Sunday, 16 February 2014

A Night in a Capsule Hotel

If you ever fancied living on a space station, the closest thing that you might find here on earth would be to stay at a Japanese ‘capsule’ hotel. This unique and popular form of accommodation (also referred to as ‘pod’ hotels) requires guests to sleep communally in individual capsules that are stacked on top of each other, much like those seen in many sci-fi movies. It was certainly one of those novel things that Jules and I had on our ‘to do’ list whilst living here in Japan, but until now had never got around to it. So on a wintery long weekend we headed to Kyoto with friends to enjoy some of many attractions of this great city and to experience this somewhat futuristic form of accommodation.

Jules had done some initial research on what was available and while she found the choice a little limited in Kyoto, there was a popular one called ‘9 hours’ that was right in the heart of the city and offered very modern facilities. Being a long weekend, she was lucky to arrange a booking at the bargain price of approximately $25AU a head; this capsule hotel was no doubt the most affordable form of accommodation in town. Contrary to what the name of the hotel might have suggested, here guests were provided with 24 hours of accommodation so our plan was to check in early before venturing out to enjoy the sights and eventually the city nightlife.

Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted at reception by friendly young attendants who all spoke very good English. It was clear that they were used to all manner of visitors from around the world, keen to experience this very different form of hotel. The stark white interior with minimal styling provided our first indication to the modernist décor we would experience on the floors above. With check in complete, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to further explore the facilities and made our way to the elevators. The first thing we noticed is that there was one elevator for males and another for females. Here there is a strict demarcation of areas accessible to each of the sexes, so those interested in activities other than sleeping were clearly in the wrong place. Going are own separate way, I headed to the sleeping area to find a dark room with dimly lit streamlined plastic molded sleeping ‘pods’ arranged on two levels. While each capsule was very private, it reminded me of the old bunk bed arrangement and as I climbed up to test my mattress on the upper level, memories of high school camps strangely drifted back. The sleeping pod was small, but certainly not claustrophobic. The coziness was enhanced by a privacy blind that rolled down to cover the opening rather than a solid door, which might have felt a little too hemmed in. On the floor above we were provided with our storage lockers and access to a highly functional bathroom. With everything looking so white and clean, it was as if this hotel had taken a line from the architect Le Corbusier by creating the ultimate ‘machine for living in’.

After a very indulgent evening sampling the nightlife of Kyoto, it was well past midnight by the time we made our way back to our hotel. Around this time of night the capsule hotel really comes into its own, as the cost of a stay over is far less than catching a taxi home. Subsequently, by the time we had changed into our pyjamas (also supplied) and headed to the sleeping quarters, it was clear that all of the pods were now occupied and most of its occupants were tucked away for the night. Despite the closeness of the arrangement, it was all very quiet, as it remained throughout the night, with just the occasional sound of people rousing out of their pod in the early hours of the morning. At this point I wondered whether this form of accommodation could actually work in any other country other than Japan, as the people here are for the most part so considerate of others around them. There was no conversation, no coughing or any other of the usual sounds of the morning.

So after a warm and comfortable night, I eventually rolled up my blind and emerged from my upper level capsule. Stepping tentatively backwards down the steps, I must have looked like some sort of middle aged Neil Armstrong about to step foot on the moon. It was certainly difficult not to make space-age comparisons here! This form of accommodation could well be the way of the future, but for now a stay in a capsule hotel was simply a very cool and affordable way to enjoy a night in Kyoto, Japan.


  1. Weird how people started enjoying those capsules. I myself am aching to try one out! Wow, it's so cheap!
    The big problem is with the shower, the bathroom and leaving your belongings in a safe place.

  2. Its a unique experience! Don't worry too much about your belongings as you are provided with a locker and key in the bathroom do it soon!