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Pod Person: My Night in a Japanese Capsule Hotel

I’ve been curious about staying in one of Japan’s capsule/pod hotels ever since I saw the movie, Baraka. The images of a multitude of cubes stacked on top of each other like lego, with humans hanging out inside them like caged animals have stuck with me. Actually, a lot of images from Baraka have stuck with me and inspired my travels, but in any case…

Growing up in Canada, there was nothing but space, space and more space. I just couldn’t understand why the heck you would need to sleep inside a tiny little cube, like a dog ready for international transport on a plane. Why not sleep in a comfortable and normal size room instead?

After some years in Asia though, I began to see how spoiled we were for space in Canada. Space is at a serious premium in most Asian countries. There are literally people everywhere, especially in the dense urban spaces. Capsule hotels are a very practical, space and cost-efficient solution.

Culturally though, there are other reasons for these cube hotels. Their main purpose is not as a source of accommodation for backpackers and tourists traveling around the world on a budget. Rather, these little pods are mostly used by drunk “salarymen”, who land there after a night of heavy alcohol consumption, which is, for better or worse, a huge part of business culture in East Asia. That’s why, until recently, it was a bit difficult to find capsule hotels with sections for women. Their original use had nothing to do with most women’s lives.

Korea has a similar type of accommodation that is used by drunk businessmen, called the jjimjilbang, that includes saunas, showers and sleeping areas. Jjimjilbangs in Korea are different than Japanese capsules, in that they’re much more multi-use. Most jjimjilbangs have an entertainment area for families, couples and friends to socialize in, with massage chairs, restaurants, movie theatres, screen golf/video game zones, and even nail salons. It’s only late in the evening that jjimjilbangs seems to transform into sleeping quarters for inebriated individuals.

I find it hugely interesting that in Korea, the sleeping area is completely communal, whereas in Japan, everyone is neatly sectioned off into their own little personal pod. It says a lot about the cultural differences between the 2 countries…and though I’m ethnically Korean, I definitely prefer the capsule. Who wants to listen to everyone snoring all night long?

"Sleeper in Korean Sauna," by Tonio Vega, CC Attribution

“Sleeper in Korean Sauna,” by Tonio Vega, CC Attribution

So, how did I finally end up in my very own personal pod? Because I booked a crazy last minute flight from Canada to Korea, that involved two, 9 hour stopovers. One in Los Angeles and one in Tokyo. I’m long past the point where I’m willing to suffer long layovers in airports to save a few dollars, so in LA, my sister-in-law, Ana and I hung out at the Travelodge and ate at Denny’s, but in Tokyo, a night in a capsule was the obvious solution.

Luckily, there was a capsule hotel right inside Tokyo’s Haneda airport where we were transiting, called First Cabin Haneda. There, we could choose to spend the night in either a Business Capsule or a First Class Capsule. The Business Capsules were much like the images I’d seen in Baraka so many years ago, but the First Class Capsules had quite a bit more space, more like a mini-hotel room. And that’s where I ended up.

Decorated around an aviation/traveling theme, the hotel was spotlessly clean, organized and minimally designed. In the lobby, there were computers, and a vending machine with hot snacks like edamame and ramen. We were efficiently checked in and handed the keys to our individual capsules. Segregated by gender, the ladies capsule area included a lounge for socializing and a communal bathing area stocked with luxurious feeling (at least to us North Americans) Shisheido products, and a small hot tub.

After 13 hours on the plane, soaking my weary body in that bath of soothing water was completely rejuvenating. Refreshed and resting under a set of crisp, clean sheets, in the pyjamas provided, after 37 hours of traveling, there was nothing left to do, but bless Japanese efficiency. 🙂

First Cabin Haneda
The First Cabin Haneda is located in Terminal 1. There’s a free shuttle bus between terminals, if you should land somewhere other than Terminal 1. I ended up in a First Class Capsule (6000JPY), because all of the Business Capsules (5000JPY) were fully booked. If you want to save a few bucks, book well in advance.

Keep in Mind

The capsules do not lock, but have sliding curtains to give you privacy. I wouldn’t call them loud, but they’re definitely not completely silent, with travellers arriving and departing at all different times of the day and night. Bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper.

There’s a lockable drawer for valuables under the bed, and suitcases can simply be left outside your pod. In my personal experience, there’s very little risk of theft in East Asia. People generally leave bags, purses, phones wallets etc… just sitting on tables in cafes. Don’t be careless about it, but in general, there’s not much cause for worry.

