The electronic doors open and the first thing that catches my eye is the velociraptor, all the blinking teeth, the snout snouted up, and the sickle-shaped claws. He wears a groom’s hat and white bow tie, chatting in Japanese. And yet, despite the deranged quirk of speaking to a Jurassic man-eating predator, that’s not the most gripping part. Hunched over and ready to pounce, he asks me – several times – to give him my Mastercard while making jokes. Only in Japan could this make sense.
The sun is starting to set over Omura Bay, south of Sasebo Town in Nagasaki Prefecture on Kyushu Island, and I’m about to check in at the Henn-na Hotel – or âWeird Hotelâ – to understand this future-obsessed corner of Japan. Equipped almost entirely with robots, it is, according to the official blurb, the most efficient hotel in the world. What I see is the future in full swing.
Beside the dinosaur, Yumeko, a glossy white talking model with pearl skin and piercing eyes, checks into a family, while a well-polished pedal bin in a tall baby in the corner tingles pop ballads.
There are vacuum cleaners and automated gardeners, a toy-sized orchestral ensemble, and the kind of one-armed robotic claw that automakers use on production lines handling luggage storage.
There are experimental bots riffing on Wall-E, Johnny 5, Marvin the Paranoid Android, and Energizer Bunny. There is a “Famibot”, a “Winbot”, a “Deebot”, an “Atmobot” and attention-demanding babbling of nuts, bolts, beeps and beeps. In total, there is an army of 250 of them working shifts.
There is no one to see – nowhere. The open-plan lobby is dedicated to a bank of vending machines selling digital water clocks, data SIM cards and virtual reality glasses. I check in through what appears to be a talking ATM, he gives me a paper with my room number (there are no keys here), and I set off (there is no embarrassing chicane with a porter, but for travelers with heavy bags there is luggage service – little more than a motorized cart).
Instead of this room key, there is eye recognition technology. Unfortunately, in my case, that translates to five minutes of squinting and growling in front of the camera before I’m finally allowed in.
Visual sensations are less impressive in my room. There is a bedside table-sized butler, Chur-ri-Chan, who has a tulip for his head and can tell you the weather forecast for tomorrow, set a wake-up call, or sing you to sleep in Japanese if that’s it. your thing. But the off-white decor and double bed are as basic as in freeway services. With the exception of the automated spray and take-out toilets – which are standard in Japan anyway – it’s as basic as a Travelodge. The exception are robot-controlled light switches, which track your movements Big Brother-style before clicking on and off as you need them (making it impossible to discreetly tip your toes to the toilet. for a midnight pee). The message is clear: the walls are watching you.
But then again, the overall simplicity of the piece is intentional. Japan has no shortage of luxury high-rise hotels offering five-star service or heritage ryokans. What is that is less than entry-level hotels at Â£ 70 a night. Here, all the investments have been invested in the robots.
The catch, however, is that Japanese robots don’t understand accents, especially those from Glasgow. “Can you recommend a restaurant for dinner?” I ask Chur-ri-Chan, who responds with a cartoonish song by wishing me good night. “Is room service possible?” The answer is 28 degrees, wet with showers. Fortunately, I am not asking for anything that Google does not tell me.
“This is the future,” hotel spokesman Allen Jongkeun Lee – one of the few staff who monitor service levels behind the wizard’s curtain – tells me later. âNo staff costs, no breaks, no one works in the store or the concierge. This reduces costs for us and for customers.
Looks like it’s really the future too – Henn-na already has two sister hotels in Japan, with 10 more planned by the end of next year, including six in Tokyo. HIS Hotels owners plan to build 100 over the next five years.
As we chat, the mini-orchestra kicks off their evening performance, a canned rendition of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, while the Transformer-sized porter welcomes a carriage full of newcomers. guests. It’s hard to argue with the ambition and the wow factor about it all, and as I return to my bedroom I can’t help but wonder how the world will change over the next 25 years. Robo-masseurs. Cyborgs sommeliers. Android pool attendants. It would be really weird.
Finnair flies from Heathrow, Edinburgh and Manchester, connecting at Helsinki, Fukuoka from April 26 to October 25, 2018, from Â£ 665 round trip. From there it takes about 90 minutes to Sasebo by bus or train.
Hotel Henn-na offers double rooms from Â£ 70
Click here to book the Henn-na hotel