Stayed out too late and missed your last train? Your savior is here — capsule hotels! Capsule hotels (also called “pod hotels”) were only invented about fifty years ago, but the Japan-born industry continues to grow in popularity all over the world. The atmosphere of each capsule hotel is different. Some have a more luxury vibe, while others are more basic. Certain capsule hotels feel a bit more traditional while others feel like a spaceship. This article will go into detail on what it’s like to stay in a capsule hotel, some good ones to visit, their history and more.
What Is A Capsule Hotel?
A capsule hotel is a type of accommodation that is full of relatively small rooms called “pods” or “capsules.” These pods are like rectangular boxes stacked side by side and on top of each other all along each floor of a hotel. People rent the pods, much like a regular hotel, and sleep in them (either overnight or just for a few hours).
The History Of Capsule Hotels
The history of capsule hotels in Japan dates back to the late 1970s when the first capsule hotel, the Capsule Inn Osaka, was designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa in the Umeda district of Osaka. The concept behind capsule hotels was influenced by the need for affordable and convenient accommodations in densely populated urban areas. In big cities, space was limited and traditional hotel rooms were often expensive.
Kurokawa and his team wanted to create a comfortable place for people to rest — primarily targeting businessmen who stayed out late. Kurokawa was also interested in the architectural concept called metabolism — something that combined large structures with the ideas of organic growth and social change. His famous (non-hotel) space, Nakagin Capsule Tower, in Tokyo (unfortunately torn down now) was based on metabolism. It had movable and customizable units. These capsules are currently being re-used in a slightly different way than he may have envisioned.
Anyway, back to the capsule hotels. The design of the first capsule hotel featured rows of stacked, individual sleeping pods. Each capsule had at least the basic necessities: a futon and pillow, a blanket and maybe a radio. The capsules were stacked side by side with a narrow corridor running between them. Bathrooms and showers were shared — much like they are today.
People were really drawn to the pod hotels, and their popularity started to grow. Because of their affordability, convenience and uniqueness they started popping up in major cities throughout Japan. Now, modern capsule hotels have built-in power and USB outlets (depending on the hotel), internet access (almost always) and improved ventilation systems (this could still be better). Some establishments have even introduced floors or entire capsule hotels catering exclusively to male or female guests.
Comfort In A Small Space
Capsule hotels are a lot like regular hotels — with some differences — size being the most obvious. If you’re a minimalist (all the rage these days) you’ll probably appreciate how pod hotels utilize space so efficiently. If you’re claustrophobic, don’t worry. You can actually sit up and even roll side to side in these capsules. So, there’s room to move around — and most have a fan in the room, or you can request one, to keep the air flowing.
The pods do get a little warm when you sleep — many people who’ve tried capsule hotels have said this. So, keep that fan running if you don’t like sleeping warm. You also have privacy, so you can remove some layers of clothing if necessary. Other than that, the capsules are quite comfortable. The sleeping area is also kept very quiet.
What Stuff Is Inside The Pod?
In the sleeping pod you can expect to have at least a mattress (futon) and pillow, a light and a door or curtain to shut behind you for your privacy. The light can often be dimmed to your liking with a little dial on the wall. Also, there will most likely be headphones and a TV, power outlets and/or USB outlets. Some capsules have alarm clocks, fans and ear plugs in the pod, as well. If you need anything, just ask the staff. Also, check online for the capsule hotel you want to stay at, as what is in each pod can be different.
Who Can Stay In A Capsule?
Pretty much anyone and everyone can stay in a capsule hotel. Many customers are company workers, travelers and students. Some pod hotels are just for men or just for women, others are for all genders. You can even get a two-person capsule (see a video about couple pods here). There are also some hotels that offer accommodation for children, although kids may have to sleep with you in your capsule. It depends on the establishment and the child’s age.
Best Capsule Hotels
Okay, what is best varies from person to person, but here’s a list of some capsule hotels you might enjoy. First, the capsule hotel chains, and then some independent ones.
Capsule Hotel Chains
There are several chains of capsule hotels in Japan. Here are a couple well-known ones.
