One thing that many foreigners who visit Tokyo find surprising is how small or cramped things are. This ranges from the size of an apartment, space in an elevator, the size of cars, etc. But none of those can compare to staying in a capsule hotel. If you are claustrophobic then staying at a capsule hotel is definitely not an option for you!
Now let’s talk about what a capsule hotel is and what type of person this caters to. Capsule hotels originated in Japan in 1979. It provides just a basic place to sleep for usually only one night. The room itself is usually made of fiberglass and are the following dimensions: 6 feet 7 inches by 3 feet 3 inches by 4 feet 1 inch. Now you are probably wondering, “Who would want to stay in such small quarters?”. Well capsule hotels basically cater to business people. You see here in Japan, going out drinking and socializing with your boss, fellow coworkers and customers after work is very common. And from time to time, (or very often) someone will miss their last train home. Capsule Hotels cater to office workers who don’t need all the fancy amenities of a more expensive hotel and just want a place to sleep for the night.
I personally have stayed in capsule hotels numerous times when I missed the last train and needed an inexpensive place to sleep for the night. As far as their rates per night, they usually range from ￥2,000~￥4,000 Yen per night or roughly USD$20~$40 per night. Although they are definitely not as spacious as a basic hotel room, they do offer some amenities. Once you check in you are given a key with a number on it. That key is your private locker key and not the key to your capsule. You then proceed to the locker room. Inside the locker room there are usually gowns that you can borrow for free so that you can change into something more comfortable and not sleep in your clothes. You then find the locker number that corresponds with the number on your key. Put your belongings and clothes into the locker then change into your gown.
After you change into your gown, make sure you lock your locker and keep the key with you. You can now proceed to your coffin(oops! I meant capsule). Your capsule number will be listed on the key. The number of your capsule will also correspond with the floor number. So for example, if your capsule number is 301 that means you will need to take the elevator to the 3rd floor. If it’s 401, to the 4th floor, etc. Once you find your capsule number it will either be a bottom or upper capsule. To access the upper capsule there will be steps located on the outside. Once inside you will find a bed sheet along with a pillow. There will also be a TV, clock, alarm clock and light switch inside. When you want to go to sleep you can pull down the curtain inside the capsule for privacy.
In the morning after you wake up you can head over to the public bath. There will usually be simple amenities such as shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors and towels for your use. I would like to give you some advice as to how to take a bath in a public bath or hot spring. First of all, you DO NOT wash your body with soap inside the bathtub! You wash your body with soap in the shower area first. Then after you rinse off completely you enter the bath tub. Basically here in Japan, the bath tub is used for soaking and relaxing in. I made that mistake the first time I came to Japan and tried to wash my body inside a public bath. If you try to wash your body with soap inside the bathtub, chances are that you will get yelled at or told not to do that.
After you are done taking a bath, you can go to the locker room and get dressed. Many capsule hotels will offer dress shirts, ties, underwear, etc. for purchase. This can be extremely convenient and can save time without the need to having to try and find a store that sells those items before going to work. Now there is one thing that I noticed while staying in capsule hotels in the past. That is, the majority of capsule hotels only cater to men. And the reason is that traditionally, it was mostly men who stayed in capsule hotels. Although in recent years, there are s few capsule hotels that cater to women. In addition, in recent years there are many capsule hotels that have sprung up which are more upscale such as the one in the photo below.
You can usually find capsule hotels not too far from major train stations in Tokyo. Here are some areas that have capsule hotels: Shinjuku Kabukicho area, Ikebukuro, Shinbashi, Ueno, Akihabara, Asakusa, Nihonbashi, Ginza, Akasaka, Kyobashi, Kinshicho and Kita Senju. There are even capsule hotels located in both Narita and Haneda Airports. This is great for travelers who have a long layover after a long international flight and just want somewhere inexpensive to sleep for a few hours. For a list of some capsule hotels, including some that allow women, please check the resources page.
Capsule have also started to catch on in popularity outside of Japan as well. In places such as Hong Kong, Manila, Belgium, China and Mumbai, capsule hotels have sprung up.
Now, with all that being said, do I recommend staying at a capsule hotel for a night or two? As long as you are not claustrophobic, definitely YES. It is a very unique and interesting experience. Capsule hotels are filling a growing need in providing an economical alternative for business people who miss the last train, travelers in transit who want a place to sleep for a few hours and even those who are on a budget and don’t have money to pay for an expensive hotel.