I remember when I first heard about capsule hotels. I was shocked that anyone would stay in one. Why would you stay in such a small, cramped, isolated pod without any room for your belongings?
I don’t know when I changed my mind and thought it wouldn’t be so bad. Perhaps when my brother went to Japan at the beginning of the year and had a good experience in one. During my East Asian trip, I stayed in two capsule hotels, one in Sapporo and one in Kobe, and thought I’d share the experience first hand.
Firstly, the capsule itself: in both hotels there were two rows of capsules per floor, and I was on the top one each time Getting up and down isn’t too difficult, but the stairs are on the side which makes it a little tricky sometimes. The capsule itself was wide enough for me to stretch with just my lower arms and touch the sides, so not actually that small. I had plenty of space to put my laptop up against a wall when I was sleeping. In addition, there’ll be at least one small shelf to put valuables, and power sockets. One had just one, and the other had three. So I was quite pleasantly surprised by the capsules themselves.
Reception and leaving the hotel: In both hotels, one removes their shoes and places them in a locker. Then you give the locker key to the receptionist in exchange for your personal locker key. This does mean you must visit reception and hand the key back every time you leave the hotel, but there is a receptionist there 24 hours a day, and they never ask questions and are generally very nice people anyway.
Storage and cleaning: This differed in the hotels, but in each hotel, everyone had to leave for a few hours for cleaning, in one this was 10am-2pm, the other 11am-3pm. In addition, the extent to which you had to clear out differed. In the first, you simply could transfer everything to your locker and leave. In the second you had to put everything back in your suitcase and then bring it back out after arriving post-cleaning. I also had to give back my key in this one, I assume because I may have had to change capsules, but this didn’t happen. The lockers were each large enough for a carry-on size suitcase. My big suitcase had to be stored at reception, but this was secure – in one I could lock it to a rail and the key for the lock was in my room number pidgeonhole. In the other they placed the bags in reception with numbered tags, and with 24 hour receptionists this was also very safe.
Bathing: In both capsule hotels, the only option was a communal bathing area. This is quite common in Japan, indeed Japanese people consider public baths as a legitimate social opportunity. My host mother last year asked if I had ever had a bath with friends, as though this was the most normal thing for anyone to do. So even if, like me, you wouldn’t dare show any more skin than needed in your home country, the Japanese don’t make an issue of it. Knowing this made me much more comfortable with the communal bathing arrangements and I just got on with it. If the Japanese aren’t going to make an issue of it then neither am I.
All in all, I would definitely recommend trying a capsule hotel. I found both the hotels I used to be very good value for money (around £25 per night) and in a great location. it’s definitely worth it for the experience, and who knows, you may, like me, love it and be very happy to stay in one again next time you can.