Maybe you are going to Japan. Maybe you're not, but one day, you hope to. There is an array of options—from fancy hotels and traditional inns to more budget-priced lodging. Or, perhaps, you just missed the last train.
You could always stay at a capsule hotel.
Capsule hotels debuted in 1979 in Osaka with the "Capsule Hotel In Osaka" in the city's bustling Umeda district. Architect Kisho Kurokawa designed the hotel, which seemed like a logical extension of the Tokyo residential and office tower, Nakagin Capsule Tower. That structure, built in 1972, offered tiny, capsule-like apartments.
During the 1960s, the word "capsule" ("kapuseru" or カプセル) started appearing in Japanese. Sometimes English words change meaning when absorbed into Japanese, but the word "capsule" carried a similar meaning to what it does in English: very futuristic and compact. This is probably why when a new start up in Osaka needed a name to describe its compact gaming experiences, it chose a moniker based off of "capsule computer". Today, you know that company as Capcom. This is also why "capsule" was used to describe these small, compact hotels.
When visiting a capsule hotel, there are some things to be aware of. One is that many capsule hotels are men only. They are traditionally geared towards businessmen. However, there are capsule hotels with women only floors. Some of the newest (and nicest) capsule hotels are aimed at both male and female guests.
The going rate for capsule hotels is usually between US$30 to $50 a night, depending on the hotel. But that often includes high-speed internet access and, also depending on the hotel, basic amenities, like toiletries.
Different capsule hotels have different rules, but as this Japanese site notes, there are some basic rules:
• Take off your shoes
Generally speaking, most Capsule Hotels have shoe lockers near the front desk. If you see a rack or cubbyhole of slippers when you enter, take off your shoes, put on the slippers, and carry your shoes to the locker. When you check in, you might have to give the shoe locker key to the front desk clerk.
• Your Key
After checking in, you'll usually get another key. It's usually attached to a wristband. This is a locker key in the changing room that you can use to store your belongings and clothes in. It should have the same number as your capsule. Do lock your valuables. While Japan is "safe", there is crime. Keep that in mind.
• Capsule Hotel Wear
In the capsule hotel, guests are usually given a gown, a robe or even sweats. Change into the robe (or whatever). Unlike at a business hotel, it's not considered gauche to walk around in your robe.
• Using the Bath or Sauna
Many capsule hotels put a lot of effort into their bathing facilities, giving guests a sentou (銭湯) or communal bathing experience. So, yes, you'll be bathing with strangers. Capsule hotels are segregated by gender, so if you are a man, you'll be bathing with men. Likewise, females bathe with females.
A note on bathing in Japan: Wash your body and hair before you get in the bath. There will be a washing area with faucets. Also, if you have tattoos, you will either need to cover them with bandages or not take a bath. Tattoos are typically prohibited due to their organized crime connotations in Japan.
• Post Bath
After your bath, you might want a beer or something to drink. Capsule hotels usually have snack bars; tell the staff your capsule number (on your key), and food and drink will be charged to your bill. Some hotels have reclining chairs with TVs, while some even have manga or newspapers you can check out. There might be smoking sections, if you smoke, but don't smoke in the capsule.
• In the Capsule
Each capsule usually has a shutter or blinds that you can close. The walls are thin, so be a courteous neighbor!
Typically, checkout at capsule hotels is at 10am. But do confirm when you check-in. Before you check out, be sure to change back into to your clothes and take the key to the front desk.
Below are some interesting, and unique, capsule hotels from across Japan.
Capsule Hotel Inn Osaka: Yep, you can stay at the first capsule hotel. It's still open in Osaka. Sadly, it's men only. However, if you are in Osaka, there is a capsule hotel called Asahi Plaza in the city's Shinsaibashi district that offers lodging for male and female customers.
Capsule Hotel Shinjuku 510: This capsule hotel, also located in Shinjuku, does have female lodgings as well as capsules for males.
Capsule Ryokan Kyoto: A capsule hotel with a decidedly traditional Kyoto spin: you sleep on tatami mats! The hotel also has high-speed internet, so it's the best of both worlds. [Pic and more info on A Trini Traveller]
9hours (top photo, too): This could be the swankiest capsule hotel Japan has to offer. 9hours is in Kyoto, and it offers accommodation for both male and female guests—with separate elevators for each. At 9hours, the capsules are called "pods" and even feature a "Sleep Ambient Control System" and specially designed pillows to help you sleep. This capsule hotel is anything but typical.