Tokyo Capsule Hotels: The Quirkiest Night’s Sleep You Can Have In Japan
Let’s be honest. It’s not all about the quirk. It’s about the Yen. But if you can combine a fun, only-in-Japan experience while you’re being thrifty with your precious travel funds, what’s not to love? Warning: You might just get hooked on doing Tokyo on a budget.
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How it all began
The first Japanese capsule hotel, Capsule Inn Osaka, was built in 1979. Initially they were designed for the Japanese businessman who missed the last train home (this must have happened a lot) and needed somewhere simple and inexpensive to crash for the night. With no incentive to leave the karaoke bar early and get to that train station – stat – the capsule hotel concept grew.
It’s not surprising, really. With a population of around 127 million in a landmass roughly 20 times smaller than Australia, the Japanese are hyper aware of the economical use of space. Throw in their natural inclination for good design and appreciation of functional comfort, and it’s easy to see why today there are loads of capsule hotels across Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and all the major cities.
Think ‘minimal’, not ‘mortuary’
Yeah, kinda looks like the cold room you see in movies where they go to inspect the dead body. Don’t let that put you off, because Japanese capsule hotels have a slightly more lively vibe. Think futuristic, minimal and streamlined. In fact, Japanese capsule hotels can be pretty cool. They’re more than just pods stacked together. At the very least, they’ll provide bathing facilities, lockers and a lounge. Sure, there’ll probably be a lot of Japanese business men there, but you could also strike up some good conversations with fellow travellers or backpackers.
While the whole concept of the capsule hotel flies in the face of extras and add-ons, you will find that some capsule hotels go above and beyond. On arrival, some hotels will give you a pair of slippers to wear inside, a towel, a pair of pants, a towel and a carry bag. In the bathroom area you’ll be able to help yourself to the complimentary soaps, shampoos and body wash, deodorant, combs, toothbrushes and toothpaste, while inside the more well-kitted-out pods you’ll find a TV, fan, alarm clock, headphones, a bottle of water, ear plugs and – of course mattress and pillow.
Because of their origins as a handy stopover for businessmen, most capsule hotels are open to men only. Apparently this was to ensure the safety of women but now more and more capsule hotels are doing the smart thing and allocating some floors to women and some floors to men. In most cases, guests need a special key to access the sleeping quarters. Be sure to check out whether your chosen sleepover pad is for both genders, or for men only.
Don’t get too comfy
You’re not meant to get attached to your pod in a capsule hotel and a good way to make sure that guests don’t turn their sleeping quarters into their home away from home is to enforce the check-out rule. Yep, you have to check out in the morning and take all your gear with you. Of course, you are certainly most welcome to check back in later that day, but you can’t just book a pod for a whole week the same way you can in a hostel or hotel. Stay nimble, it’s the capsule hotel way.
Tips for the Capsule Hotel first-timer:
If you’re lugging the world’s most cumbersome backpack complete with a beer stein strapped to the outside (just come from Germany, right?) you’re not going to be able to take that gear up into your capsule. Yes, safe lockers are provided, but think “businessman with a laptop” and you’ll get an idea of how big they are. If you have a lot of luggage, you’ll have to leave it at reception, behind the desk if you’re lucky. If the staff won’t let you do that, a cheap hotel might be a better option for you.
Capsule hotels aren’t big on shoes. As soon as you enter a capsule hotel, you’ll most likely notice a shoe rack or lockers where you can store your shoes. You’ll be given slippers to wear inside, when you check in.
In Japan, the common practise is to wash your hair and body at the taps before you launch yourself into a communal bath. Makes sense, and to support you in this admirable endeavour they generally provide free toiletries for all guests. Wash rooms are communal (men only, women only) so if you’re the shy, retiring type, it might be time to let that baggage go. Relax or you’ll make things weird.
On the subject of relaxing, the staff and owners of the capsule hotels will undoubtedly pride themselves on the level of comfort they can offer their guests. If you’re given a robe to change into after bathing, take it, wear it, enjoy it.
Don’t overthink it
Basically, you’ve come to a capsule hotel to get a good night’s rest so just settle in to your pod, and drift happily off to sleep.
Recommended Capsule Hotels in Tokyo, open to both men and women:
Capsule Hotel Asakusa River Side
Address: 2-20-4-B Kaminarimon, Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Travellers love this capsule hotel for its proximity to the Asakusa subway station, which makes it about 15 minutes by train to Ueno and the Yamanote loopline around Tokyo. The capsules are spacious, with a mini onsen on the top floor. There is a female-only floor and a communal bath for each gender.
Hot tip: Ask for a capsule with a power outlet because not all capsules have them.
Capsule Inn Kinshichou
Address: 2-6-3 Kinshi, Sumida-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Located in the dynamic downtown district of Kinshichou, Capsule Inn prides itself on its homely atmosphere – as much as is possible in a modular block containing pods of reinforced plastic inspired by the image of a jetplane’s cockpit. But seriously, travellers love this capsule inn. Unlike many capsule hotels, Capsule Inn Kinshichou has a women’s floor (which is a definite highlight, if you’re a woman). The popular Tokyo Sky Tree is only a 15-minute walk away, and the Inn is surrounded by great nightlife, fantastic eateries and restaurants, as well as all the transport connections you’ll need. After you’ve freshened up with a sauna followed by hot or cold bath, help yourself to a cold beer from the vending machine before calling it a night.
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