Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tokyo Encapsulated

There's one facility unique to Japan that I've wanted to experience ever since seeing a television news item as a teenager: Capsule Hotels.

The capsule hotel concept was created as a solution for businessmen who were working late in the office or, ahem, 'working late' in the city bars, and had missed their last train home. The theory was that they could check in to a facility whereby they had a safe and warm place to sleep, the ability to clean their clothes and wash themselves, and could head back out to work bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning.

As a result, many are only available to men. I had to go out of my way to find one with a women's floor in Asakusa.

My Experience

This was a lesson in efficiency. Rather than the small, separate bathrooms provided in a conventional hotel, one female bathroom on the 4th floor (accessed by a door code) housed 8 showering stations and one huge hot bath, all available for use as late as 3am. Nudity was compulsary in the bath, as is standard in Japanese 'onsen'.

My sleeping capsule was on the 6th floor and was one of many along the bottom row - I lost count of just how many were in this 'room' but mine was number 32. There were short wall ladders to enable customers to reach the higher row.

Each of the hatches is another sleeping capsule

On opening the hatch, I found that my capsule was roughly the length and width of a standard single bed, with enough height to sit up headache-free. Neatly piled at one end were two towels, a dressing gown, a pillow and a thin duvet. A bed roll was already laid out for sleeping on. There was also a small coin-operated TV, an electric socket and a narrow locker for which I wore a key on my wrist (there is no lock on the capsule's hatch).

My private space
Outside in the corridor were coin-operated laundry machines and vending machines for drinks/snacks and toiletries. Even the rooms themselves were paid for my vending machine - press 'male' or 'female', pay the ¥2,200 (about £19) and receive a ticket for checking in.

There were no windows visible from any part of the hotel that I visited. Despite rows of vents on the walls, the sleeping area was painfully hot so I spent much of the night kicking off the covers and rolling around looking for a non-existant cool spot.

So really there was nothing lacking except soul. It's roughly the same price as a youth hostel but with none of the opportunities for meeting people or making yourself at home. In short, use these as they were intended: as an emergency place to sleep.