There’s a hot new hotel in Tokyo, and everyone’s dying to get in. You have to meet specific criteria to stay at this place … and if you can ask for a reservation, you won’t get one. Simply put, the living aren’t welcome. LISS Center Shin-Kiba calls itself a “business hotel for the dead,” a spot where corpses can wait until funerals are arranged.
So, what makes this hotel so special?
1. Obviously, it’s only for bodies, not the sentient. So, it’s awfully quet.
2. It’s a pretty exclusive spot, too – only 37 “guests” can be accommodated.
3. Bar codes keep everything in order … no need to worry about wandering into the wrong room!
4. You can pay by the hour … well, by the 12-hour block: rates start at 3,675 yen for half a day. For a funeral room, you’ll drop 2,100 yen an hour.
5. You get elbow room while planning to get rid of the body for good. Says Nokai Matsushima of LISS Sytem, “We want the families to have time to think, so they can decide on a satisfactory ceremony while their deceased relatives have a place to rest (temporarily) at our ‘business hotel.'”
The Funeral Service Institute of Vienna is responsible for most of the city’s undertaking. They will cremate you, find you your ideal coffin or even have you turned into a diamond. Whatever your needs after death may be, they can probably accommodate you.
They also happen to have a museum, which is open to the public but viewable by appointment only. I would highly recommend making an appointment, as you’ll get a €4.50 personal tour (€2.50 for larger groups) from the museum’s delightfully enthusiastic curator, Dr. Wittigo Keller. The exhibit is truly fascinating. From their funeral customs to their beliefs about death, the Viennese have an intriguing cultural perspective on the big sleep.
There is currently very little English-language information available about the Museum of the Funeral Service Institute of Vienna, so I’m delighted to be the first to take you on a virtual tour. Let’s start with the sitting-up coffin above.
%Gallery-88625%The Sitting-Up Coffin
Jacques-Louis David famously painted this portrait of Madame Récamier, then this coffin to go around her. Keller, the curator of The Museum of the Funeral Service Institute of Vienna (FSIV), created this coffin for a European funeral fair (which happens every three years). “It’s not practical,” he noted. Bodies must legally be buried six feet underground (below the freezing line), so one would have to dig several feet deeper to bury this coffin. Still, for the right price, he could says they could make it work.
The sitting-up coffin was one of the first things we saw at the museum, and it set the stage for an intellectual and curious look into death, rather than one filled with dread. The initial willies were shaken off, and we began discussing the new trend of creating diamonds out of the deceased’s ashes.
Diamonds Made of Dead People
You may have heard of LifeGem or another company which does this. People have been making diamonds synthetically for years (all you need is carbon, heat and pressure), and making a diamond from someone’s ashes, to some, is a beautiful way to give them metaphorical “eternal life.” Most diamonds created from human ashes are light blue, due to the chemicals in our bodies, but in the cases of people who’ve been through extensive medical treatments, the color can be different. Some companies will add chemicals post-mortum and allow you to make the diamond any color you like, but the FSIV doesn’t do that. Keller reports that it takes about 8 months to turn human ashes into a diamond, and the price for a quarter carat is about €4,680 (€14,440 for a full carat). It’s something to think about, because unless you put your desire to become a diamond in your will, your loved ones probably won’t come up with the idea.
Wearing Grandma’s ashes in a diamond necklace isn’t really any stranger than keeping her on the mantle.
Next, we headed into a room filled with black outfits for all the various officiants in historical Viennese funerals. In addition to black, funerals in Vienna could feature red paraphernalia for military men, and for children, youths and anyone unmarried, much of the black regalia would be light blue. Keller joked that a light blue funeral meant that you were “a complete loser in this life and the next,” and added that if you’re not married, you’d best not die in Vienna.
From about 1850 to about 1930, what mourning women wore to funerals in Vienna was an extremely important matter. Every October, newspapers would publish what the proper style for funerals would be that year, and if women were spotted in last year’s style, it reflected very poorly on them and their families. Naturally, it became possible to rent the appropriate dress to wear to a funeral — in fact, this is still practiced in Vienna. Just as you might rent a gown for a ball, you can rent a mourning dress for an important funeral. Jewelry was also regulated by the annual October announcement, and Keller says that this was actually the origin of costume jewelry.
