Monday, May 19, 2008

My Space-age Sleep-over in a Capsule Hotel

Sleeping in a capsule hotel was one thing I never thought I’d get a chance to do. I’ve always wanted to, but almost all of them cater only for men.

The capsule hotel is a place often used by drunken salarymen who have missed their last train home. Rather than having to sleep on a bench and arrive to work smelly the next day, the capsule hotel offers a cheap place to sleep and bathe before another day in the office. Or in our case, traveling around the city.

On our recent trip to Tokyo, my friend Christine and I decided to check one out for ourselves as a cheap and novelty form of accommodation for one evening. The Capsule Inn Akihabara is one place we found that allows female guests.

Check-in wasn’t until five in the afternoon. We were there before the door opened, eager to drop our luggage off before checking out the famous electronic stores the area has to offer. I was surprised at how many other people were checking-in at the same time. We took off our shoes and placed them in a locker at reception. The foyer had three computers with free internet, soft drink vending machines and free mineral water. A glass cabinet hinted that most of the guests were men who hadn’t planned the stay; it had a variety of men’s socks and underwear for sale.

We were given a green wrist strap with our capsule number and three keys; one for the capsule room, one for our tall but very thin locker and one for the shower room on the tenth floor.

At the Capsule Inn, the women’s floors are from eight to ten. Other than the reception and lifts, the hotel is totally segregated. Not an ideal place to stay with a partner of the opposite sex. There were about twenty identical capsules on our floor, all a faded lime green laminate that would have been the rage in the 1970s. Below the narrow opening to each capsule was a number. I was number 803. Into the capsule had been moulded a TV, shelf, light, radio and alarm clock and a bamboo blind provided some privacy. Air conditioning was let in through the vents at the head of the bed as well as through the bamboo blind. We were supplied with a futon, a pillow filled with beads that crunch through the night when you turn over, two small and one usual sized towel, a cotton sleeping robe and a toothbrush. There was internet (both wireless and cable) available to use on our laptops. Toilets and a basic washroom were on each floor. The basin area had tissues and hairdryers as well as chairs to comfortably sit in while doing makeup. The toilets provided were both western and Japanese squat type, and as evidence that the hotel was originally designed purely with men in mind, urinals.

For the most part, I slept well in my one by one by two meter, open-ended coffin. I am a person who likes small enclosed spaces as long as I have it to myself, but would not recommend it to the claustrophobic. I woke a few times in the night and early morning as other women came and went. Getting out was what I found the most difficult about the stay. It’s not unlike trying to exit a small one-man tent, except the tent doesn’t have a hard TV to smack your head into if you’re not being careful as I did. I still have the bump. I was very glad that I wasn’t in the upper deck. I’m not terribly dexteritious first thing in the morning and could imagine that I may have fallen the one meter drop.

We had to go from our room on the eighth floor up to the tenth for a shower. There was one private bathroom and one room with three showers, separated by curtains but sharing the same change area. At night, the private one was occupied, so used the shared room, I luckily had it to myself. Not only was there the usual “Rinse-in Shampoo”, and body soap, but also a facial cleanser. The next morning I got the other shower and what a treat it was! It was a body shower and offered water coming from six different angles, all at the same time. The feeling was a bit like running through sprinklers like I used to as a child. It was certainly not as good as the one I used in our five star hotel stay in Malaysia, but then again, we did pay a lot more for that room.

I was curious about the other women staying there. Other than some surprised and amused looks and a few smiles, we didn’t have any contact with them. It seemed to be the type of place that people wanted to keep to themselves. The next morning, the few that shared our room left with little or no luggage, and most were in business suits. There was one woman, who we never actually saw in person. The only evidence of her existence was her luggage; a small black overnight bag with pink Hello Kitty sandals carefully placed on top and a black jacket and washcloth on a hanger. If it wasn’t for the fact that the jacket changed between the times I went to sleep and awoke the next morning, I would have never known that she’d been there.

