Photo/IllutrationThe walls of the hall of Hakone Honbako hotel are lined with books in June in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture. (Shimpei Doi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Patrons at this unique hotel in Hakone are promised a good night's sleep, and--with luck--a good read to boot.

The walls of the atrium at Hakone Honbako book hotel in Kanagawa Prefecture are lined with scores of titles, and through the windows visitors can take in the magnificent mountain backdrop.

The facility in the popular resort area is operated by leading book wholesaler Nippon Shuppan Hanbai Inc. (Nippan) with an eye toward stimulating the appetites of consumers who are buying fewer publications in this digital age.

An impressive 12,000 titles under six themes of housing, food, fashion, leisure, relaxation and knowledge are available on bookshelves in guest rooms, corridors, space in front of the communal bath area and elsewhere.

Among the hotel's unique features, sets of 10 to 15 books each were recommended by 61 famous writers and other personalities, such as novelists Kanako Nishi and Genichiro Takahashi.

Although the books at the accommodation facility are for sale, no book category descriptions or promotional signs are set up. Equipped with 18 guest rooms and an open-air bath, the hotel also has no TVs or clocks.

Accommodation packages, which includes an Italian dinner, are priced at between 18,000 yen ($169) and 50,000 yen per person per night. Guests typically check in at 3 p.m. to spend time in the hotel, which is operating at 75 percent capacity, for a total of 20 hours.

The building was initially used as a resort facility for Nippan employees, but was temporarily closed in 2015 after Mount Hakoneyama erupted.

Working with publisher and ryokan operator Jiyujin in Minami-Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture, Nippan fully remodeled the facility.

The book hotel project was led by Nippan's renovation promotion division comprising four employees in their 20s to 30s.

One of the members, Takuro Someya, 32, said the facility has many unique advantages.

"Online shopping sites recommend certain books based on the purchase records of users, but I would like people to enjoy encounters with unexpected works there," Someya said.

Another establishment that offers opportunities to find books, charging an entrance fee of 1,500 yen, excluding tax, is Bunkitsu, which stands on the former site of the Roppongi outlet of the Aoyama Book Center in Tokyo's Roppongi district.

The bookstore, which has already proven to be popular, opened last December and features 30,000 publications, with just one copy of each title available.

While coffee and tea are offered under an all-you-can-drink service, setting an entrance charge for visitors to a bookstore is rare.

"Having an entrance fee encourages customers to more seriously seek out books they like," said Kengo Takeda, 30, who was involved in planning and other processes for the bookstore program.

While concerns about the charge were raised by people in and outside Nippan, the bookstore proved to be so popular following its opening that entry limitations have to be introduced on weekends.

Thirty percent of visitors buy titles totaling more than 3,000 yen per person, more than double that of visitors to ordinary bookstores.

“The bookstore breaks even now, but the sales have the potential to rise,” said Takeda.

The new type of business is expected to improve the finances of Nippan, which reported a net loss of 200 million yen in the business year ending March 2019. It was the first time in 19 years for the company to post a business-year loss.

Nippan, which will start joint efforts with the second-largest book wholesaler, Tohan Corp., from spring 2020, has raised the number of employees in its renovation promotion division from four to 29.

Ken Togashi, 43, head of the division who also serves on Nippan's board, said Hakone Honbako and Bunkitsu marked the first step toward business reform.

“It is important that new ideas have come to fruition,” said Togashi. “Using them for promotion, we will continue taking on new challenges.”

Nippan is now considering collaborating with convenience stores.