After Death Certification
Next, we headed into a room of what Keller called “rescue alarm clocks.” Production of these began around 1854 when there was mass hype about the possibility that you could seem dead and be buried, and then suddenly wake up — buried alive. There were many, many different contraptions you could purchase to prevent this horrifying fate. For example: the double-sided knife, which specially licensed doctors would stab into your heart to ensure that you were dead (you can still request this, and he says old ladies in particular sometimes do, €300), known as “after death certification.” Another rescue alarm clock was quite literally an alarm, which he demonstrated for us:
That rope would have led from a coffin directly into the dining room of the cemetery-keeper. That’s a dinner party foul.
Next, we looked at some antique children’s funeral toys, which really confused me at first. Basically, Keller explained, a funeral is viewed like a wedding, or any other important passage, and children must be taught how to behave before they can attend. So, from a very young age, children would be given funeral toys to play with so that they could learn the proper procedures and not be afraid.
On the whole, death in Vienna is regarded as a far less scary affair. Perhaps it’s because of the toys, or perhaps it’s because Austrians save money — some their whole lives — for their funerals. Farmers would buy their coffins during a good year when they had the cash and paint it to match their furniture, then use it as a bookshelf or wardrobe until they, you know, needed it. Having a savings account for your funeral or a coffin in your living room probably helps you get used to the idea of dying. “Old Viennese folk songs are all about wine and death,” said Keller. “Death goes with you to the wine tavern and follows you home at night; it’s your best friend.”
The funeral is regarded as a festival, a goodbye party. People save their whole lives to throw a good one, so that they will be remembered for that last great party they gave. “You should tell people they can learn to die in Vienna,” said Keller with a cheeky smile.
As I mentioned, you can only visit the Museum of the FSIV by appointment, so to make one, call 501-95-4227 (country code 43) or ask your concierge. If your German’s pretty good, you can get more information here on the website. Alternatively, if you should happen to be in Vienna on the Long Night of the Museums (the first Saturday in October, when museums stay open late), you can test out the coffins. Literally. They’ll put you in a coffin, close it, and leave you there until you knock. According to Keller, last year, 1,500 people did just that. The oldest was an 88-year-old woman. “The girls are much braver than the boys,” he noted cheerfully.
This week Annie Scott joined the Gadling team of blogging fiends, and our fingers have been flying across keyboards capturing a mishmash of travel related items.
Along with our mini-series “Catching the Travel Bug” we’ve made another mini-series launch. Tune in for The Sounds of Travel twice a week when Gadling bloggers share with you the music that has inspired their travel. Grant began the series today with Great Lake Swimmers. Meg’s is ready to go. Look for it.
As I browsed the wealth of other info and travel finds, here are five posts that caught my eye. Each touted the unusual. There are more than just these posts in the bounty, but because this is Gadling Take FIVE, this is it.
Meg’s post on the Museum Funeral Customs highlighted this museum that captures one of the most fascinating aspects of human behavior.
If you are heading to Thailand, consider a trip to the Buddhist temple Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew, 370 miles north of Bangkok. Anna provides details about how it is entirely made up of recycled glass bottles.
Rabbit fans can see scads and scads of them at Robben Island in South Africa–at least for another week. Aaron reported that on Nov. 1 the island is being closed for two weeks while the population is thinned out.
For a most unusual ride, Jeffery suggests the Zeppelin. It is making its way from Beaumont, Texas to California.
And, Josh gave us the disappointing news that it is no longer possible to see the most expensive toilet in the world in person. He provided a video though. It’s not quite the same, but it will have to do.
If you’re looking for another great Halloween fun house, this isn’t it, but if you want to learn a few things about death and funerals, you’ll probably enjoy a visit to the Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield, IL, conveniently located near the most popular tomb in America.
As one of few things every human experiences, death and grieving rituals have a wide, multicultural and ancient scope. Exhibits at the museum shed light on many different types of funeral rituals, and offer visitors a behind-the-scenes look into body preservation and presentation. You’ll see lots of different gadgets and tools used in the embalming process as well as a postmortem fashion display, showing popular funeral outfits for the deceased.
Of course, there’s a gift shop. The most popular souvenir, according to the director, are the locally-made chocolate coffins. When you open the lid, there’s a chocolate mummy inside. Now there’s something you can give out to trick-or-treaters!
After your visit to the museum, go less than a mile to Lincoln’s tomb, and while you’re there, be sure to visit the defiant tomb of Mr. Accordion, which is another fascinating and amusing story. Read about it here.