What It's Like to Stay in a Japanese Capsule Hotel

Asia

For those of you who are sick of me harping on about France every week, today’s your lucky day! We’re heading all the way to Japan: the majestic land of giant UNIQLO stores, delicious noodles, fascinating history and Purikura (photo booths) whose filters make you look like a cloning experiment gone wrong.

The Arrival

Allow me to set the scene: it was winter, I was in Kyoto with two of my besties, and my body was, by this point, made up of approximately 77% ramen (it would later peak at around 93%.) We were about to arrive at Nine Hours, a capsule hotel that had a solid reputation for being sleek, inexpensive, and fabulously futuristic. It was also supposed to be decidedly unlike the more historical perception of these types of hotels in Japan: seedy, uncomfortable and frequented by shady businessmen. This was a capsule hotel for a new age!

Despite the whole ‘nine hours’ thing, my friends and I would be staying for about 14 in total. The hotel’s title speaks more to its concept: you can shower, get ready for bed, sleep and then leave once the sun is up. Quick, simple and comfortable. You’re in fact only permitted to stay one night at a time, obligated to check out the morning after you arrive. When we made the booking, there were 3 options: Stay, Nap or Shower, and our rate for staying the night was just under $50 per person – not too shabby!

The Experience

We hopped off the (immaculate) train from Tokyo and wheeled our suitcases to the hotel. It was a dark grey, cube-like building that resembled a large shipping container. Upon entering, I was struck by the cleanliness, the silence, and the organisation. The entire lobby was white: the floor, walls, ceiling, shoe lockers, desk…literally everything. I checked in and was handed a towel, slippers, toiletries pack, numbers for my locker and pod, and a pair of black hotel-branded pyjamas. Info and directions were mostly communicated through cute, simple images printed neatly on walls and doors. This place was minimalist A.F. and quieter than a library.

Despite my eagerness to spend hours walking around the hotel pretending I was in Divergent, it was only early evening when we checked in, so we weren’t ready to fully commit to the capsule life just yet.

We hit the streets of Kyoto for a few hours instead. This entailed me spending too much money – yet again – in the nearest Disney Store (for any fellow Disney freaks, Japan has the best Disney stores in the world. No question. The stationary, the jewellery, the trinkets…I die!) Then we decided to enter a cosy restaurant for dinner. After ten minutes of walking around indecisively in the freezing cold, we picked a small and unassuming, hole-in-the-wall style place. It seemed very fitting for the quiet vibes of the night, so you can understand how I nearly shat myself when twenty staff members yelled “IRASSHAIMASE!” as soon as I had one foot in the door. (I was two weeks into my Japanese adventure by this point and still not used to this custom: how do those chefs and wait staff achieve a collective voice projection of fifty auctioneers?! Très impressive, slightly terrifying.)

Well-fed and keen for a warm bed, we headed back to the grey box we now called home. Shoes back in locker, slippers back on the shiny floor, imagination firmly back in a Sci-Fi movie.

I swiped my QR key card to hop in the women’s elevator (the hotel is split into two sections: one for women and the other for men) and followed the picture of a shower to reach Bathroom Floor. This is where the YA dystopian fiction fun really began! There were rows of spotless sinks and grey shower doors, no primary colors in sight. No smiles, no talking… just the sounds of water running and teeth being brushed. Order! Uniform! Repressed individuality! I could just about smell a dictatorship brewing!

The shower cubicle was small but very clean, and the water pressure was ideal. I stood under the piping hot water, thinking of how I was going to make District 12 proud once I travelled up that tube to the Hunger Games arena the next day.

After my shower, I made my way to Sink Hallway in my ‘sleeping clothes.’ They were thin but comfy, and I liked the colour – black is the new black, people! When I considered myself in the mirror next to everyone else, however, I must admit we looked like we were either a.) about to participate in some weird experimental theatre or b.) about to be sent to the colonies from The Handmaid’s Tale …… not… ideal…

Omw to my cult initiation!

Next up was The Moment of Truth: capsule o’clock! I entered our room and wasted no time drooling over the futuristic aesthetic. The plastic-y looking pod frames, the dim lights, the black walls… it was a real #aesthetic. For some reason, it also reminded me of A Bug’s Life – like we were all tiny ants in our little underground homes.

I crawled into my capsule, which seemed also to act as a portal to a child-like state of wonder because immediately I started having so! much! fun!

I felt like I was an astronaut. Also like I was in Ariana’s music video for Focus – the possibilities for cute pod poses were endless.

Next stop: Mars

To my surprise, the capsule itself was pretty spacious – there was even room to perform approximately three-quarters of a snow angel (pod angel?) It was an all-white theme inside, with small shelves for bits and bobs, power sockets, and a sleek black panel for setting a sleep schedule. You were to enter the times at which you wanted to go to sleep and wake up; the system would then dim the lights when it was time to wind down, and gradually turn them on again in the morning to wake you up. I was positively shook at the efficacy.

The future was now!

I ended up opting to go to sleep pretty late; there was something really nice about being in a simple, clean, comfy bed with no distractions. I spent a couple of relaxing hours catching up on journaling, completely at ease. It was certainly true that the clarity of the space transferred over to my own body and mind – minimalism for the win!

But it wouldn’t be a true P. Sherman travel experience without a little bit of drama. At around midnight, a new character appeared to disrupt the white-on-white fairy tale. There’s always at least one rebel in every great dystopian fantasy, right? Ours took the form of a rogue snorer. At first, her presence was a little awkward, the choppy gurgling cutting through the otherwise silent night. Then it was annoying – like, we were trying to live out our space queen dreams in peace! Do you mind?!

But then it became funny. One by one, we capsule dwellers began to draw back our curtains and poke our heads out into the open corridor. We smiled at each other when we made eye contact, and pointed and gestured, trying to locate the culprit among the puzzle of pods. You know when you’re in the bathroom line in the club, and you make friends with those other nice girls who’re waiting, and you just sort of automatically and instantly bond? This was like that, only instead of a group of ladies standing in a toilet queue, it was a group of floating heads in a bizarre spaceship from 3018.

I ended up sleeping surprisingly well, and the lights that woke me up in the morning felt much kinder to my soul than the generic, blaring iPhone alarms I was used to.

The Verdict

Overall, once I returned my cult pyjamas and left the hotel, I felt like I’d spent a night at a weird but fun school camp. There was a cute spirit of discovery throughout the stay, and I definitely appreciated the stripped-back approach to accommodation and comfort. I left feeling refreshed, centered, and with the excited satisfaction that comes from trying something new.

If you’re considering a trip to Japan, a.) DO IT cos Japan is amazing and b.) definitely consider a capsule hotel experience while you’re there. It’s a way of turning accommodation into an activity in itself, a little unique slice of culture to dig into, and the least expensive trip to space on the market! Nice try, Elon Musk xx

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