The capsule hotel will provide you with everything you need for an overnight stay, including pyjamas, towels, and disposable toothbrush and toothpaste.

Most (but not all) capsule hotels include a separate sauna and shower area for men and women. They’re usually fully stocked with shampoo, body wash, and cream for the face.

Have you ever stayed in a capsule or other unique type of accommodation? Where was it, and would you recommend it to other travellers?

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39 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beautiful read…

    It really gives a cultural perspective of these two asian nations too.

    Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

    March 13, 2015
    • Thanks Sreejith. I think Japan and Korea get lumped together a lot culturally, and while there are some similarities, the feeling in the 2 countries is very very different. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

      March 15, 2015
  2. I would actually love to try out one of these capsule hotels 🙂

    These Jjimjilbangs appear to be a huge hangover gathering during morning hours! I wouldn’t like to wake up in such environment but then again it is better and safer than sleeping outside for these guys

    March 13, 2015
    • Yeah, jjimjilbangs are definitely not my favourite place to sleep, but they’re a lot of fun to visit otherwise and great value. For $10-12, you get access to multiple saunas, hot tubs, steam rooms etc… certainly not as comfortable as a capsule hotel for sleeping, but significantly cheaper. 🙂

      March 15, 2015
  3. Sha #

    Very cool!! I’ve always wanted to stay in one and this one looks really good..guess which one caught my eye?? The hot tub! Yay! I love that…😄

    March 13, 2015
    • This one was really nice… I feel like maybe it was a bit nicer because it was in an airport? That hot tub was seriously amazing after that long flight. Have you been to jjimjilbang in Korea yet? or does all the mandatory nakedness freak you out? 😉

      March 15, 2015
      • Sha #

        Yeah, that’s what I thought too because it was really very stylish looking and had a lot of good amenities, like the hot tub!! Haha, I’m just obsessed with tubs or water. I’ve been to jimjilbang once, been wanting to go back again but I either had no time to go again or I lost my courage now that I know what it really is like..haha…and I went solo for my first experience there so..hmm…haha…but I really would like to go again…really…it’s only for the hot tub, not so much for the other stuff there though…:)

        March 16, 2015
        • It’s such a relaxing experience, and it’s amazing how fast you forget about the naked part. 😉 Next, you have to try the body scrub. Nothing like getting all your skin peeled off by a powerful scrubbing ajumma! Which one did you visit? Dragon Hill? I like the hot tubs, but I also love the saunas in the jjimjil area, especially the ones that feel like giant pizza ovens! 🙂

          March 16, 2015
          • Sha #

            Yup, I went to dragon hill since they seemed more foreigner friendly..haha…but I don’t dare try the scrub though, I’ve heard lots of stories about it..haha! 😄

            March 19, 2015
  4. I’ve always been curious about staying in a pod! I think its kind of a cool idea for budget travelers who need a place just to crash. I’d never heard of jjimjilbangs before. I love about these quirky cultural customs! Very cool 🙂

    March 13, 2015
    • I was so happy I finally got to try it out! I’ve been wanting to sleep in one FOREVER. 😀 Seriously, I don’t know why they don’t have capsules in every airport around the world. It seems like a perfect solution for people transiting or on long layovers. :/ Jjimjilbangs are definitely unique! Have you seen the video where Conan and Steven Yeun visit a jjimjilbang? I think it was floating around the internet recently…

      March 15, 2015
  5. I’ve always wondered about the capsule hotels. Not sure how I’d feel about a curtain instead of a door, but for a long layover it seems like the perfect solution.

    March 13, 2015
    • It was the ideal solution for my long layover, that’s for sure! I arrived back in Seoul completely refreshed, even though I’d basically been traveling for 2 full days. But yeah, a door would definitely have made it more soundproof, and I think some capsules might have real doors. It was a pretty thick curtain though, and the place was very secure, with key cards to enter either the mens or ladies areas.

      March 15, 2015
  6. Great topic! I would love to try the capsule hotel as well. I have the reverse of claustrophobia, I actually love being in snug little spaces. I will add the capsule hotel into the list to my ‘why we need to go to Japan’.

