which opens to a gravel path that leads to the red-brick administration building.

    Its cells, which can keep up to more than 700 inmates, are arrayed in the wings that spread out from the office block, which are also built of austere and solid-looking red bricks.

    If the foreign prison hotels are of any cue, the little rooms in a Nara prison hotel should be minimalist but sleek, containing a bunk bed, a small toilet with a shower, a barred window, a heavy door and even a peep hole.

    And if the Alcatraz experience is to be duplicated here, guests should sleep with striped prisoner pyjamas.

    However, adventure-seeking tourists might find the hotel disappointing as the place had never housed convicts on death row, so they would not find gallows anywhere.

    The prison was designed by architect Keijiro Yamashita, the grandfather of noted jazz pianist, Yamashita Yosuke, who is among the petitioners, reported the Chinanew website.

    The architectural value of this prison has won countless acclaims and it is an irreplaceable historical asset, a commentator wrote in the Livedoor news website.

    However, as the cost of re-fortifying it in quake-prone Japan is daunting, recruiting a private initiative to run the place as a hotel and turn a profit is a viable way to protect it, the article added.