10 Nov 2012
If you haven’t heard of it yet, a capsule hotel is exactly what its name implies – capsules stacked on top one another, and you snug yourself into one. It seems extremely uncomfortable and lab-like, just like cryosleep cells in the movies, yet many want to try it out due to its uniqueness. This is one of Japan’s creative and whacky ideas so when you’re in Japan, do as the Japanese do – get creative, get a capsule.
I got mine at Green Plaza Shinjuku Capsule Hotel with price and location being priorities. It costs 3600 yen (S$48/USD39, more pricey than a backpacker’s lodge but cheaper than other capsule hotels I came across) and is minutes from Shinjuku station. They have their own website which allows booking but it’s all in Japanese and doesn’t seem to work well, so the reservation was made through JapaniCAN, a hotel agent.
I arrived at around 11pm (it was supposed to be 10, bloody Tokyo layout..) after returning from Nikko. I felt uncomfortable walking around the streets of Kabuki-cho (or round and round and round to be exact, since I was lost), as it’s famously Japan’s most notorious red-light district. When I finally found the hotel it wasn’t that relieving either due to its shady and seedy interior. Who knows if some perv or nutjob might be a capsule away.
There was a long queue line to the reception and I instinctively added myself to its length, only to be asked by a staff to store my shoes first. I kept them in what looks like a miniature capsule hotel for our little companions:
Then I rejoined the queue of guests waiting to check-in. I saw each guest making his way to the counter; they all received a set of beige pyjamas to wear. Everyone was wearing the same beige costume, and this was when I started to feel like an inmate. I’ve never seen long check-in queues at receptions before, what more with the compulsory uniform. This hotel was like a penitentiary, and I was like a prisoner on vacation.
Some of the guests surrendered their documents (most looked like passports or wallets) to the staff who put them in envelopes and clipped them. I dunno what was that all about, though it certainly added to the ‘prisony’ feel. On my turn, I was asked if I had a tattoo; apparently they don’t want Yakuza guys staying in at their place. You might be thinking that the lack of Yakuza destroys the ‘prisony’ feel completely, but that wasn’t the case. Read on.
After making payment, the staff gave me my locker key, which looked like an inmate identification – the key is attached to a wristband with a serial number. The staff then said that the wristband should be surrendered at the reception should I want to leave the hotel, and recollected upon return. Gawd.
I donned my beige uniform even though I didn’t feel like it at first. I didn’t ask the staff whether wearing our own clothes was ok, but seeing a sea of beige and no other colours answered the question.
After brushing up and having a bath, I immediately went back to my
cell capsule for a night’s sleep.
Now, on to the main part: comfort. The capsule was comfortable enough cos I’m a budget guy with budget expectations but even a comfort perfectionist would agree that there IS enough room to roll around without headbanging the walls. In fact it can fit TWO people just nice, if they mutually agree not to roll about of course. I hope this dispels the preconceived myths one might initially have about capsule hotels (claustrophobia, coffins, etc).
In fact, the actual discomfort came from the capsule’s lack of air-conditioning instead. There was a dashboard with many fancy buttons but none I pressed led to a decrease in temperature
(and one of them led to a porn option on TV instead, and no, I didn’t go any further, stop thinking garbage). Thinking that I might’ve missed it out because I don’t understand Japanese, I went around other capsules to see if there was any cold air emanating from within them. Nope.
To make matters worse, there was a blind on each capsule that needs to be pulled down to block out surrounding light, since the capsule has no door which closes it. Of course this would block out a lot of precious external air, and in turn heat the capsule up even more.
As a result, sleep became difficult and uncomfortable at times. Eventually I did manage to concuss, but waking up early and beating the clock’s alarm was really easy. I think this is something that those who’re very particular about comfort should think about.
Capsule aside, the hotel layout was inconvenient too. With shoes and personal belongings placed at separate floors, some unnecessary up-and-down walking becomes necessary. I had to go two floors above to the locker room to get the toiletries and clothes out, then ascend another two floors to the bath, then descend two stories back to the reception to unlock my shoes and check out.
Speaking of the bathroom, it’s actually a large public onsen, a Japanese hot water tub where everyone hops in after cleaning themselves beforehand. To me this was a plus as I got to experience authentic Japanese culture, though some might find it daunting because of privacy issues. Another thing to consider if you want to spend a night here.
(Btw, there’s a massage service and tanning salon – these are some of the extra services that the hotel provides, with extra charges of course. Not too bad for a prison eh.)
So, the verdict: staying at a capsule hotel, in a nutshell, is doing something different despite knowing that it’s an inconvenient, slightly uncomfortable difference. The capsule’s temperature was the killer and not its physical dimensions, so an air-conditioned capsule should do just fine. However, nothing beats a proper room with proper amenities.
I’d recommend at least (and at most) a night just to experience it and get some photos to show off. Immediately after ‘serving’ my ‘sentence’, I headed back to a backpacker hostel for the next night – and remained there throughout the trip.