Ever wonder what it’s like to sleep in a coffin? Perhaps you should consider spending a night in one of Japan’s wholly unique (and utterly bizarre) capsule hotels (capseru hoteru, ?????????????????????).
To Western eyes, Japan can at times be a strange place, though perhaps nothing is weirder to us than the idea of sleeping in what appears to be an enormous morgue. For those of you who have never heard about capsule hotels, the idea is simple.
Rather than spending your hard-earned cash on a pricey hotel room, you can save some yen by simply renting a capsule for a night. If all you need is a few hours shut-eye, you don’t mind sharing a hotel with a few thousand strangers and (most importantly) you’re not claustrophobic, then a capsule hotel is all you need.
Although Japanese travelers view capsule hotels as the last viable option (some even prefer sleeping in internet cafés), foreign travelers (myself included) can’t seem to get enough of them. They’re cheap (between US$20 and US$45 per night), surprisingly comfortable and about as authentically Japanese as you can get.
Plus, how many times in your life can you bed down in what is essentially a glorified coffin?
Capsule hotels are typically located in large cities near a train station, and cater primarily to Japanese salarymen who miss the last train home. In terms of style and cleanliness, they run the gamut from 1960s-inspired concrete and exposed beam monstrosities to ultra-modern steel and glass masterpieces of design. As with everything else in life, it pays to shop around and compare, and capsule hotels are no exception.
Ultimately, your experience really depends on the particular hotel. For instance, the first capsule hotel I ever stayed in was located in a somewhat dodgy part of Tokyo on the outskirts of the Red Light district. My fellow capsule mates were mostly loners, drifters, vagrants and the few odd foreigners like myself, who clearly had no idea where we are or what we doing. That night, I thrashed my legs against the sides of the capsule trying to find a comfortable position, hit my head on the ceiling more times than I can remember, and am pretty sure that I slept on bedding that hadn’t been changed in months.
Of course, if you’re ever in the city of Kobe, don’t miss their brand-spanking new capsule hotel. Upon entering, you will be handed a freshly pressed yukata (cotton robe, ゆかた), and escorted up to what can only be described as a ‘man spa.’ After an hour or two of soaking your travel-worn bones in a variety of hot and cold baths, you can retire to the dining room where you can choose from fresh sashimi, bowls of ramen or filets of Kobe beef, all of which can be washed down with ample pints of Kirin lager. When you’ve had your fill, you can rest soundly in the deluxe capsules, which come complete with personal television sets, mood lighting and a full library of Western and Japanese music.
Don’t believe me – those are my stinky feet in the picture!
Related: New capsule hotel in Gatwick gets mixed reviews, Japan’s Capsule Hotels