Capsule Hotels in Japan

What is a capsule hotel?
A capsule hotel can be described as a hotel system that provides densely populated accommodation which contains rooms of a relatively standardized size based on modular plastic or fibreglass sleeping quarters. Other than your own room, all other facilities are shared.

Although capsule hotels are quintessentially Japanese, the first capsule hotel was only built in 1979 by a chap in Osaka by the name of Kisho Kurokawa. The rates were a bit lower back then at about 1,600 yen. Capsule hotels are a uniquely Japanese phenomenom not only because of space restrictions but because Japan is still a relatively safe country and such a facility would be unthinkable in many other countries.

It wasn’t until 1985, when the Tsukuba Science Expo was held, that capsule hotels became well known in Japan. There wasn’t enough room to accommodate everyone so the organisers decided to make capsule hotels so everyone could enjoy the expo and stay overnight. This became big news when reported on Japanese televsion, and since then capsule hotels have become part of the Japanese vocabulary. The first reported capsule hotel in Tokyo was Green Plaza Shinjuku, located in the red light district of Kabukicho. The Green Plaza is also the biggest capsule hotel in Tokyo with 630 rooms.

How to use a capsule hotel
Most capsule hotels do not have a key to the room so you need to place your valuables in a separate locker. You have to share the bathroom, rest room and bath with everyone else (most capsule hotels have a sauna included). Most of the basics are provided and they have a communal bath which you share with other clientelle. Many capsule hotels have a large bath called a ‘Rotenburo’ which means ‘open air bath’ where you can relax under the open sky.

When you enter you have to take off your shoes, put them in a shoe locker and lock it with the key which is provided. You then give the shoe locker key to the reception staff and they provide you with another key for a small clothes locker. At this point they give you a description of how their system works. There is usually a Yukata, bath towel and a small hand towel in the locker in which you place your belongings. After you do this you can then go to your room.

You can watch a small television while lying down (usually around 8 inches). In fact, the capsule hotels are so compact that it is possible to operate the lights, air conditioning, TV, radio and Alarm Clock from the bed without having to move. One negative aspect of Capsule Hotels is that they are not sound proof, so it is possible to hear the person next to you snoring (earplugs are recommended).

Most capsule hotels have a two-tiered system so each room has two capsule rooms – one on top and one on the bottom. The people at the front tell you whether you are on the top or bottom one and you can access the top bunk rooms via the stairs provided. For those over about 190cm, you have to bend your legs slightly when you go to bed. For those who are a little overweight there usually isn’t a problem with the width.

Most capsule hotels are found in central city areas where it is common for people to miss the last train or bus. Nearly all capsule hotels are within walking distance of a station.

Although many people use capsule hotels because they miss the last train home, it is possilbe to make reservations via the internet or by phone.

Many of the capsule hotels only accept men, but there are some which are exclusive to women. In terms of time restrictions, most places have a check in time of 17:00 and check out time of 10:00am. Depending on the type of capsule hotel, you are required to return to the hotel by 02:00, but others are 24 hours.

Although most capsule hotels require you to stay a night, there are some which allow you to use facilities for a shorter period of time if you just want to take a break. For example, at Capsule Inn Akihabara they allow you to take a shower for 500 yen or sleep/rest for 3 hours for 1,200 yen or 7 hours for 2,500 yen. Some places have restrictions on how many nights you can stay, so if you are looking to stay for a period of more than 2 nights you should check their conditions before booking. 

Capsule Hotels are thought to be men only domains, but there are many places available where women can stay. Some are exclusive to women and some allow both men and women to stay in the same complex, although the accommodation areas and bathing are separated.

At most capsule hotels you can not take your own food or drink into the capsule hotels and you must be over 18.

Recent trends
Although foreigners describe capsule hotels as ‘Coffin hotels’, in many cases this is an unfair description. Some of the more recent capsule hotels have internet access, a key for your room, private videos (such as Hotel Dandy in Ueno) and a private shower room. They also have cabin types which have a chair and table. More recently, double-bed capsule hotels have been introduced where you are allowed two people to a room. In many of the new establishments, on the top floor they have an open sauna (rotenburo) and a separate massage room. In particular, some of the women only capsule hotels are quite extravagant with high quality spas.

Alternative accommodation
If you are looking for something even cheaper than a capsule hotel (although possibly not quite as comfortable), other alternatives are Kenkou (health) land or Manga Kissatens.

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