When you think of prison, you think of a cold, uncomfortable place with barred doors and no windows. You think of a place where toilet bowls are unclean and beds are worn-out. It is something that holds back your freedom. But can you imagine a prison building being turned into a hotel? This is one of the plans that the Ministry of Justice is considering for the Nara Juvenile Prison (奈良少年刑務所). It is going to be offered to companies willing to turn this place into profit.
A prison may be the last thing that you’ll ever convert into a hotel. There are so many nightmarish things crawling to our mind when we think of it. A prison hotel may also be the last place you’ll ever want to sleep at night. But did you know that in other countries, so many notoriously terrifying prisons have since become luxurious 4-star hotels or budget accommodations where you can cozily enjoy your stay?
One example of this is the infamous Charles Street Jail in Boston, Massachusetts, USA which was originally a model prison in the 1800s. It was prone to riots and physical decay which subjected it to shut its doors. Later on, it has reopened as a luxurious jail hotel called The Liberty Hotel which retained much of its historic structure.
Another example is Mount Gambier Prison in Australia. It was turned into a budget accommodation for backpackers or cheapskates. In here, very little has been done in the rooms so it will require a little Spartan spirit from those who’d like to stay. Moreover, a prison in Luzern, Switzerland built in the 19th century transformed its rooms into luxury suites. Every room possesses the original layout with new things added for creative use. The prison-hotel conversion has proven to be popular around the world and is even expanding.
Nara Juvenile Prison lies in the heart of Nara City (奈良市), built during the Meiji Period in 1908. It is surrounded by high walls made of red bricks which extend 500 meters on each side in a square formation. It has a stylish architectural design which is very interesting. It has a gorgeous domed archway with a complex feature. Its ceilings have a magnificent appearance while its walls are very solid (10 cm thick). It was designed by Yamashita Keijiro, the grandfather of Yosuke Yamashita, the chairman of the Association which treasures Nara Juvenile Prison as a Modern Architectural Masterpiece.
Nara Juvenile Prison’s front gate has two round turrets at each side with a white brickwork on top and a lattice gate. A total of 702 inmates who are minors and have committed serious offenses are being held in the place. They are expected to reform their life by doing 40 hours of work per week so they can be prepared for the outside world. Most of the construction workers were actually prisoners there.
Several opportunities for learning are being given to the inmates such as knowledge on software management, caring for the elderly and sick, and becoming a barber. Having great focus towards learning, the passing rate of those who take the exams is higher compared to those outside. This opportunity is something they can use when they are released. The prison has some workshops which can be visited by people who’d like to take a tour.
You can also purchase several items made by the inmates. Most of the products they made have undergone intricate craftsmanship which gives them high value. Purchasing these products is usually done once a year on the prison grounds. If you’d like to tour the place, you may do so except on Saturdays and Sundays. Group tour is also available by appointment on a weekly basis. So if you’re planning on visiting the place, might as well make your appointment in advance.
Nara Juvenile Prison has long been used over the years where several activities were used to preserve its existence until such a time that it has already been decided to shut down. The prison’s structure is fairly large and requires a lot of maintenance. It also needs to be renovated to resist shaking as the country is usually struck by earthquakes. Renovating the prison to comply with these requirements can reach to 3.6 billion yen!
Since the country is also known for not having the greatest track record in the world when it comes to preservation of old buildings, another plan has to be made. As a government-run museum, it doesn’t appear to cover the cost. The Ministry of Justice is looking forward to giving the opportunity to companies that are willing to make a profit out of the prison. Some companies have shown interest in this form of business but no final plan has been announced yet. If everything goes well, the management of the prison will be changed by spring 2017. Many people are looking forward to the hotel’s opening to have a first-hand experience of staying in a prison in a noble way.
If plans materialize in the future, this is going to be the first prison hotel in Japan and is expected to profit a lot of money from tourism. It is a unique way of changing the spirit of moneymaking and attracting a whole bunch of curious visitors who’re willing to have a taste of a prison hotel experience. The Association is hoping that the prison may not only symbolize as a historic building but as a place to reform education in a better way. In line with this, the prison hotel will also open jazz concerts after renovation.
So whether or not the plan of making the prison into a hotel pushes through, it is still better than demolition. With the increasing number of tourists rushing into the country, a big chance of success awaits. It would be best to take a glimpse of the prison by visiting it before April 2017, before the renovation starts. You may also opt to wait until the renovation is done to spend a unique and exciting night of a lifetime.