Photo credit: Nine Hours Sendai, photo by Nacasa & Partners
Capsule hotels are a quintessentially Japanese travel experience
If you're after a travel experience that's distinctly Japanese and won't break the bank, a capsule hotel is hard to beat. Also known as pod hotels, these quirky lodgings are made up of rows and rows of compact, self-contained "capsules." These minimalist, bed-sized spaces give guests a private place to sleep, as well as access to communal facilities, such as toilets and showers.
Ranging from sci-fi inspired futuristic pods to more elegant and upmarket sleeping cabins, a stay in one of Japan's capsule hotels is an experience that's not to be missed.
Cost effective and convenient
The world's first capsule hotel opened in 1979 in Osaka's lively Umeda district. Traditionally geared more towards businessmen than tourists, these establishments offered an affordable place for weary—or inebriated—salarymen to spend the night if they missed the last train home.
These days, however, capsule hotels have become an attraction in themselves, and spending a night in one is on many foreign visitors' to-do lists. This has resulted in the opening of a new wave of modern capsule hotels, and the increase in popularity has brought with it an increase in quality. Consequently, they are generally just as clean, safe and pleasant to stay in as any other hotel.
You can find capsule hotels located in most major cities across Japan. They tend to be located near train stations, making them an extremely convenient accommodation option.
Pros and cons of pod life
One of the major selling points of capsule hotels is the price tag. They're usually cheaper than a regular hotel, and when you're spending most of your time out and about you may well find you don't miss the extra room all that much. Staying in one can also be a great way to meet people, as the shared nature of the facilities and closeness of the capsules pretty much guarantee you'll bump into your fellow podmates.
Of course there are some downsides to be aware of. The capsules can feel cramped, especially if you're tall or prone to claustrophobia. And, as you'll potentially be sharing with a roomful of strangers, you might find yourself stuck with some noisy neighbors or midnight snackers.
Probably the biggest upside is the sheer novelty value. Staying in a capsule hotel is a travel experience all visitors to Japan should try at some point. If nothing else, it's sure to give you some great pictures for social media—those pods are practically crying out to be Instagrammed.
When staying in a capsule hotel, there are certain etiquette rules you should keep in mind for the comfort of other guests. The most important of these is to keep the noise down. This means using headphones when watching TV or listening to music, and being careful with your morning alarm (some capsules have light alarms to wake you naturally and silently). It's also considerate to avoid eating food which has a strong aroma—in fact, many hotels prohibit food of any kind inside their pods.
While you're bound to want to take pictures to document your stay, be mindful of other guests as you do so, both in terms of keeping them out of your shots and not disturbing them with the shutter noise. The hotel will probably give you an overview of its specific rules when you check in so, if in doubt, just follow those.
What to expect
While each establishment has different features, a standard pod will generally contain a mattress, pillow, shelf space, electrical outlets, Wi-Fi and perhaps a TV. A curtain or door will give you some privacy, but don't expect it to be soundproof.
Communal facilities likewise vary, but you can expect lavatories and showers. Amenities such as toothbrushes and even pajamas are often provided, too. Many hotels have a lounge area in which you can relax and socialize. You'll be assigned a locker for your bag, but large suitcases will normally have to be left at reception.
Although traditionally male-only, nowadays both mixed gender and female-only capsule hotels are available. Some of the mixed gender hotels have co-ed capsule rooms, while others separate male and female guests by room or floor.
Standard nightly rates are around 3,000-6,000 yen and many of the newer hotels offer easy booking in English online.
Five of Japan's coolest capsule hotels
Not sure which capsule hotel to pick? Check out these for some inspiration.
The Millennials, Kyoto
The Millennials is a stylish capsule hotel in the heart of Kyoto. A step up from standard pods, it provides cozy bed spaces with enough room to stand in. It also has a modern lounge and co-working space, with meeting rooms and phone booths to help you stay productive while you travel.
Book & Bed (Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukuoka)
This book-themed capsule hotel has been highly publicized in international media, and offers the chance to literally sleep in a bookshelf. As well as all the usual facilities, it contains thousands of Japanese and English language books that you can peruse at your leisure. A must for bibliophiles.
Luxury Capsule Hotel Anshin Oyado Shinjuku, Tokyo
If you want to try a pod hotel without sacrificing comfort, Anshin is the ultimate luxury capsule hotel experience. Its spacious square pods come with Simmons bedding, an LCD TV and high-quality headphones. There's also an artificial onsen on site.
Nine Hours feels like a sci-fi fantasy hotel. Its futuristic look, with an almost dystopian, monochrome design and pods that would look at home on a space station. Its focus is on sleep wellness, with a lighting system that automatically adjusts to help you effortlessly drift off, before waking up naturally.
Nadeshiko Hotel Shibuya, Tokyo
Nadeshiko is a capsule hotel exclusively for women. Mixing a modern concept with Japanese aesthetics, it's equipped with a traditional bath and tatami lounge, and provides guests with yukata to wear. Thanks to its English-language website and convenient Shibuya location, Nadeshiko is the perfect choice for overseas tourists.
All information is correct as of March 2019.