Will’s Capsule Hotel Experience

Shigeki and I decided to stay at a Capsule Hotel (カプセルホテル).

There is a fairly wide range of options for overnight accommodation in Japan. As mentioned in the previous post, you can choose to stay at a Love Hotel (not my personal recommendation if you want to keep your dignity, but they are cheap). There are also the quite famous 旅館 (Ryokan) if you’re wanting to get a feel for more traditional Japanese establishments. Quite similar are 民宿 (Minshuku) which are somewhat resemble a B’n’B overseas, typically being small, homely and privately run by a family. You then have the relatively cheap business hotels and your larger hotel lines familiar to any traveller (Hilton, etc.).

By far the cheapest option is one quite unique to Japan: the Capsule Hotel.

The name is quite fitting, really. Rather than sleeping in a ‘room’ per se you are given your own ‘capsule’ for the night. Of course it varies from place to place, but the capsules are usually fitted with a TV, radio and alarm clock. There will be hundreds of this capsules in a hotel only a few stories high, with the below-ground level being reserved for communal bathing facilities (お風呂, ofuro). Capsule Hotel prices generally range from as low as 1500円 ($17AU) in sparse Northern Japan to the reasonable 4500円 ($50AU) in Metropolitan Tokyo.

Capsule Hotels are occasionally used by broke and/or curious foreigner travellers (like myself in a sense) but easily the majority of its clienteles are サラリーマン (Salary man, sarariiman). This term doesn’t refer to just those employed on a salary in Japan but rather to the white collar workers that led Japan through the massive post-WWII economic growth typified by those who gave (and still give) their life to the job often working overtime, weekends and holidays. As it is just ridiculously expensive to even imagine living near the actual city of Tokyo practically all Tokyo employees live in the surrounding prefectures of Saitama, Chiba, etc. and commute for a few hours to get to work. Combining this with the fact that a lot often work overtime it isn’t surprising that you will sometimes find a サラリーマン who has missed the last train home. Rather than spend good money staying at a conventional hotel many choose the cheaper path and opt to catch some Z’s at a capsule hotel.

I can’t remember the name of the Capsule hotel that Shigeki and I stopped at but it was really quite typical. Located a few minutes walk from Ueno St. it cost 3200円 ($35AU) for the night and apart from us it was filled with middle-aged Japanese guys. After we checked in (no booking required btw) we went and put our gear in some slender lockers and changed into the clothes provided that I am wearing in the picture above (Jinbei, see Wikipedia article). We then went and checked out our ‘capsules’.

Not much to say about them. Quite snug really. For some reason the sound in mine didn’t work, but as I didn’t watch the TV much it didn’t bother me. You had to have the sound really low anyway as there were literally people trying to sleep less than a metre away from where you are. Oh, and on the subject of the TV I have to mention that many Capsule Hotels (easily the majority) don’t allow women to stay there. There are many reasons for this and I am sure that the fact that they have a free porn channel playing 24/7 in the capsules has something to do with it. Actually, perhaps I was wrong about the Japanese サラリーマン staying at Capsule Hotels because they missed the last train. It might just be that are disinterested in fulfilling their marital duties to the wife of their youth (you know what I mean) and are too poor to afford a 援助交際 (enjokousai – on an unrelated note this is easily the single thing that I hate (in the strongest sense of the word) about Japan. It makes me want to be physically sick and heavily lay into any guy that ever does this.) so they fufil their (imo twisted) sexual desires at the Capsule Hotel with its free adult channel. Anyway, now I am just starting to rant.

Back on topic, Shigeki and I then went and bathed in お風呂. This is the third or fourth time that I have found myself reclining in a spa with a plethora of other naked men in the past few months. Not only am I not able to see my beautiful girlfriend while I am in Japan, but I am subjected to seeing other guys naked. Sweet life. Actually the whole naked men thing isn’t a big deal at all, I am now quite used to it. …is that a good thing I wonder?

To pass time before sleeping I read my Bible (you can see it and my highlighter a few pics above) while Shigeki read the English version of the classic Lord of the Flies (William Golding) which I had previously in the evening recommended that he buy when we were at a bookshop. The English in it is actually more complicated that I thought, quite above his level. Oh well, 頑張って (ganbatte, do your best!) Shigeki!

The next morning I awoke an hour earlier than planned and went on a solo trip to the お風呂. Ok, so I’ll admit that I am hooked to them. Anyway, around 8:30ish Shigeki and I left the place, grabbed some breakfast at a nearby Yoshinoya and started to head towards the BBQ party we were to attend, the original reason I was to go to Tokyo this weekend. On our way we stopped at Akihabara and went to a very special and unique kind of cafe…. more on that next time though!

Until then, please comment! 🙂

3 replies
  1. Ophelia
    Ophelia says:

    Wow, that’s interesting! Sucks that women cannot stay there. I think I might wanna try it out now that you talked about it. (Guess
    I could dress up like a man to try it if I really wanted to, lol…)

    Question though, what was the smell like? It looks as if all of the capsules are so close to each other. Is it hot? Are you smelling other people’s midnight farts all night? And furthermore, does the place provide a bathroom? And you said you must keep the sound low, so does that mean that the capsule walls are very thin and you can hear everything going on in the other capsules? And what about the doors, do they lock? Or can someone just barge in whenever they want? (not that that would happen cuz the other capsule stayers are probably too exhausted to mess with you)

    Sorry for all the questions Will:)

  2. kuriharu
    kuriharu says:

    I’ve stayed in a number of capsules. They rock. Most of them are pretty clean (I stayed in an old one that was a little ratty, but that was an exception).

    At one of them the showers were on the bottom floor, which is where everyone hung out. I talked with a couple of guys as best I could (this was in 1989 and I only had had 3 semesters of Japanese). I even partied a little and got drunk. When I got sick, one of the guys checked on me to make sure I was okay.

    Pretty cool.

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