Five-star hotels bore me.
That’s mostly my empty wallet speaking. But really, conventional hotels are pretty boring, aren’t they? In fact, some of them are deliberately made to look identical so that people get the comfort of familiarity in an unfamiliar land.
I enjoy something a little different — like the Soviet prison I stayed at in Latvia, or the treehouse with geckos in Indonesia.
What is a Capsule Hotel?
Also known as a pod hotel, a capsule hotel is a type of accommodation that features small compartments called capsules. These capsules are stacked together, and each of them is just big enough to fit a bed for a single person.
If that sounds too much like a coffin, well, it kinda feels like one too.
At present, you can find capsule hotels in various countries around the world, including Belgium, China, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Poland. But this concept originally started in 1979 in Osaka, Japan. Its original purpose was to accommodate traveling salarymen who missed the last train home, which explains why most capsule hotels were built near train stations.
Nowadays, capsule hotels also cater to tourists. Their main clientele are those who do not require or cannot afford larger, more expensive hotel rooms, and those who go there just for the experience.
How Much Is It?
The average rate per night at a capsule hotel ranges from JPY2,500 (USD24) to JPY6,000 (USD57) — not very cheap by my Southeast Asian standard, but that’s about as cheap as you can get in Japan.
Still, keep a lookout for other deals. Sometimes, you may be able to find hotel rooms or dormitories that offer better rates, especially if you’re traveling in bigger numbers and can split the cost of a hotel room or Airbnb.
Some capsule hotels offer hourly options for those who just need a short rest. Do check with the reception if they have this option.
What to Expect
On my visit to Tokyo in Summer 2014, I stayed at Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel, near the Shinjuku metro station. As I was traveling on a strict budget and relied entirely on public transports, it made sense to stay close to the station. I don’t recall how much I paid for it, but the current rate starts from JPY3,000 per person per night.
Address: Touyo Building 3/F, 1-2-5 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Phone: +81 3-3232-1110
Check-in: 4:00 pm | Check-out: 10:00 am
Although I didn’t make any prior booking (this was before I was introduced to booking apps), the check-in process went without a problem.
I was given a key to a small locker, where I was to put my shoes. There were also bigger lockers for luggage, but I didn’t need any of those. I always travel with a tiny backpack that I would rather take with me to bed.
What really impressed me about this hotel was the communal bathroom. As with anything else in Japan, it went beyond my expectation. Clean, modern, and equipped with all the amenities you could think of — from hair-dryers to free lotions and dental kits — it was hands down the fanciest shared bathroom I had ever experienced.
Among the other facilities provided were sauna rooms, a restaurant, coin-operated washing machines, and a business lounge with PCs and printers.
I arrived pretty late. After freshening up, it was already time for bed. There were not many other guests that night. Normally, this would have pleased me immensely, but this time it gave the room a certain eeriness.
If the sleeping compartment by itself reminds you of a coffin, seeing them stacked together like that reminds you of something else — a morgue. Or an incinerator. Staying in a capsule hotel is certainly not a good idea when you’ve been watching too many horror movies.
Fortunately, the inside of the capsule didn’t feel quite as morbid. I was able to sit fully upright, and there was still plenty of space for my backpack and my 5’5″ self.
You wouldn’t believe it, but there was a TV and a radio mounted on the wall. Each sleeping compartment also came with a light, an alarm clock, a mirror, power outlets, and an emergency button. I’m not sure if that button made me feel more relieved or worried.
The sleeping compartment usually has no locks — only a shutter or curtain to give you some privacy, much like regular dormitories. However, it does not do much with regard to noise. If you’re unfortunate enough to room with rowdy guests or loud snorers, you’re still going to need those earplugs.
My compartment felt a little stuffy when I shut the curtain completely, so I left it halfway open throughout the night to allow some air in. I’m happy to report that nothing happened that required me to press that emergency button.
I personally don’t have any complaints about capsule hotels other than the fact that they look creepy. Once I got inside the capsule though, I really appreciated the privacy and having my own personal space. It was clean, comfortable, and had everything that I needed. I liked the thoughtful touches like the mirror in the capsule and the amenities in the bathrooms.
If money is an issue, then the capsule hotel’s cheap rate is definitely its biggest advantage. But even if you can afford better hotels, I still think you should give capsule hotels a try — just for the experience*.
*The capsule hotel is probably not for you if you’re:
- taller and/or bigger than the average Asian
- looking to meet and socialize with other travelers as you would in backpacker’s hostels
Additional Tips for Staying in a Capsule Hotel
1. Some capsule hotels in Japan may only cater to men, although more and more are now allowing female guests (but rooms are still gender-segregated). Do check before booking.
2. Baths tend to be communal. I didn’t experience this personally but if you have tattoos, you might not be allowed in the communal baths or saunas, as the Japanese people often associate tattoos with gangs and organized crimes.
3. Capsule hotels are meant for short-term stays. You won’t be able to book for a whole week’s or a whole month’s stay. You can, however, check out and then check in again every day.
4. Check-out time is usually at 10:00 a.m., but some hotels allow you to extend for a few hundred yens per hour.
5.The capsules aren’t entirely soundproof even if you shut the curtains. Bring earplugs.
6. In general, Japan is a very safe country. You can leave your valuables in your capsule and expect to still find them there when you get back. Stealing is probably not in the Japanese gene, but you may not be able to say the same thing about the other travelers you’re rooming with. Better safe than sorry — use the lockers.