A “Rescue Hotel” Is Also Possible! The Power of Container Hotels Mushrooming in the Suburbs
A group of containers appears unexpectedly as you drive along a national highway or near an interchange away from the center of town. Until a dozen years ago, they were karaoke boxes, and today most of them are trunk rooms, but this is a hotel. In the past few years, the number of “container hotels” has increased dramatically along national highways in the suburbs. When I asked neighbors, they replied, “Oh, that used to be a hotel? I thought they were trunk rooms or something.”
The number of container hotels is increasing nationwide due to their low construction costs. The “HOTEL R9” group, which operates 64 hotels (as of the end of January) mainly in the northern Kanto region, is a “rescue hotel” that can be used as an evacuation center in the event of a disaster, and has concluded disaster agreements with more than 100 local governments.
“The first HOTEL R9 opened in 2018 after the representative of the group saw an evacuation center in the area after the Great East Japan Earthquake and wondered if it would be possible to use construction containers. They were also mobilized seven times for the COVID-19 crisis and used as examination rooms and hospital beds. That is why each container has its own license plate and tires, and we operate it as a hotel near national roads and ICs to make it easier to move quickly in case of a crisis. The company’s rescue hotel business has been certified as an SDGs project because the containers can be used repeatedly without the need to dismantle them after leaving the premises,” says a travel writer.
Containers are used to transport cargo. They must be hot or cold, and are far from comfortable. This reporter stayed in one to experience how comfortable it really is.
This time we stayed at “HOTEL R9 The Yard Noda” located along Route 16. It is about a 20-minute walk from the nearest station, Noda-shi Station. Apart from the restaurants and car dealerships dotting the road, the surrounding area is residential. A golf course is located on the other side of the road.
Upon entering the site, more than 40 containers are lined up in a row behind a spacious parking lot. The containers are similar to those in container yards at ports, but each container has curtained windows, an outdoor air-conditioning unit, and a water heater. The container at the very front is the front desk.
“We have a lot of customers in the construction industry because we are located along a national highway. We also have repeat customers who use the golf course. There are not many places to stay around here, and they said it was too far to go to Kashiwa. We often get full rooms, and thanks to you, we are full again today,” said an employee at the front desk.
Indeed, the reporter tried to make a reservation a few days ago, but was unable to get a room until this day because it was fully booked. It was a weekday, and yet the hotel was fully booked, which means it is quite popular.
There is an automatic check-in machine next to the front desk. The fee was 8,300 yen for one meal, which was either pasta or fried rice from the freezer and eaten in the room. You will also receive amenities such as a toothbrush, body towel, and room wear. Coffee and other beverage service is also available.
You will be given a card key to enter the container. The double room of 13 square meters, or about 7 tatami mats, looks a little small for two people, but it is quite comfortable for one person. There is a refrigerator, TV, electric kettle, hair dryer, microwave oven, air purifier (with humidification function), and massage chair.
The desk is spacious and equipped with Wi-Fi, so it is perfect for a remote workspace. The only complaint I have is that the only chair available is a massage chair, which makes me feel too relaxed, and the desk feels a bit high.
When I went outside at 8 p.m., I found that most of the room windows had lights on before I knew it. This meant that more than a dozen people came and went in the hallway in front of the containers, but I felt no sign of them at all. In a normal hotel, one would be able to hear the opening and closing of the door of the next room, but since each container is an independent unit, it is probably difficult for sound to penetrate. One of the guests, a businessman in his 30s, said, “I travel a lot for business,
I sometimes use this hotel because I go here and there for business. I drive a lot, so many downtown business hotels have parking lots that are far away from the hotel. This hotel is convenient because it is just a short walk from my car to my room”, he said.
One difference from a regular hotel is that there is no lobby or cafeteria. There are vending machines and a laundry container, but no vending machines for alcoholic beverages.
I took a shower in the clean three-piece bathroom and went to bed. It was quite cold outside and the air was dry, but thanks to the humidifier and air conditioner, I slept warm and comfortable. In the end, it was no different from a regular business hotel, but more comfortable in terms of quietness.
The container is different from containers used for transportation and was built in accordance with the Building Standard Law. They are not different in structure from steel-framed condominiums or detached houses. It looks like a container, but it is completely the same inside as a studio apartment. In addition to business use, there are also cases of leisure use in areas close to sightseeing spots, and in unusual cases, families staying together to avoid burdening aging parents when they return home.
Although container hotels are far from public transportation and may seem inconvenient at first glance, considering their usefulness as rescue hotels, more and more municipalities will be attracted to them in the future. If the users are made aware of the safety, security, affordability, and comfort of these hotels, there is no doubt that the number of visitors will increase.
PHOTO： Hirohiko Tani