Space efficiency is crucial in a densely populated megacity like Tokyo. While continually expanding upwards and outwards, the city’s some 13 million residents have still got to find somewhere to go! Japan’s answer was the capsule hotel.
Tokyo’s strange mix of old culture and new culture is probably what makes it our favorite city in the world. In a single day, you can explore the world’s largest fish market and play Dance Dance Revolution in a seven-story arcade.
The city has taken “compact” to a whole new level. Tokyo is at once tiny – with 7-seater ramen bars and packed-to-the-wall metro cars – and enormous with department stores that occupy entire city blocks. The city is sensory assult, and something that everyone should experience at least once in their lives.
About Capsule Hotels
Between the congested mega-stores, slender apartment complexes, and multi-story arcades, the availability of temporary (affordable) places to stay in Tokyo are limited. Where is a business traveler or budget backpacker to go? The Japanese found the perfect blend of space efficiency and comfort. If you want to stay in the tightest, cleanest, most Japanese of spaces, there’s only one place to go – into the depths of a capsule hotel in Tokyo.
What the hell is a capsule hotel? Combine the design of a 1950’s fallout shelter with a laundromat, and you’ll have yourself a capsule hotel. More specifically, capsule hotels are a type of cheap, basic overnight accommodation designed for high occupancy dwelling.
Rooms: Much like a hostel, you will share a single large space equipped with 50+ modular sleeping blocks that serve as private “rooms”. Slip into your capsule (appx. 7ft x 3ft x 4ft) and you’ll find it equipped with a TV, outlet, and privacy curtain. Other facilities of capsule hotels include locker rooms, shared bathrooms, a common area, a restaurant, vending machines, and oftentimes, and an onsen.
Value: While a Tokyo hotel room can cost you $200+, capsules go for as little as $25/night.
- Capsule hotels / floors are separated by gender: If you’re traveling with someone of the opposite sex, we should note that most capsule hotels are single gender only. It is even more uncommon to find a capsule hotel with shared beds. We stayed at the Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel which makes rare exception by offering floors for both men and women.
- The capsules don’t lock: Ah, yes. The question on everyone’s mind is “what if I get locked inside my capsule?”. Thankfully the capsules only close by curtain (it’s Japanese law that they don’t lock entirely). While tucking all the way into the back of the capsule can be a bit claustrophobic, you’ll have more space than you expect! Your stuff will be safely stored in your locker rather than cluttering up your tiny capsule, and you can sleep with your head at the entrance.
- You have to check out during the day: Due to the rapid turnover intended in capsule hotels, most require that guests checkout during the day (typically between 10:00am-4:00pm) while the rooms are cleaned. This means even if you’re staying for a few nights, you’ll need to checkout, store your stuff, and get out of the way for a few hours while they restore the room.
A capsule hotel can be a luxurious upgrade from similarly-priced hostel. The capsules themselves are quite basic, but the included facilities are pretty awesome.
Bathrooms: In a capsule hotel, you can expect high-tech toilets and very clean showers. Everything from towels, to pajamas, to disposable toothbrushes are provided. If you’re a backpacker, you might go crazy using rose scented mist and free Q-tips – but of course, we would never.
The Lobby: The lobby of a capsule hotel is nothing if not an extremely local experience. You’ll find comfy chairs, a big TV, vending machines, a bar, and occasionally a restaurant. As for your comrades? Expect Japanese businessmen in the ultimate chill state – wearing robes with hairy legs propped up laughing wholeheartedly at America’s Funniest Home Videos.
The Onsen: After a long day of travel, there’s nothing quite like a Japanese onsen to unwind. Strip down, shower off, and take a plunge into the hot and cold baths. Unfortunately, onsens are separated by gender – as capsule hotels are just beginning to open themselves to female clients, the girls get ripped off. While Daniel chilled out in his onsen, I explored the toiletry collection in the bathroom. I guess that’s just how it goes!
wanna stay in a capsule hotel?
Want to have this experience for yourself? Here are the 5 best capsule hotels in Tokyo:
Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel: The Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel was our basis for this post, and a fantastic place to stay based on location alone. This is one of the only mixed capsule hotels, offering separate floors for men and women, so we definitely recommend for any males and females traveling together. (Prices start from $25)
Green Plaza Shinjuku (for males) & Le Luck Spa (for females): The Green Plaza Shinjuku & Le Luck Spa are both well located near Shinjuku station, and also offer the best bathhouse experience for both genders. If staying at Green Plaza, you can upgrade from the standard room to enjoy more comfortable bedding. The Le Luck Spa is a great option for female travelers looking for privacy and comfort. (Male rooms start from $25 with female rooms from $44)
Ishino Onsen Roppongi VIVI: If you stay out too late in the posh Roppongi area, grab a room for the night at the Ishino Onsen Roppongi. Spa services are on the luxurious end, and they have capsule rooms for men and bunks for women to crash in. (Prices start from $33)
Centurion Cabin & Spa: Any girls looking for the finest of capsule hotels can stay at the Centurion Cabin. Centurion is a women only capsule hotel with beautiful facilities and luxury cabins that will give the capsule hotel experience with less of the “budget accommodation” feel. (Prices start $47)
First Cabin Haneda Terminal 1: Whether you’re on a long layover or simply can’t bear the thought of leaving Tokyo without a capsule hotel experience, grab a room at First Cabin in Haneda airport for a capsule sleep above the rest. With double beds and an accordion door, you can have the capsule experience without the claustrophobia. Designed to resemble the first class environment of an airplane, First Cabin also has locations in Akihabara and Tsukiji. (Prices start from $51)