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Capsule hotels - an affordable alternative to traditional hotels in Japan

Encapsuled

The experiment of a night in a Japanese capsule hotel

 Usually, it is close to impossible to find affordable accommodation in Japan, especially if you want to book rather spontaneously. A promising alternative – at least from the cost perspective – are the widely distributed capsule hotels. But how do those places work, actually? What about service and comfort? And who else stays there? I decided to find out for myself.

The decision – A capsule hotel it shall be!

You don’t have to search extensively for capsule hotels when planning for a Japan trip, but you’ll come across them automatically instead when using the usual travel search engines on the world wide web. When I planned for my last trip to Osaka, I found it difficult to accept the prices of the city’s hotels. Even hostels or Airbnb accommodation was ridiculously priced, so some capsule hotel offers naturally attracted my attention.

Even though I did not quite know what to expect from this kind of accommodation, I decided to book and try it. After all, I have slept in worse places before, I’m sure. Finally, I decide for the “New Japan Cabana Capsule Hotel”, which is a “male only” place. As I am travelling on my own and do not have the intention to bring female guests into my capsule, that’s absolutely okay. Moreover, reviews and descriptions look promising and the location seems superb: directly in Dotonbori, the “area to be” in Osaka. Alright, I go for it!

 

The initial contact

The process of checking in is rather usual for Japanese standards. In front of the tatami floor step I have to exchange my street shoes for the slippers provided by the hotel. After locking the shoes away in a small box, I go to the reception and hand over the shoe box key. In return, I receive two new keys. One is for my locker, the other one is the room key. Locker? “The capsule itself is too small”, the young lady at the check-in desk explains, “usually you don’t take anything into it”. I am curious how that’ll work out, but okay, let’s see.

Changing area with lockers in a Japanese capsule hotel - Umkleidebereich in einem japanischen Kapselhotel

Behind the reception, a small hallway leads to the changing area. From here, guests can access the facilities: Sauna, Gym and Pool are available and make this place an almost “luxurious” option. The locker itself, however, is very narrow and small. I am lucky to be able to push my soft bag inside, though with difficulties. Suitcases, however, would never fit, you would have to leave them at the reception. Somehow inconvenient, as you would have to go there and ask for your suitcase every time you would need something out of it. But, thankfully, this cup passed from me.

 

I pack the most urgently needed stuff into my small backpack and leave the rest in the locker before walking further along the hallway. At the end, you can turn left for showers and a restaurant where breakfast will be served tomorrow morning. There are two changing rooms as well where bath robes and cloth pants are provided in order to change them against your outdoor clothes. I do as I am told to, because in Japan it’s better not to oppose such rituals. However, now I have to head back to the locker to put my clothes into it as well. Now, finally, I’m ready for the capsule itself!

Sleeping area in a Japanese capsule hotel - Die heiligen Hallen eines Kapselhotels in Japan

Capsule secret revealed            

Turning right at the end of the corridor now, I first pass a rest area before I reach the “hotel area” after another turn to my right. The door opens by using the chip in my room key which – as I am about to learn – has no other function besides displaying the number of my capsule. As I am entering the sleeping area I am directly welcomed by loud snoring sounds of my fellow capsule-mates. So, these capsules aren’t soundproof, I think worriedly. From a central corridor there are in total ten blocks of capsules (five to the left and five to the right) where one can find 12 to 16 capsules in each block. Two storeys of three to four capsules in a row next to each other. Basically, this is nothing else than one huge dormitory. Like in a youth hostel, only bigger. But with a little more privacy as the capsules can be shielded from prying eyes with a window shade. For security reasons, however, you cannot lock these capsules. Perhaps that would be too much coffin-like, after all.

Inside view of a sleeping capsule in a Japanese capsule hotel - Innenansicht einer Kapsel in einem japanischen Kapselhotel

Luckily the capsule is quite spacious, around one meter wide and about 2.20 metres long, which is enough for me. And there’s fresh bedclothes plus even a TV. And most important: a power socket! WiFi is complimentary as well. Not too bad! Becalmed, I go brush my teeth and realize relievedly when coming back that Mr. Snore-a-lot has stopped his performance for tonight!

