• Kyodo

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A guesthouse decorated by artists is catching the eye of travelers in Kawasaki’s Nisshin district, traditionally known as a home to hostels for day laborers, as its manager moves to rejuvenate the area following a fatal fire three years ago.

Real estate and construction firm Nengo bought a hostel in Nisshin after the fire gutted two of them, turning it into a guesthouse named Nisshin Geppo, which means “rapid progress.”

Five of its 14 rooms were decorated by artists who painted images associated with Kawasaki on the walls, such as neon signs and hanafuda (Japanese playing cards) often used in gambling.

“I hope this guesthouse will contribute to the revival of the economy,” said Hiroki Yoshizaki, the 44-year-old manager of the guesthouse, which opened in January.

The guesthouse, targeting both domestic and overseas travelers, is a 15-minute walk from Kawasaki Station and offers compact rooms of two or three tatami mats in area (about 3 to 5 sq. meters), as well as shared showers and washrooms.

The occupancy rate reached around 85 percent in April. A third of the guests are women.

“Since (the district) is in proximity to Haneda airport and still holds an old-time atmosphere, there is demand” for the lodgings, said Yoshizaki, who used to work in the tourism industry before opening the guesthouse.

Day laborers traditionally stayed at hostels in the district, but in recent years, many elderly people on welfare moved in on a permanent basis.

The 2015 fire, believed to have been caused by arson, broke out in the early hours of May 17 and claimed the lives of 11 people who were staying in two adjacent wooden hostels.

In the aftermath, the Kawasaki Municipal Government offered relocation support for the displaced residents.

As a result, the number of people living in the lodging facilities has fallen sharply. As of the end of March, the tally of residents was 562, versus 1,349 at the time of the fire.

While there were 49 hostels in business at the time, 14 have since closed from the plunge in occupancy.

Because elderly operators of some of the hostels have voiced concern they might have to close because of their advanced age, Yoshizaki has proposed running the facilities for them.

Yoshizaki is thinking of renovating them into distinctive lodging facilities, such as a women-only guesthouse.

“I would like to establish a new business model of lodgings that can attract young people and business travelers, while making sure to maintain the historical townscape,” he said.

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