Snug as a Bug in a Capsule Hotel
Written by: Devon Vail
Everyone has heard of them: the legendary capsule hotels in Japan. Legendary, indeed! Tiny hotel rooms, no bigger than the underside of a bunk bed, not even tall enough for you to stand in. Nothing more than a Japanese futon mattress, a pillow, and a blanket for your resting needs. As exciting as I am making them sound, wouldn’t you want to experience the most Japanese of Japanese hotel experiences?!
If you are traveling around Japan, like on this 10 day itinerary, just had to do it, but there is a catch: most don’t allow women. Capsule rooms aren’t really for travelers. That isn’t to say the budget traveler doesn’t use them when they are available, but most capsules are occupied by businessmen who have been out too late at the company nomikai or work party. Too drunk and too late to make the last train home. Capsules are great for passing out and waking up in.
Most capsules are about Y1800/night (about $15). Being not-male, I have been looking for one that would let me in for ages. Every time we decided we were going to stay in a new place for a night I’d comb the internet for some sign of a woman-friendly capsule hotel. Nothing! Not ever. I had actually almost given up, since we have been exploring Japan for a couple of years now. What was I going to do? Would I leave Japan without experiencing this tiny phenonmenon?
Then we decided to go to Osaka for spring break. I started my usual internet searches for things to do and places to stay, and while reading a forum I saw it. What I’ve been waiting for for two years: a capsule hotel with not one, but two(!) women only floors in Osaka. YES. WE ARE GOING TO DO THIS!
*Side note: both my husband and I aren’t great with small spaces, and we know how futon mattresses are, so it took some persuasive skill on my part to convince him this was a good idea. He agreed though, knowing that I had always wanted to do it and he is always up for an adventure.
So we booked two rooms. Men and women are not allowed to sleep on the same floor, and there isn’t much for security on the men’s floors. However, you had to have a special key to get on to the women’s floor. Each capsule was Y1700, making it, by far, the cheapest night we’ve had in Japan.
We arrived around 3 p.m. from Nara and walked directly to the hotel. It was really easy to find, but it was also completely locked up and closed. Um, what? So we stood at the front door for a few minutes trying to decide the best thing to do with our bags. Luckily, one of the staff saw us and pried open the sliding doors to let us in. She explained that it is common practice to close from check-out (in this case 11am) to check-in (5pm), and she meant completely close.
Everyone is required to check-out each day of their stay, and you are not allowed to go “hang out” in your “room” during those hours. But of course, it is fine to leave the bags; she showed us the lockers available and the pile of luggage left by travelers intending to return after a day of adventuring. We tied our bags to the pile, and went out on our way. We returned after the sun had gone down, and we were pretty much ready for bed. Knowing there wasn’t much to do in the “rooms.”
A new person was at the desk, and he explained that there isn’t much room on the sleeping floors, so we should probably grab anything we will need for the night and leave the bags where they were. (I told you they were tiny!) We picked through our bags, found a change of clothes, something to sleep in, and our toiletries, then left our bags tied to the (now even bigger) pile of luggage. We said good night on the elevator, and I was granted access, thanks to my security card, to the women-only floor.
Behind his locked door, I assumed the floors were identical on each level. I walked into a room of lockers and shoes – each locker no wider than 6 inches, but about a foot and half deep, and 3 feet tall. Upon check in, each guest is provided with a key and a room number. The key opens these lockers. This way you have a safe place for your valuables, and you don’t have to sleep with your toiletries. Also inside the locker, your hotel amenities could be found: a comb, shampoo, a towel, paper slippers, and a yukata. I pulled my shoes off and left them in front of my locker, put my slippers on and continued on, excited to live out my adventure.
The next set of doors I saw were the bathrooms and the shower-rooms, two of each, and almost always in use. I walked through the middle of the bathrooms and into the hall of capsules. Both sides of the hall were lined with 14 capsules, seven on top and seven on bottom. I was relieved to see that I was in a lower one. I don’t think I would have enjoyed climbing into the top bunks. Some guests had chosen to leave their carry-on sized bags in front of their capsules, but mostly it was clear of too many obstacles.
Each capsule was as I described before: a mattress, a pillow, and a blanket. But oh the luxury! Each room also had a TV mounted to the ceiling (which made it a little more complicated getting in), a mirror, light, and radio/alarm clock built into the wall. It was time for bed, so I changed, made my bed and crawled in.
I’ll admit it wasn’t the best sleep I’ve ever gotten. The futon mattress, was thin, so it felt like sleeping on the floor. People were constantly coming and going, lights were being flickered on and off all night, and at one point someone snuck a cigarette (even with all of the no-smoking signs all around) so it smelled of smoke. But I can definitely check capsule hotels off my bucket list! So I’d call it a win!
Where’s the smallest place you’ve slept?