Hoshinoya Nara Prison’s guests’ stays will be shorter and more comfortable than Nara Prison’s occupants’ were.

Hoshino Resorts is Japan’s best-known group of luxury hotel properties. The company’s hotels are considered destinations in and of themselves, often located outside of major city centers in places of natural beauty and/or cultural significance, with the corresponding level of elegance and refinement to the hotels’ architecture, amenities, and hospitality.

So it’s entirely in keeping with Hoshino Resorts’ business model that the company’s is planning to convert a now vacant building in Nara City that was built over a century ago, and has such historical cachet that it’s been designated a national important cultural property by the Japanese government, into its newest hotel. What is unusual, though, is that until fairly recently, the building was a prison.

Though there’s a stately feel to ornate towers and brick walls, upon its completion in 1908 this complex of buildings was Nara Prison. In 1946 it was renamed the Nara Juvenile Prison, but that doesn’t mean it became a sort of halfway house for wayward boys, just that the inmates incarcerated there were between the ages of 16 and 26.

The prison closed in 2017, and in the same year had national important cultural property status conveyed upon it. Nara Prison was one of the five major prisons planned by the Japanese government during the Meiji period, which was the first era to follow the end of centuries of feudal government in Japan. During Japan’ feudal period, the idea of imprisoning or attempting to rehabilitate criminals was far from widespread (if you’ve ever visited a Japanese castle, you might have noticed that, unlike many of their European counterparts, they don’t really have dungeons), so Nara Prison has sociological significance, and it’s also a well-preserved example of early Western-style architecture in Japan.

We visited the prison shortly after its closing in 2017.

Hoshino Resorts isn’t shying away from the building’s history, either, as it has announced that the hotel will officially be called Hoshinoya Nara Prison.

For its hotel, the company plans to retain the star-shaped layout (seen in the artist’s image at the top of this article) of wings radiating out from a central hub, which was originally for the purpose of making it easier for prison administrators, at the center, to keep an eye on the connected cell blocks. Guestrooms will be located in the same areas as prisoner cells were, but will be, of course, much more spacious. The hotel will have a total of 48 rooms, formed by combining multiple solitary confinement cells. In addition to a restaurant and lounge, Hoshio Resorts is also planning to establish an on-site history museum about Nara Prison, which can be visited even by those not staying at the hotel.

The idea of turning Nara Prison into a hotel has been floating around for some time now, with an original completion projection of 2020. With the pandemic having turned international tourism, and the economy in general, upside-down for the last few years the project was slowed down considerably, but last week Hoshino Resorts announced not only the finalized name for the hotel, but also that development is finally gearing up and that Hoshinoya Nara Prison will begin welcoming guests in the spring of 2026.

Source: Hoshino Resorts via Mainichi Shimbun, PR Times
Top image: PR Times
Insert images: Ministry of Justice, SoraNews24
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