- 9h (Nine Hours) - This chain is probably the most famous. There are many locations, and they’ve been visited by many a YouTuber. Prices vary by location.
- First Cabin - There are locations across Japan, and they have great reviews on TripAdvisor. Prices at this chain also vary by location.
Independent Pod Hotels
There are many pod hotels that are independently run. Here are a couple of popular ones.
- Anshin Oyado, Tokyo - A large, luxury capsule hotel with a sento (public bath), a free space (with free food and drink), a massage chair room, manga, smoking areas on every floor and more! This one is in the upper range on price (¥6000 yen or $43 USD) and is for men only.
- J-Ship Osaka Namba, Osaka - A modern and beautiful pod hotel with two room types to choose from (one larger and one smaller). Pricing starts from around ¥4700 ($34 USD).
Capsule Hotel Check-in
Checking into a capsule hotel is not very difficult, but you may be faced with staff who don’t speak English. If that’s the case, you should probably learn a couple of key phrases used in hotels or just have a translator app on your phone (like Google Translate — or Google “Sensei,” as the Japanese call it).
Some things to remember about checking in, though — make sure you remove your shoes (if required) at the door. Not sure if you need to remove your shoes? Look to see if there are a lot of shoes in a cabinet or on the floor by the entrance. After you remove your shoes and put on your slippers (those should also be right near the entrance), go to the front desk and they’ll guide you through the rest of the check-in process (payment, room choice, checking ID, getting your clothes, locker, etc.). There will be a space to store your luggage — whether that’s in the locker, on top of the locker or with staff behind the front desk.
Cleanliness Is Next to Podliness
Are the pods clean? Um, this is Japan — of course they’re clean! Cleanliness is essential in Japanese hotels (there are exceptions, so please read reviews before you book). Pod hotels clean the capsules and change the sheets for every guest.
One little space that sometimes gets a little messy is the smoking area, though (if there is one in your hotel). Also, the corridor where you walk between all the pods can be a little smelly sometimes. That’s because it’s full of slippers on the floor and people’s feet facing you. Fortunately, once you get into your pod, your head is facing the other way. So, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Showers, Bathrooms, And Onsen: Oh My!
Capsule hotels almost always have shared bathrooms and showers. For the showers, the hotel will provide you with some basic necessities: a towel, toothbrush and toothpaste. There will also be body wash, shampoo and conditioner in the shower area. So, don’t worry about bringing these items with you.
And… just a few tips about showering. When you’re ready to use the shower, make sure you have your towel first. Also, before you enter the shower, you put your slippers in the shoe rack or on the floor near the entrance. You’ll likely see a locker to put your clothes in, too (or perhaps just a basket). And lastly, remember that there may be other people in the shower room.
Also, some hotels also have onsen (natural hot spring) or sento (hot water that’s not from a spring). This is not something you’ll find at every capsule hotel, but if you’re lucky enough to have this option, try it! The etiquette for using onsen and sento is to wash your body thoroughly before entering the water. This water is shared by many people, so being clean is important. And if you don’t wash before entering (or wash thoroughly enough — like all over — with soap!), get ready for some dirty looks for your dirtiness.
About the bathrooms (toilets), they are generally pretty clean. Again, it’s Japan — there is an expectation of cleanliness. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get toilet seats with the washlets on them. Never tried one? Get ready for a shower… on the other side.
Capsule Hotel Tips And Tricks
Here are some additional tidbits of info that might be helpful for your capsule hotel stay.
- Before you get in your pod, you need to take off your slippers and leave them on the floor — even if you’re sleeping in the upper pod.
- There are ladder steps to climb to get up to the second level capsules, so get a lower pod if you think climbing might be difficult.
- You can take a small bag into the pod with you — like a backpack or purse. You don’t have to leave it in the locker, as long as you don’t mind sacrificing a little pod space for it.
- You may get a set of clothes to wear while you’re at the hotel (usually similar to pajamas or starship attire). If you’re a larger person, you may need to ask the staff for extra large clothing. They may not have this available with the other clothes (and may not have the XL options at all, depending on location).
- Some hotels will give you a wearable band that you need to tap or scan at the entrance to access your floor of capsules.