Japan's Best Capsule Hotels
Introduction to the Pod
Missed the last train home and don't want to pay Japan's outlandish taxi prices? Fancy staying somewhere more comfortable than an internet cafe? Maybe you need somewhere to stay on a budget, short term? Or perhaps you're visiting Japan and looking for somewhere unique to stay which won't break the bank? If this describes you, maybe a capsule hotel is what you need.
Initially opened in Osaka in 1979, capsule hotels are beginning to shake their negative image and are growing in popularity. They have become as much a symbol of Japan as Godzilla or sushi. The tiny capsules constructed from fiberglass, wood, or plastic, are generally stacked two high and are found in long rows, each "room" being roughly seven foot long, four foot high and three foot wide.
Depending on the establishment, capsule hotels have a capacity ranging from about 50–700 pods intended for single occupation (though lately some establishments have double-sized pods for couples). Mostly used by businessmen, often those who missed the last train home, it is rare to find a mixed-sex capsule hotel for safety reasons. Hotels will either take the possibly sexist "no women" approach or have separate capsule areas for each sex. In the case of the later, capsule areas are often separated by male and female only elevators located in the communal area or reception, leading to the sex-specific sleeping quarters.
Within the capsule, expect to find basic amenities such as a Japanese electrical outlet, wireless internet, privacy curtain, linen, and usually a television.
Upon entry to a hotel, keeping with traditional Japanese style, shoes must be placed in lockers in exchange for slippers. From here, you will immediately see the reception desk, often manned by broken-English speaking staff, thanks to the rise in tourism surrounding these hotels. Adjacent to the reception, hotels will most likely have a communal area where guests can eat, drink, chat and mingle (consumption of food and beverages is generally forbidden in capsules). On top of this, a communal washroom can be found on site with towels often provided. Depending on the hotel, some may offer toothpaste and a brush; with some even going as far as to offer a yukata (traditional robe).
A word of warning: Though the majority of hotels offer private shower cubicles, some still play by the traditional Japanese onsen (public bath) rules of communal bathing...nude. If this is something which may bother you, though it shouldn't be, seen as this is part of their everyday culture and nobody bats an eyelid, check the hotel's website before booking.
Without further ado, here is, in no particular order, a non-exhaustive list of some of my favourite capsule hotels in Japan.
1. Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel
Tokyo's Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel, though renovated in recent years, still retains it's 70's appearance. What this hotel lacks in visual quality however, it certainly makes up for in value for money and location. Starting at around ¥2,000 (€14, $18, £11), I would be willing to gamble on the fact that this is the cheapest accommodation in Tokyo before one starts to consider internet cafés. After exiting the worlds busiest transport hub (3.64m people p/day), Shinjuku Station, guests find themselves landed in Tokyo's most iconic skyscraper district. Shinjuku by day is a haven for business, shopping and dining, slowly transforming as the sun sets into sanctuary for revelers wishing to party late into the night in the red light district.
Staff in this hotel are fairly competent in English and are happy to try help with any queries you may have, despite the fact that they almost always seem to be swamped in work.
Linen, as well as a towel, are provided, but no further toiletries, so bring your own. Lockers are available for small personal belongings such as a small backpack. Bigger luggage can be kept in the lobby at the owner's risk. On site is a sauna and massage parlour as well as a restaurant/large common area.
Guest must check-out by 10 a.m. with monetary penalties for each half hour overslept. This also applies to guests who are boarding for multiple nights. Guests can re-check-in from 4 p.m.
The building itself can also be hard to find, for as with many Japanese businesses, it is not located at street level, but rather several stories up. Make sure to look up for the hotel sign. The front entrance on street level is an elevator, and the hotel itself seems to be located above a strange dingy drag club/bar.
Women are welcome and have a separate floor to themselves for privacy and security reasons.
Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel is a very standard capsule hotel but it is my go-to capsule hotel in Tokyo for location and price.
2. Nine Hours (9h)
Opened in 2009 in central Kyoto, Japan's most modern and arguably swankiest capsule hotel sought out to shake the negative imagine gathered over time by more dated hotels, such as in Tokyo and Osaka. Nine Hours (9h) has a sterile and futuristic concept which screams simplicity and practicality. Upon entry, once your eyes adjust to the dazzling white interior, including walls and ceilings, guests immediately feel they are on board a futuristic space ship.
Upon removing your shoes, high-quality slippers and a yukata (Japanese robe) are provided, along with showering and dental toiletries (shampoo, soap, towel toothbrush, toothpaste etc). Private shower cubicles are standard here but the hotel retains the communal bath area as found throughout Japan.
Women and men's sleeping areas are separated by gender-specific elevators. The pods themselves are as futuristic as the décor. Each capsule contains a "sleep ambient control system" which, according to the Nine Hours (9h) website, "supports your rhythm of sleep-wake that associates with your daily rhythm and light". It is essentially a slow activating light that mimics sunrise and time adjustable within the pod.
