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After much excitement, we experienced the Guinness-recognized “First Robot-Staffed Hotel.” The Pros: Fast internet, a healthy breakfast and lots of robots. The Cons: It felt really gimmicky and came across as being designed more for appearance than function.
One thing Japan is definitely known for is robots. From specially themed restaurants to robots that perform funeral rites, the country has always seemed to be on the forefront of incorporating them into people’s everyday lives. So where else would you expect to find the first robot-staffed hotel recognized by the Guinness World Records? Sure enough, it’s in Japan — and we paid the Henn-na Hotel a visit.
I booked this as a pre-change Citi Prestige 4th-night-free booking over the phone with the Citi concierge, and was able to get the actual cost of the fourth night — including taxes — as a statement credit. Getting the free night eased the sting, but robots still don’t come cheap. The total cost for our stay was $178 per night before the 4th Night Free credit and ended up being $134 per night after it.
While other Huis Ten Bosch hotels are available through the Citi travel portal, the Henn-na Hotel isn’t available for online booking so you’re still going to have to call the Citi Concierge to book a fourth night free. But as you’ll see below, you might not want to book four nights at this hotel. Alternatively, I could have paid with a travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which would have given me 3x or 2x points for the travel purchase, respectively.
The hotel is in Huis Ten Bosch Machi in the Sasebo section of Nagasaki Prefecture, located about a 75-minute drive from the city of Nagasaki or nearly two hours by train. It isn’t too hard to get there from Nagasaki Airport (NGS). The airport limousine bus picks passengers up right at the airport and drops them off at the entrance to the Huis Ten Bosch theme park. From that stop, you can wait for the regular bus to the hotel, but it’s only a seven-minute walk. For ¥1,250 per person (~$11), the coach-style bus is a comfortable way of traveling between the airport and the hotel. Note that it only accepts cash, but you can get change — stow your luggage in the bottom of the bus and pay when you exit. A taxi ride runs at least ¥8,800 (~$78) each way. Since it’s not going to save you much time and won’t be any more comfortable, I’d only recommend taking a taxi if the bus doesn’t work for your schedule.
From the exterior, the only indication that Henn-na was a robot hotel was a stationary Transformers-type robot outside the plain-looking lobby.
Inside, we were greeted in Japanese and English by — you guessed it — robots. At the check-in desk, two of them were dinosaurs…
…while the third looked like a human.
These weren’t the robots that were there when the hotel first launched. On the website, we were excited to use the Aldebaran Nao robot to check in, because that was the robot my wife had been programming to play soccer over the last eight years — Katie just completed her Ph.D. in computer science and it’s the robot that won the RoboCup in 2012. But at the reception desk, the Nao had been replaced by a dinosaur.
The check-in process was clunky. The robot merely greeted us before directing us to scan our passports on another machine. The whole thing was a lot less robot-assisted then we were expecting.
We were in Building E, Room 255. It wasn’t close to the lobby, but it did seem to be one of the best rooms of our type. We couldn’t request a specific room at check-in, and there was no obvious way to change the assigned room. If we’d been lucky enough to be assigned to Building A and arrived between 3:00pm and 10:00pm, we could’ve used one of the robot porters to move our bags to our room.
In keeping with the hotel’s focus on technology, the doors could be opened with facial-recognition software. The first time we entered, we could opt into this system by touching our keys to a sensor and registering our faces, which would let us open the door at the touch of a button from then on.
Though cool in theory, it didn’t work when the light changed, so if we’d registered our faces at night, we would’ve only been able to open the door at night. Beyond that, it wasn’t 100% accurate. Bottom line: Don’t leave your room key behind.
After we finally got the door to open, we checked out the room. Here’s what we saw:
Yes, that was the sound of the toilet flushing as I walked in the bathroom. Ah, Japanese toilets and their motion-sensor technology. But more on that later.
The room was quite small and had little storage — the supposed wardrobe was only a few hangers teetering from a thin wooden plank. That’s it. There was no closet, no dressers or any real shelving — only four small vertical cubbies. There was also no desk, but there were two simple wooden chairs and a small side table. The not-quite-full-size beds (48 inches wide by 74 inches long) took up virtually the whole room. We found the beds firm but comfortable. There was only one standard pillow and one long cylindrical pillow per bed.
Our room had massive windows with a great view of the Huis Ten Bosch theme park. While not quite floor-to-ceiling, the window seemed to take up more than 80% of the wall.
Since we were working on a New York time schedule, we were especially happy with the roll-down blackout curtains. There was also a retractable privacy shade, but we found — simply from walking around the hotel at night — that this did a poor job of providing any privacy.
