What it's really like staying in a Japanese capsule hotel
Japan's most unique hotels, tried and tested.
A while ago we covered capsule hotels, the crazy yet convenient, potentially claustrophobia-inducing Japanese invention in an article here on Uni News. And so, on my recent semester abroad in Japan, I decided a trip to a capsule hotel was a must. Was it claustrophobic? Or was it cosy? Are you woken up in the middle of the night by your neighbours snoring? After staying in three different capsule hotels on the last leg of my adventure in Japan, I now have the answers.
As a quick refresher—a capsule hotel is a unique type of hotel that contains extremely small "rooms," or capsules, which are usually no longer or wider than the single bed they contain. Halls are divided by gender, with capsules stacked two units high down them, giving these hotels their otherworldly futuristic look. As I found out on my trip to three different capsule hotels, some actually offer miniature rooms rather than the typical pods. What unites these hotels under the definition of "capsule hotel" seems to be the close proximity in which you sleep compared to other visitors, and the use of a sliding cover or curtain to close off your room rather than a door with a lock. And if that sounds daunting—Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, making vulnerability in your hotel room far less of a concern than you might expect.
Now, onto my experience!
First things first, these hotels really are as cool as they look.
I stayed in capsule hotels during a week-long solo trip as my time in Japan came to an end, and though I was definitely drawn to their convenience for solo and budget travellers... The aesthetic was what sold it for me. And I definitely wasn't disappointed. The photo above is of me at Nine Hours in Narita, the capsule hotel chain that went viral for its highly futuristic style. It was for sure the most unique hotel I stayed at in Japan, and luckily for me, I got to spend my final night there!
Nine Hours kept its cool aesthetic up even outside the capsule hallway, including in the locker and shower areas. This included minimalistic numbers, symbols and monochrome detailing the walls and floor. It’s hard to explain, but as soon as I went through the check-in lobby to the hotel, it really felt like I’d stepped into another world.
As for claustrophobia, I didn't feel it at all - I was actually really cosy!
As you can see above, this capsule I stayed in while visiting Mt Fuji really had room just for me and a few other small items. For this reason, the staff give you a locker and key at check-in to store luggage. Some people also left their belongings, including large suitcases, just outside their capsules. Japan really is the kind of country where people rest assured their items will be safe!
But as I mentioned before, some capsule hotels offer accommodation that's more like a miniature room. Below is my capsule room at a hotel in Nikko, and you can see it was far more spacious—compared to standard capsule hotels, anyway! I had a small desk and mirror, a private bunk bed and TV, a locker that fit my suitcase inside, and a simple curtain to separate my room and the hallway.
The three capsule hotels I visited were located in Nikko, Fujikawaguchiko near Mt Fuji, and Narita.
And they really are super convenient.
A great thing about capsule hotels - and often Japanese hotels in general—is that you could check in with nothing and be just fine. What do I mean by that? Well, at each capsule hotel I stayed in, I had my toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel, conditioner, towels, face wash, and just about everything you could need provided. Two of them even provided pyjamas, as seen in this amazing package I received on check-in at Nine Hours Narita!
Another thing is that for every prime location, like near tourist attractions and train stations, you can find a capsule hotel close by. This makes them perfect for travellers, especially if you're alone and don't need much space! The Nine Hours I stayed in was actually right inside the airport terminal I was flying from the next morning—I just had to wake up, check-in luggage and go to the gate! I don't think a better location is possible for an early morning flight, so definitely check this place out if you fly into or out of Tokyo.
They're also pretty cheap.
Despite top convenience in locations and utilities, these capsule hotels keep their prices low. In terms of price per night, Nikko was 5,000 yen (£39), Fujikawaguchiko was 5,700 yen (£44), and Narita was 6,000 yen (£46). All great prices, especially considering everything provided. I was particularly impressed with my hotel in Nikko, which included access to the hotel’s onsen (Japanese hot spring bath) in its low price!
For such a small space, I was surprised how much effort the staff put into cleaning these rooms. My hotel in Fujikawaguchiko insisted all guests empty their rooms each afternoon for cleaning, even if they weren't checking out. The rooms would then be left clean with fresh towels, pillows and duvets laid out as seen above. It seemed they were maintained with even more care than regular hotel rooms!
But how well do you sleep?
As I mentioned before, I found these little capsules very cosy. The beds were comfy, I felt secure, and I slept well. But what about noise levels?
This was really the craziest thing about staying in capsule hotels for me. You’d think that staying so close to other travellers, with only paper-thin walls between you would amount to a lot of noise and awkward social interaction. But actually, most of the time I forgot there was anyone else in the hotel! In fact, during my first night in Nikko, I honestly believed I was the only person in the hallway until I heard someone turn a light off. Listening out in wonder for other signs of life was a very surreal experience.
In other words, everyone is very respectful of the silence rule, and I slept like a baby every night. The only issue I had was while staying in Narita when I was woken up by other people’s alarms going off in the early hours of the morning. At the other two capsule hotels I stayed in signs asked that guests set their alarms to vibrate only, and I was never woken up at all. But in this case, people staying at Narita airport likely didn’t want to risk missing their early flights by silencing their alarms, so I didn’t mind too much. It helped me get myself up for my flight, too!