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?
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?