Often the “weird Japan” trope seems like just another tired travel cliché – but then someone opens a robot hotel. In this case, hotel owner Hideo Sawada beat international journalists to the punch by straightforwardly calling it Henn-na Hotel, meaning “Strange Hotel”.
The idea behind it isn’t actually that weird, though. Sawada’s aims are eminently reasonable: to offer affordable accommodation in a famously expensive country (rooms start from approximately ¥9000); to do this by making the hotel as efficient as possible; and to encourage technological innovation in the tourism industry.
Just bear that in mind as you stare into the eyes of the American-accented, bow tie-wearing dinosaur robot behind the check-in desk.
After the check-in robots (there’s also a Japanese-language humanoid robot who’s well into uncanny valley territory) you’ll come to another one in the “robot cloak room”, a mechanical arm which will stow small bags in lockers. For larger items, you might enlist the help of a porter robot, perhaps stopping for a chat with the concierge robot on the way.
The rooms themselves are pretty normal, though with some high-tech additions. To get into the rooms you can opt for a regular key card or, the default option, a facial recognition system; as Sawada notes, robots aren’t great at finding lost keys. Once you get into the room, “radiant panels” will keep you at the right temperature by drawing heat away from your body when it’s hot and stopping it escaping when it’s cool, all through clever use of electromagnetic waves. Blimey.
The final technological addition is more familiarly Japanese territory: a cute little robot on the bedside table who can tell you the weather forecast, give you a wake-up call and turn the lights on and off. In a nod to the Dutch-style theme park next to the hotel, Huis Ten Bosch, “Tully” is shaped like an improbably adorable tulip.
It seems “weird Japan” is still alive and well, and pretty cool.