    March 13, 2015
    • Then you would completely love the capsule hotel. 🙂 It’s definitely a “Made in Japan” experience, along with amazing sushi and drunk salarymen passed out all over the streets and subways. 😉

      March 15, 2015
  7. I would love to try one of these out! They are more expensive than I thought, but definitely cheaper than most hotels in Tokyo. 🙂

    March 13, 2015
    • It was a bit more expensive than I thought it would be…I mean, it’s a capsule, after all, but I think these particular ones might’ve been pricier than normal because it was in the airport. I’m guessing they’d be cheaper in a city somewhere. But you’re right…DEFINITELY much cheaper than any hotel!!!

      March 15, 2015
  8. Super informative! I have always been curious about these things!!!

    March 13, 2015
    • Me too!! I was so excited when I found this one in Haneda. It almost made the long stopover worthwhile. 😉

      March 15, 2015
  9. I’ve been curious about these, too. I think I might feel too claustrophobic in the smaller one, although the curtain (rather than a locking door) might actually help dispel that. Very interesting post! (Side note: my husband used to do business in Korea and could not keep up with all that business drinking! And smoking!)

    March 13, 2015
    • The small one was really small… literally just a bed with some walls built around it, but the one I stayed in was very comfortable. 🙂

      The business drinking in Korea and Japan is completely insane. It’s quite a scene around here some nights. They’ve been making efforts to scale it back in recent years, but it’s so culturally ingrained, that it’s not really working too well. 😦 They just doubled the price of cigarettes here and restaurants are now all non-smoking, as long as many areas of the streets. Change is definitely afoot…

      March 15, 2015
  10. I LOVE jjimjilbangs, and I’m sure at some point I’ll see what capsule hotels are all about. Nice post!

    March 14, 2015
    • Jjimjilbangs are a lot of fun, aren’t they? You totally rock the yang meori while there, don’t you? 😉

      March 15, 2015
      • Haha, I do, although the first time a giggling ajumma had to help me figure out how to get the towel to stay on my head! 🙂

        March 16, 2015
        • Lol…I think most expats have been schooled by the ajumma when it comes to yang meori. I know we were… 😀

          March 16, 2015
  11. I say it’s perfect. I’d actually prefer that over regular sized hotels. When it comes to hotels, all what it really practically provides is a bed and a shower. Everything else is comfort and luxury. All countries should have it.
    They told us about it when I was in Okinawa. But with my work, we weren’t allowed to stay overnight so we didn’t have the need for it. 🙂
    Nice images.

    March 14, 2015
    • Honestly, I really don’t understand why they don’t have these in every single airport around the world. It seems like the ideal solution for tired travellers and a great revenue generator. I would never pay the crazy expensive airport hotel rates for an overnight layover, but the price of a capsule is totally doable.

      March 15, 2015
  12. i’ve been stay in Capsule Hotel in Vietnam, its so perfect :).

    March 14, 2015
  13. I’ve always been curious about the capsule hotels, but I’m afraid that it would feel claustrophobic. Did the sleeping space feel really small?

    March 15, 2015
    • I was in the bigger capsule and it actually felt very spacious… literally like a mini-hotel room, with all the necessities, but nothing extra. The smaller capsules were definitely small though… basically a bed with walls built around it! Maybe not the best if you feel claustrophobic. 😮

      March 15, 2015
  14. I stayed in a female-only capsule hotel while travelling in Japan (annoyingly it was about ten years ago and I can’t remember where it was!) but I loved the experience. It was part of a spa so I had a lovely relaxing evening and although the capsule was very small I felt very cosy and secure in it. Hoping to visit Japan again next year so will definitely be trying it out again!

    March 24, 2015
    • So Japan is a finalist for your honeymoon destination? 🙂 I wish you remembered where that capsule was too. Sounds like a good one to visit…the spa part sounds absolutely perfect!

      March 24, 2015
      • I know, my memory is terrible! I will have to have a look back through my travel guides. Yes, Japan is looking like the front-runner at the moment 🙂

        March 25, 2015
  15. Girl Gone Expat #

    So interesting reading about the capsule hotel. I’ve only seen it in movies so far and it looks like a curious thing:) Nothing like it back home, or here in Canada. Would love to try one one time!

    April 7, 2015
    • I’ve been forever curious about the capsules, so it was great fun to finally satisfy my wonderings. 🙂 Definitely no need for them in Canada though…where we are spoiled for space!!

      April 8, 2015
  16. Jen #

    MY DREAM.

    June 25, 2015

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