Article updated on May 22, 2020
Text & photos: Marcella van Alphen
While preparing our six-week trip to Japan, I remember that day I hoped would never occur “Oh! And I really want to try a capsule hotel!”.
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I was all for trying all sorts of typical accommodation, like ryokan (traditional Japanese inns), a night in a temple, even pitching our tent on a rocky slope 3,000 metre-high. But capsules? Claustrophobic as I am, I was truly wondering why we should force ourselves to spend a night in a 1-metre-by-2-metre-by-1.25-metre hotel “room”. Scratch that: morgue drawer!
Doubtful, I decide to take charge of the booking. I start browsing the Internet and to my surprise (and relief!) most capsule hotels are for men only. Capsule hotels (カプセルホテル, kapuseru hoteru) were originally designed to sleep workers who missed the last train home providing an extremely basic and cheap solution. Months ahead, the ones open to both males and females tend to be fully booked already.
I consider myself lucky when I find a new capsule hotel in the Tsukiji area, close to the location of the tuna auction at the world’s biggest fish market: it will be a lesser evil. The next day, we will have to start queuing at 3 a.m. so this is the shortest night that I picked for that experience.
D-day… Checking in. I am pleasantly surprised by the sleek design of the hotel with its stylish bar. We are given a “room” key which is in fact the one of a bedside locker as the room per say does not lock. It is a good idea to go only with limited luggage… It is still possible to store bulky luggage in the safe corridors.
We take the elevator up to access the room level. Off the elevator, we tiptoe through the corridor, passing screens behind which women are sleeping. I discover my own capsule for the night: what a fantastic relief! It is about 1.25-metre-by-2-metre-by-2.10-metre, basically twice as big as what I was expecting! The bed is comfortable and the capsule fully equipped with light dimmers, a flat screen TV with a head set, plugs, and our fresh sheets, pyjamas, towels, and flip flops. Passing the calling zone, we go up to the top floor that even hosts a nice onsen to relax before going to bed.
Back in my capsule, I schedule the 2:35 a.m. wakeup call… The night will be quiet as the Japanese are very respectful and remain silent in their private areas, and the wake up painfully early, even though carried out gently by a kind member of staff. After all, my capsule hotel night was a unique experience that went much better than I thought… And I could avoid the Internet café (they have replaced the capsule hotels as the cheapest accommodation for workers missing the last train, and sleeping in a multi-floor Internet café has become a phenomenon in Japan)!
There is a lot more to Japan! Click here!
For other unique accommodation, do try ryokan:
Or click on the images below for a selection: