Like many developed world countries, Japan has a very low birth rate. The population is shrinking by 500,000 people every year. As a result, schools across the country are shutting down for good, leaving municipal authorities struggling to find new uses for the old buildings. Authorities in Narita have hit on a clever way to turn a crisis into an opportunity. An abandoned school near Narita Airport, the former Kuzumi Second Elementary School, has been converted into a tourist hotel.

In a nod to those with fond memories of school days, many features of the original elementary school have been retained in the hotel, which has been rebranded as Ready to Flight! Narita. Guests put their shoes in the clog box once used by the neighbourhood’s schoolchildren and eat in what was once the home economics classroom. The old-fashioned classrooms of the former Kuzumi Second Elementary School have been repurposed, yet the staid but safe atmosphere of a school has been lovingly preserved.

Tourists passing through Narita airport can check in to Ready for Flight! Narita for a night and transport themselves back to the less worrying days of childhood. They will soon find themselves rejuvenated by memories of their younger selves (unless, of course, they’re still of school age, in which case the experience may prove less of a thrill).

Various types of rooms are available at Ready for Flight! Narita, from spacious dormitories, complete with original blackboards, to private rooms. The hotel’s managers expect most of their guests to be heading to or from Narita Airport, which is just 9km away, but it will doubtless prove popular with sports clubs and company personnel looking for a short break from the adult world as well.

Ready for Flight! Narita offers all the facilities you expect of a modern hotel, such as a gymnasium, music room, tatami room and a rooftop space where you can ponder the night sky or watch the planes coming in to land at Narita airport. It also promises cultural events. When the hotel first opened for business in October 2019, guests were treated to a “Let’s make a classroom together!” event, in which they were invited to make hand stamps and decorate the walls of their room with their favourite colours. Future guests can expect entertainment of a similarly juvenile bent.

In Japan, adults often look back fondly on the halcyon days of childhood. It’s hardly surprising: school can look like a cakewalk when compared to the unrelenting grind of company life. As seen through foreign eyes, such nostalgia for childhood might appear saccharine, but things are surely only going to get sicklier as the number of children declines further.

An extra fluffy futon in a dormitory at Ready to Flight! Narita will set you back 3000 yen ($27) per night, while private rooms go from 4000 yen ($36). For more information, have a look at the hotel’s website (Japanese only).

By - George Lloyd.