The in-room robot assistant, Tuly, was… interesting. There were no light switches, clocks or alarm clocks; instead, these functions were handled by Tuly via voice command. She also told us the weather and room temperature and sang a selection of Auto-Tuned Japanese songs — upon request, of course.
The lack of light switches, though interesting in theory, proved annoying. Tuly had a motion sensor and if you didn’t move for a while, the lights would turn off. If you didn’t specifically tell Tuly to turn off the lights — say, at bedtime — the motion sensor would remain activated. On the nights when Katie went to sleep and I stayed up working, I was faced with a no-win situation when I wanted to hit the sack: I could wake up my wife with a loud exchange with Tuly, or risk having the lights turned on every time we rolled over in our sleep.
Another annoying thing about Tuly: She loved to randomly jump into our conversations. There were a few times when she would interrupt my phone calls by yelling out, “Did you call me?” — and this a few minutes into the conversation, for some reason. We learned to instruct Tuly to “be quiet,” and she didn’t respond to any voice commands until we relieved her by commanding, “You can talk now.”
There was no lack of power plugs in the room. We counted 11 total US-style plugs; four of which were grounded three-prong plugs. They look like US plugs but put out a different voltage, and while cell phones, laptops and other devices should handle the different voltage with no issues, it’s a good idea to check any electronics before plugging them in.
The room came stocked with two sets of bathrobes, two sets of slippers, a blowdryer, a safe, a mini-bar stocked with two free water bottles, a kettle, two mugs, a corkscrew, a bottle opener, two umbrellas and a shoehorn.
The bathroom was stocked with two new toothbrushes — standard for Japanese hotels — two cups, and Pola Shower Break soap and shampoo. Coffee, tea or any other other bathroom amenities we might’ve wanted had to be purchased from a vending machine in the lobby.
Compared to other “shower”-enabled toilets we ran across in Japan, this toilet control panel was pretty straightforward.
There was also a 31-inch flat screen TV, but we couldn’t find any English programming on the six channels. At one point, though, there were four baseball games across the six channels.
The hotel didn’t have a pool, fitness center or any nearby attractions besides the Huis Ten Bosch theme park, which featured Disney-esque prices. What the hotel did have was… robots.
The hotel lobby was full of them, including a robot orchestra that played three times a day.
Most of the interactive robots only spoke and understood Japanese. The little teddy bear that was supposed to be bilingual was pretty bad at English, but still ridiculously cute.
One of the most noticeable features of the lobby was the glass-enclosed robot cloakroom, perfect for storing bags if you got to the hotel too early to check in or wanted to head to the Huis Ten Bosch theme park after checking out. Of course, we had to test it out. Here’s the bag-retrieval process:
A self-driving robot vacuumed the lobby during the day.
Outside, an automated robot mowed the grounds.
A Winbot window-cleaning robot cleaned the windows of the lobby.
There was hotel-wide free Wi-Fi, which worked for us everywhere except the on-site restaurant; the speeds were determined by how many other people were online. I clocked blazing 50 Mbps-plus download and upload speeds in the room during the day, while the lobby during a busy check-out time tested at disappointing 1.38 Mbps download and 1.87 Mbps upload speeds.
Food and Beverage
The on-site restaurant served breakfast, lunch and dinner. While 4th Night Free reservations aren’t supposed to select breakfast-included rates, my Citi concierge somehow booked one of these for us so we were able to enjoy a fresh Japanese-style breakfast each morning.
Besides this, there were no nearby restaurants outside the park. In fact, all the informational kiosks pointed us only toward in-park restaurants. Unfortunately, there was no robot room service at the hotel. Instead, there were vending machines.
I tried one of the ¥500 (~$4.41) packages of French fries from the hot-food machine and instantly regretted it. The soggy and hot — yet somehow not thoroughly cooked — fries were a total waste of money.
As Katie completed her Ph.D. in a lab that focused on human-interactive robotics, we came with high hopes for this hotel, but were disappointed by the limited check-in robots and robot butlers and frustrated by the facial-recognition keyless entry process. And what could’ve been the best aspect, Tuly, fell flat because she struggled to understand us. Overall, the hotel felt really gimmicky.
That said, for families with kids and technophiles of all ages visiting Japan, we’d still recommend the Henn-na Hotel. While we used our Citi Prestige card for a 4th Night Free stay, you could really experience all that this hotel has to offer in just a night or two. We would only recommend staying longer only if you’re planning on visiting the Huis Ten Bosch theme park during your stay — that’s the only entertainment in the area outside this hotel.
Have you plugged into the robot hotel? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos and videos by the author.
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