Pillows are divided into six areas and made of four materials to ensure a natural sleeping posture. The mattress was jointly developed by Panasonic and Toyobo Co. Ltd. to equally distribute body pressure and reduce stress concentration. Developed also to specifically fit the curvature of the pod, it really does offer a great sleep.
Check-in can be facilitated from 12:00 pm by English speaking staff, who will also handle your large luggage and provide lockers for smaller belongings. Check out is from, of course, nine hours after you enter for your nights/days sleep. This is a big bonus for me, as who really wants to check out at 10:00 am after only returning from a bar at 04:00 am? As per usual with capsule hotels, guests staying multiple nights must check-out and check-in daily to allow for cleaning. Prices start from ¥2,800 midweek ( €20, $25, £15)
3. B&S Eco-Cube Shinsaibashi
It is no coincidence that Osaka's B&S Eco-Cube Shinsaibashi bears resemblance to Tokyo's Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel. The two capsule hotels are under ownership of the Capsule Inn Group, who also own two other capsule hotels in the Tokyo area.
At the risk of repeating myself, B&S Eco-Cube Shinsaibashi can be considered Osaka's Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae. The system (check-in check-out daily etc.), amenities (communal bathing, no toiletries, free wifi etc.) and sleeping areas (70's style pod's etc.) are almost identical. That being said, expect prices to be slightly lower at B&S Eco Cube Shinsaibashi. On top of this, the lobby area, which doubles as the communal area, is more modern and brighter than it's Tokyo counterpart which is slightly refreshing. Unfortunately, though offering spa facilities, B&S Eco-Cube Shinsaibashi does not offer a restaurant.
The hotel's location could not be more ideal. Located in the heart of Shinsaibashi, Osaka's main shopping district, guest's are surrounded by high-end boutique stores. Just off the main street is America-Mura, the famous Osaka district renowned for its youth culture. Expect to find lots of small clothing stores offering glimpses at the up and coming fashion trends, as well as many vintage clothing shops.
Starting at ¥1,480 (€11, $13, £8), a cheaper bed can't be found in Osaka's city center. Act fast, however, as this price is only for the first 30 guests each day.
4. Fukuoka Budget Hotel Well Cabin Nakasu
Fukuoka's Well Cabin Nakasu, is a more luxurious, male only, capsule hotel, located in the red light district of the city. Capsules, or "Cabins" as the management prefers to call them, are made with natural wood such as Japanese Cypress are have an up-market appearance. Cabins contain a 15" LCD television with stereo speakers, and are acoustically treated with the type of foam found in music studios to ensure noise isolation. The sound insulation capacity is considerably better here than in other capsule hotels.
Capsules are noticeably larger than standard capsules found around Japan and are more comfortable than some found in Tokyo and Osaka. A great aspect of this capsule hotel is the services it offers to guests. Free of charge, guests can rent eye masks, cell phone chargers, bathrobes and headphones. At a fee, guests can make use of dry-cleaning services, rent computers, as well as purchase t-shirts, dress shirts, underwear and beer.
Upon entry (and removal of shoes, as always), guests will receive all showering and dental toiletries (shampoo, soap, towel toothbrush, toothpaste etc). Private showering cubicles are standard and there are no public baths, spa or sauna. The hotel does offer, however, a large communal area with free computer access and a large selection of manga (in Japanese).
Hotel Well Cabin Nakasu is accessible directly from the Nakasu-Kawabata subway station but can be reached on foot from Fukuoka's main station "JR Hakata Station" or the famous fashionable and trendsetting area of Tenjin. Its location in the red light district makes it ideal for those looking to wine, dine and hit the town hard. This is reflected in the hotel's check-out time, which increases from 11:00 am to 12:00 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sundays. Check-in is from 16:00. As usual, guests staying multiple nights must check-out and re-check-in each day.
Starting from 2,450 if booked online (€17, $22, £13), this capsule hotel offers a more luxurious but still affordable stay for guests wishing to stay in Fukuoka's city center.
Capsule Hotel Summary
Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo
¥2,000 yen, women only, first 10 guest of a given day only. Occasional offer only.
Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto
¥1,480, first 30 guests of a given day only. Occasional offer only.
Hakata Ward, Fukuoka
¥2450 if booked online, Sunday rate only.
Pros and Cons of Capsule Hotels
- Everything within arms reach (T.V., alarm clock, light etc.)
- Good facilities
- Can be noisy at times
- Privacy may be an issue
- Risk of safety (both men and women)
- No control of air conditioning
- Some capsule hotels require checking out daily even if guests are staying multiple days
- Daily check-in and check-out even for guests staying multiple nights
- Some capsule hotels offer communal bathing facilities only
9 Hours (9h) Capsule Hotel - A Monocle Report
My Top 4 Capsule Hotels
Located in the heart of Shinjuku, this capsule hotel is a five minute walk from Shinjuku Station's East Exit.
Located just off Kyoto's main shopping street of Kawaramachi, the capsule provides a great place to stay after a days shopping/nights partying!
Directly connected to the Osaka Municipal Subway system, the hotel is accessible from Shinsaibashi or Namba subway stations.
© 2014 DeCeol