We’re staying in a capsule hotel in Tokyo. I was excited to book it because I like small space living, trying new things, and trying uniquely local things. Capsule or ‘pod’ hotels seem very Japanese. I was a bit worried though, because I didn’t know if we’d physically have enough space to sleep, without driving each other crazy (we do – just!). I also thought I might find it claustrophobic, or spend the whole time banging my head.
Another worry was, of course, the level of service. This capsule hotel was cheaper than a hostel (about £25/night), and it’s right by (50m from) a main line metro station. It’s also near shops and restaurants. It’s so convenient, and it has free Wi-Fi, so I figured there had to be a catch. But we risked it, and oh man am I glad we did. I don’t know if this would be true in other Japanese hotels (we’ll find out in Kyoto), but so far we’ve had clean bedding, towels, pajamas and slippers every day. There are nice toiletries in the shower rooms, including things like q-tips, hair mousse and toothbrushes, and there’s a hot tub (too hot for me, unfortunately). It’s a bargain, particularly the clean pajamas.
They’re not the most flattering things, but it’s absolutely decadent to have someone hand you clean, pressed, neatly folded pajamas every evening. This is particularly true if you’ve been wearing the same few bits for two months, and sweating like a tourist in the hot sun.
So! What’s it like staying in a capsule hotel? Well, I can only speak from experiencing this one hotel, this one time, and it’s also my first time in Japan. Everything is clean and tidy, and pretty well organised. This hotel clearly caters to backpackers, as there are signs in English and beds for women. Some capsule hotels are men only, and that’s probably because you’re expected (but not obliged) to change into your pajamas when you arrive and the showers and hot tubs are both communal and entirely clothes-free areas. It’s not somewhere to stay if you’re a never-nude, but if you’re OK with a sauna or communal changing rooms at the gym, you’ll be fine.
This hotel is happy for you to eat in the lounge, so we’ve bought our own breakfast. You do, absolutely, definitely, I really mean it, have to take your shoes off when you get in. Leave them in your locker. I don’t think anyone will shout at you (like they would in England!) if you don’t, but it’s polite.
The pods are half the height of a room, which means that I can sit up comfortably in one. They’re over 6 foot / 180cm long, as my feet don’t touch the end. If you’re much taller than my 184cm, get one on your own so you can curl up. I do manage to bang my head, but not more than I do in normal rooms, so, um, I win?
There’s a TV and radio in the pod, in case you feel like watching something. The rule is to be pretty quiet though, as there’s only a thin screen at the end of the bunk. Apart from K’s snoring, and someone quietly leaving at 4am, I haven’t really heard anyone else although I know the pods around us have been occupied.
It’s not entirely relaxing, but this is primarily because (a) there’s that hostel element to it, which means not much privacy and (b) our stuff is scattered between the pod / wherever we are; a locker and luggage storage at reception. If they just had luggage lockers on the wall opposite the pods, it would be much more pleasant.
I do like the capsule concept, and think it’s a great idea. It’s a clever way of fitting more people in, without dropping the level of service. I’d like to see them in London and Paris. We’re on a pretty tight budget as if you take any number, multiply it by 30 days in a month and then 6 you get a scarily big number. So we’re aiming to spend £30 or less per night on accommodation (a figure which is probably making a few of you shudder or worry for our safety, but it’s been fine, honestly). The thing is, even that tight budget still adds up to £5400 over six months. And that’s a lot of money.