I don’t think the hotel would be the best place to stay over a number of nights. It was only open between 5pm and 10am and there is no entry other than during that time. The locker was very narrow and so most luggage is either left outside the capsule or in the foyer. Japan being as safe as it is, we were not too concerned, but I did sleep with my camera bag and wallet and other valuables in the capsule with me, above my pillow. This is only really a comfortable option for short people such as me. At 4000 yen (about $40) a night, I found it a great place to get a cheap night’s stay. This particular hotel is very foreigner friendly with not only an English website, but we were also given an English version of the “Capsule Inn Akihabara – Instuctions for Women” pamphlet with details about the hotel and surrounding area. If traveling to Tokyo without my husband, I would do it again. As the pamphlet says “Making the Best Out of a Small Space.”
I still have so much more to blog about last weekend, but for now, it's time for sleep.


tornadoes28 said...

I suppose a capsule would not be very good for someone like me who over 6 feet tall.

Lisa said...

Thank-you so much for sharing. It sounds like a very interesting stay.

Irit said...

Wow, that sounds like a very interesting experience indeed! Few things are more Japanese in my mind than capsule hotels, and I regret not having the chance to try one when I visited Japan.

Well, maybe next time. :-)

Chris ( said...

That takes me back to my student days when we used to come up to Tokyo for interviews and the like - we invariably stayed at the capsules, and wonderful they were.

I read the final lines of your post too quickly, where you mention traveling with your husband, and misread the pamphlet title as "Making out in a small space"..

CurlyPops said...

Wow that was so interesting!
I think I'd be way too claustrophobic though!

Stunner said...

wow! that's so interesting! Never heard of this before.

Teesa said...

It sure sounds interesting! Maybe next time I can give it a try if I'm in Tokyo on my own or with a friend! ^_^

Serena said...

Yay !! Thanks SO MUCH for the full description of the Capsule Hotel... it was great !! I loved reading about it.

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hey tornadoes - no, I wouldn't recommend it for your height. My husband refuses to try it because of his size.

Hey Lisa - you're more than welcome!

Hey irit - It's funny, most Japanese don't realise that capsule hotels are only in Japan. Have a go next time ;)

Hey Chris - "Making out in a small space"..... lol, no, I couldn't imagine that, mind you, some people are into aircraft toilets, it may be about the same amount of space....

Hey curlypops - yep, not recommended for the claustrophobic.

Hey stunner - yeh, I believe they only have them in Japan. They're great if you just want to crash somewhere cheaply for the night.

Hey Teesa - yeh, probably not the best place your your little one, but great with a friend.

Hey serena - thanks! and you're welcome!

Blender said...

Nice one! Something I've also been meaning to try for a very long time!

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hey blender - I'd recommend it, it's one of those Japanese things that you can't do anywhere else.

billywest said...

If I turned out the light, and then heard a buzzing sound around my ear, I'd go insane.

Contamination said...

Sounds like fun, though I would rather have stayed at an Internet Cafe.

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hey Billy - yep, am with you there!

Hey Cont. - Naaa.. they don't have a "body shower" at any of the internet cafes I've visited ;)

faz said...

Thank you so much for that intersting and insightful post! I have heard about those capsule hotels and have been wondering about how they work for so long!!

You've answered all my questions. This is the most intersting post i have seen this year!!

Flashfire said...

I recently stayed in that same capsule hotel in Akihabara, while it was an interesting experiance its not one I would want to experiance again for a long time

I couldn't sleep so spent most of the night, watching the same Sumo matches, over and over again.

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hi Faz, thank you so much! What a wonderful comment!

Hey Flashfire, it's great to see another Brizvegan here (I'm one, but currently displaced). I slept like a log for much of the night, but my friend said that she got hardly any sleep. She was on the side right next to the wall that was next to the main road. Apparently it was very noisy there.

Anonymous said...

great work and thanks for information.