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    Jun 20, 2016

    Corpse hotels a lively business in ageing Japan


    IT IS neither a mortuary nor a parlour but the new Japanese alternative is a much more "cosy" stop-over station for a dead body in its trip to cremation.

    It is called the corpse or itai hotel - a motel-like house with a decor fit for the living, yet whose "check-in" guests are "dead bodies", although living kin and friends could choose to "sleep over".

    Booking a room in an itai hotel to store a dead body, hopefully just for a few days, looks set to become common in Japan as crematoriums are in short supply and queues to the incinerators are long, reported South Korea's Newsis news website.

    A writer for China's Sohu news website recently visited one such hotel named Sou Sou in Kawasaki city, some 18km south of Tokyo.

    At a daily rate of 9,000 yen (S$117), family members can keep the body of a departed kinsman in one of Sou Sou's 10 rooms until a crematorium is found, reported Sohu.

    The business has been profitable, Sou Sou president Hisao Takegishi told the Japan Times, adding that in the past one year, seven or eight rooms were taken most of the time.

    "I want to provide people with a place other than a depressing morgue to mourn and relax, just like at home," said Mr Takegishi.

    At Sou Sou, families can decorate the rooms with flowers and memorabilia of the dead.

    However, the three-storey sombre-looking building is shunned by many neighbouring residents, who call it a morgue in disguise.

    Another such "hotel" called Shin-Yokohama in Yokohama, some 44km south of Tokyo, is a nine-storey building that provides not only rooms to store bodies, but also rooms for banquets and funeral prayers.

    Customer numbers have been on the rise although they are paying less as people now prefer smaller and simpler funerals, said Kimiaki Takemura, vice-president of the company that runs the building.

    About 1.3 million Japanese die every year, putting heavy strains on the cremation industry, especially in populous Tokyo and Osaka, Newsis reported.

    By 2030, that annual number would surpass 1.6 million as the baby-boomer generation make their exit, it pointed out.

    Given the expected surge, Itaru Takeda, who studies Japan's funeral culture, said more crematoriums must be quickly built, lest more bodies are held up.

    But such projects are often opposed by residents as they do not want cremation facilities in their backyards.

    According to Mr Takeda, some projects have been stalled for more than a decade.

    At the same time, cremations cannot be speeded up as Japanese customs demand elaborate rituals in the disposal of bodies, he added.

    When more bodies bunch up in future, itai hotels will see a boom in business, Newsis forecast.

    A Korean netizen even expects the practice to spread to his country.

    "(The) Itai hotel would also become our choice tomorrow as our population is ageing too," he wrote in Newsis.