The first sign that you are staying at a zero-waste hotel comes when they bring out the wire cheese cutter and a bar of soap and invite you to cut off exactly the amount of soap you’ll be needing to wash your hands during your stay. It is perhaps a bit of tongue-in-cheekery, but it serves as a reminder that this isn’t just any hotel you are staying at.
Hotel WHY is located in tiny Kamikatsu, a village of about 1,400 people in rural Tokushima Prefecture on the Japanese island of Shikoku. Kamikatsu might have been just another rural obscurity if not for the fact that in 2003 it became the first town in Japan to set a goal to become 100 percent zero-waste. To achieve that goal, residents committed to sorting their waste into an astounding 45 categories, many of which are fully recyclable and actually generate revenue for the town. The hotel itself is connected to the zero-waste recycling facility and is not so much a hotel for general travelers as it is a place to stay for people who want to invest more than a few hours learning about Kamikatsu’s zero-waste strategy.
In fact, there are only four rooms here, built and decorated with materials that were recycled from the town. Other than measuring out your soap rations, the only other major expectation for guests is that they sort their own garbage, but only into six of the 45 categories the town residents use. The rooms are quite comfortable, with views of the nearby lush mountains or crystal blue lake. You can sleep in the loft on a traditional Japanese futon mattress, or make the sofa into a pull-out bed.
You’d be surprised how fun it is to learn about and explore a town famous for being zero-waste. The zero-waste center has a “shop” that “sells” reusable items like clothing, sporting goods, and housewares. They actually aren’t for sale at all, but free to those who will put the items to good use, even those who are not residents of the area. At the nearby Kamikatsu Rise & Win general store, bring your own container to purchase things like cereal or shampoo and pay by weight. There is also a craft beer brewery in town that produces excellent beer and turns the by-products from the brewing process into liquid fertilizer.
And if zero-waste is simply not your thing, Kamikatsu is surrounded by the sparsely populated mountains of Tokushima, perfect for hiking or cycling. But chances are if you’ve never been interested in zero-waste before, your interest will be piqued by a stay at Hotel WHY.