Against all skepticism I sleep quite well in my capsule. I wake up only once. As it got quite warm during night in the small shell, I put the blanket away. Besides that, I am able to sleep more or less six hours in a row, way more than expected. And during nighttime hours it’s really pleasantly quiet in the sleeping area.

 

The next morning

On the next morning, my alarm clock starts to ring quite early. I’m among the first ones to get up, as I have big plans to see a little bit of Osaka today. Thus, I sneak quietly into the shower area and start the typical Japanese shower ceremony. The shower area consists of several small, tiled “shower bays” of about 1.50 meters in height, in which you sit down on a small plastic chair. There’s a mirror, a tray with soap and shampoo and a shower head as well. Well, then, to make a change to my usual routine I have my shower while sitting on that plastic chair. Unusual, but possible.

Clean from the shower, I step into one of the hot bath tubs. Just shortly, though, as it is still too early for me for such kind of activities. Also, I don’t make any use of the gym, sauna and swimming pool facilities, what a shame! However, the Japanese breakfast I have to try. 500 Yen are reasonable as a cup of Tea at Starbucks also sets you back by 330 Yen already. So, still wearing my bath robe I sit down in the breakfast restaurant as the other guests do it as well. I have smoked salmon, a beancurd cube, fluffy egg rools, pickles, cucumber slices, a bowl of rice and the obligatory miso soup. What more could one wish for? Now, the day can come!

 

Conclusion

When getting dressed in the locker room, next to me I see two Japanese businessmen tying their ties. You see that in Japan, capsule hotels are widely accepted throughout the whole society. I will definitely consider staying in one of these places again in future. Only for travelling couples it’s not that convenient as there’s usually strict segregation of the sexes in the sleeping area. Value for money is at a rate of 4,600 Yen per night (including breakfast) really good, especially considering the service offerings (in this case in Osaka even a gym and a pool) added to the mere capsule. To all single travelers who don’t suffer from claustrophobia, I can definitely recommend this experience when in Japan!

 

What is your experience with overnight stays in Japan? Have you ever tried a capsule hotel? If so, how did you like it and would you recommend it to other travelers?

 

(Travel period: March 2017)

9 comments on “Encapsuled”

  1. I totally slept in a Capsule Hotel too when I visited Japan and it was such a weird experience. I also had a loud snorer in my area so it was a bit annoying, and it did get a bit warm at night too…but all in all, I thought it was comfortable and great value. I actually wouldn’t mind staying in a Capsule Hotel again one day!

  2. I’ve had a capsule hotel experience and it’s so interesting to see it from a man’s perspective because the capsule hotels are so much nicer on the men’s side. I stayed at one in Shinjuku and it didn’t have a nice TV inside like yours did. I find capsule hotels to be quite calming.

    1. Hi Gina, oh, I didn’t know that there were differences. I just realized that these places are always gender-separated, but it’s new to me that there’s a difference in the equipment. I don’t like that…

  3. I’ve always wondered what a Capsule Hotel was really like! I don’t like spending a lot of money on somewhere I’ll spend very little time in. And I’ve often said I don’t need more than a bed and a place for my luggage at night, because I’ll always be out exploring during the day! Put those two things together, and I’m starting to think Capsule Hotels are the future – and I like it 😀

    1. Hi Marion, I definitely agree. And my example shows that even capsule hotels can come in a kind of “luxury version” and provide some amenities like swimming pool, gym and breakfast restaurant or a bar. Very good value for money!

  4. Huh. I suppose I could adapt to it. After all I did stay in a concrete tube-turned-into a capsule room in Taman Negara and thought it was ok. Still… I feel a tad sad that this is considered normal accommodation for business travel somewhere on earth. :/ I think maybe inter-planetary travel, or novelty travel, sure.

  5. That seems to be a really interesting way to accommodate more in less space. It’s good that the capsules are good enough for a person and they are neat and clean. Not sure though if I would feel comfortable in such a small space

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