Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Night in a Capsule Hotel

A night in a capsule hotel is a uniquely Japanese experience.

Reception on left, shoe lockers on right
You could arrive with no luggage, just what you're standing in. After a decent night's sleep you leave next morning, well-rested, bathed, and fed, in freshly laundered clothes.

$26 a night, including tax, gets you a clean, safe place to stay, a yucata, towels, a comb, toothbrushes and other toiletries, unlimited soft drinks and coffee, free WiFi, and a simple breakfast.

The arrival process has parallels to being admitted to prison. You take off your street clothes, then put on a yucata. You lock your bag in a locker: you shouldn't need it until you check out.

Locker key; "302" identifies locker and capsule
From that point on, everything is supplied. My only extras are my cell phone, charger, and some dental floss.

I've read a capsule hotel can be a lonely place. The Japanese are good at preserving personal space, people generally don't talk or make eye contact.

These are not down-and-out people, just people with the basic need for a night's sleep.

I see all age groups, I'm at the older end, but I see men older than me. I see a father and his ten-year old son.

Okayama's Hotel River Side, where I'm staying, is male-only. Some capsule hotels cater to men and women, with separate floors and separate elevators.

I just don't have any stories about the guests. Nobody acts up, nobody stands out.

Clothes washing, heading to lounge in my yucata
In the evening I enjoy a beer in the lounge while my street clothes go through a coin laundry.

On one side of me a guy is looking up stuff on a computer (provided at no charge), the guy on the other side is reading manga while eating. The only conversation I hear, just for a minute, is between an American and a German.

Finally I'm ready to climb into my capsule.

View from my pillow
The capsule itself is surprisingly roomy, and feels private. The "door" is a pull-down blind that latches securely. A panel next to the pillow has controls for lights, ventilation, and TV. The soft sound of air flowing serves to mask inevitable coughs and snores. I get a decent night's sleep.

The lounge. I had breakfast here.
Next morning after bathing, and a light breakfast, I'm on my way.

I'd stay in a capsule hotel again.

I used my phone, without flash, to take the pictures. I decided walking around with a regular camera would be out of place, whereas a cell phone is something people would expect to see.

Extra: The Steps

For future reference, here's the steps I went through:
  • Make reservation: I prepaid using Agoda's app.
  • Find the place. Google Maps makes this easy.
  • 8:15 p.m. Arrive. Take off street shoes.
  • Open a shoe locker. Put on the flipflops that are in the locker. Lock street shoes in locker.
  • Give shoe locker key to receptionist. My street shoes are held hostage while I'm here.
  • Receptionist gives me an armband key, written instructions, and points me to a pile of yucata and disposable toothbrushes.
  • Take elevator to my floor (3rd).
  • In front of me is a wall of lockers. Open locker corresponding to my key number to reveal two towels. It's a tiny locker, my small (35 liter) backpack just fits. With hindsight I would have left my backpack in a locker at the train station ($3).
  • Undress, change into yucata.
  • Locate capsule in adjacent room. The capsule and locker have the same number. The capsules are stacked two-high; mine is in the top row.
  • Check out my bed for the night. It looks clean, I catch a mild whiff of bleach. There's a futon, duvet, and pillow: everything I need.
  • Back downstairs, drop clothes in washing machine. $3 for wash, $1 for drier. Detergent is provided at no charge.
  • While clothes are washing, enter lounge. I feel completely comfortable: everyone is minding their own business; nobody is even talking. The only sound is the television.
  • Grab a beer (Asahi Dry) from the vending machine. (About $3.) I also charge my cell phone.
  • Once clothes are dried, head back up to 3rd floor. Put clothes in locker.
  • 10:00 p.m. Brush and floss, then climb into capsule. Read a bit (on phone), then sleep. I get a pretty good night's sleep
  • Next morning, 7:00 a.m., climb out of capsule. You have to be fairly limber to do this: I've yet to figure out the technique.
  • Brush teeth using disposable toothbrush.
  • Take elevator to first floor.
  • Time to bathe, usual routine: undress in an ante-room, put stuff in locker, ($1 to lock locker), then walk naked into the communal bath room. I thoroughly wash with a hand sprayer; liquid soap and shampoo are provided. I don't feel like soaking in the large bath, so I go back to the ante-room, dry off, and put my yucata back on. Throw towels into basket.
  • Back up to 3rd floor. Put on street clothes (stored in locker), throw yucata into basket, then back down to sitting room. (Come to think about it, I could have stayed in my yucata. I was on a mission to explore the world beyond.)
  • Enjoy breakfast: bread and a boiled egg. Unlimited coffee.
  • Back up to 3rd floor, collect backpack, then back down to reception.
  • Exchange locker key for shoe locker key.
  • Swap flipflops for outdoor shoes, and leave.

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