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Capsule Hotels: A Worthwhile Cultural Experience?

Is sleeping in an elongated dog kennel worth it?

I landed in Japan late on a Friday afternoon with literally nowhere to go. As I bought my ticket for the airport train into Shinjuku the buzz of crossing a border was slowly being replaced with the thoughts of practicality. Mainly, where I would rest my head.

Coming from Melbourne, one of the first shocks of Japan was the bright colors of people’s attires along with the sheer crush of people that crammed into the train station. It seemed like a strange mushroom induced version of an Asian Disney animation.

I wandered about the train station for a few minutes with the idea to find something to eat and have a beer, trying to come to grips with the reality of being in Japan. The jetlag and the heat were starting to take their toll and after beer and nori at the 7-11 I stopped at a tourist information center to try and find out where in the hell I was. A very helpful lady pointed out several capsule hotels that were in the area.

CapsuleHotel(2)

After a few wasted wanderings around blocks and a few fails with hotels that would only allow Japanese guests I began to get frustrated and angry. I was lost and the temperature change from chilly Melbourne to boiling hot Japan was playing on my head.

After several attempts I finally found the door to the Green Capsule Hotel. Actually it was in the basement of what looked like a parking garage. The signs in Japanese and English told me to go down to the basement and then take the elevator to the ninth floor for men. The women’s hotel was on the 4th floor.

In my jet lagged state I felt I entered a 3-D world of beige. There was a small but excitable queue of around 12 Japanese men. Everyone seemed to be shouting in whispers. The cue snaked around the beige room to a counter stocked by three attendants.

CapsuleHotel(3)

Each customer was given an explanation of the rules and regulations and then paid in cash and were handed a set of keys for their locker and a costume to be worn in their capsule.

I was overjoyed to find that the capsule hotel contained a level for a sauna and steam room. After cramming what I thought was my small backpack into a what was a stereotypical sized Japanese locker I donned my costume and went and checked out my room.

Having lived in Asia for several years I was quite accustomed to having small spaces and travelling light is not a huge problem for me, so the idea of a capsule to sleep in is all I really needed. This combined with my love and obsession with saunas and I was all in.

The only question was the cost factor. The first night ran right around 3800 yen and then the price decreased everyday by 600 yen. Despite the monopoly like nature of the yen, if translated into Australia sterling it equals almost 40 dollars for the first night and about 33 dollars for subsequent evenings.

After spending so many nights in dirt cheap lodgings in Pakistan and India I was a bit stunned by my new ‘rich’ surroundings. I have always given myself a bit of leeway on my first day in any new country, but Japan really seemed to blow any previous notion I had of a first day budget.

But after a long flight I think 40 dollars for a cultural experience and to sit in a warm sauna nine stories above the Tokyo streets was worth it.

Filed under: Accommodation, Japan

About the Author:

Lawrence Hamilton is a freelance journalist focusing on South Asian security situations and border disputes. has written 51 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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