The concept of the capsule hotel is one of the many eccentric things synonymous with Japan – and therefore I had to try it. Breaking up my stay at the traditional Ryokan in Tokyo, I spent my second night in the city curled up in my ‘box’ at the Hotel Asakusa & Capsule and using it for one of the reasons it is normally used for – after a big night out on the town.
A capsule hotel in Japan has many floors of long rooms, which stack together a multitude of these small, boxed, rectangular spaces side by side and two units high. Most contain a simple mattress, TV, and a lockable storage box. Their intended purpose is to provide a quick, cheap and basic accommodation option; the majority of users being those who have missed the last train or who are either too drunk to make it home or too embarrassed to admit it to their other half!
I checked into my capsule hotel in the early evening and a German expat, who later admitted to me that she had been living in the hotel long-term, explained to me how to use it. I spent more time wondering why she would do such a thing – whilst it’s a fun experience, it isn’t exactly ‘homely’. It just serves a purpose.
First, I had to take off my shoes, choose a locker and exchange my footwear for some Japanese style slippers.
Then I was handed my key, my door password and off I went to find my ‘room’ for the night out of the hundreds of capsules there. It was a simple enough procedure to find my capsule though, since there was only one floor designated for female guests – the majority of visitors to these hotels mostly being men.
At first glance the room looked rather intimidating and bland; on the other hand it appeared rather inviting, in a mysterious ‘futuristic’ kind of way. Except mine didn’t have a plastic door like a space cabin, just a material sliding shutter. Whilst my prior assumptions of a capsule summoned up thoughts of a space-age style cabin complete with mod cons and a button that would transport you to the future, it didn’t materialise. Interior design and entertainment is not the priority in these types of hotels.
A yukata (robe) was provided, except I didn’t need that when I rocked in at 3am, and passed out in my clothes. The night started with watching the fireworks on the rooftop of the hotel – an annual event in Tokyo to mark the start of summer – and then it rained so we moved the small gathering inside the hotel communal area, which is basically a room full of tables, chairs and vending machines. The evening with my new local friends turned from a late night noodle supper into a full-on clubbing session in the well-known Shibuya based club, Womb.
The result was an expensive taxi ride home, a slightly heavy head and me using a capsule hotel just how some of the locals do – for a few short hours. Still, it was comfortable and spacious, clean and cosy and not at all as claustrophobic as I thought it would be. Besides, as a quick fix accommodation option, you can’t expect luxury.
Whether you check in for a restful night or just a few hours, a stay in a capsule hotel is a true Japanese experience – quirky, different and something you don’t get to try at home. It’s amazing how much you can look at four small walls and still find them fascinating.