Although I live in Japan, and have friends in cities across the country, I frequently stay in hotels during my travels. This way, I have more time to explore than the duration of a day trip would allow, and I don’t feel like a burden on my friends. Also, I can choose hotels located within walking distance of points of interest so I can skip additional commute time (and avoid that dreaded last train).
Since I try to take a trip at least once a month, I’ve covered my fair share of accommodation options. I’ve done Airbnb, hotel chains, hostels and capsule hotels. With one hostel exception, every place I’ve stayed in Japan has been clean, well-managed, and has either met or exceeded my expectations.
Full disclosure: Despite this high standard of accommodation across the board, when I started, I had zero interest in capsule hotels. They sounded like the cursed offspring of capitalism and claustrophobia. In fact, I was also initially hesitant about hostels, and I blame the horror movie “Hostel” for it. Even so, before I was willing to try the capsule hotel, I did end up staying at hostels a few times.
Eventually, necessity won over bias. Hotels grew too expensive and hostels had such a vast range in décor and clientele that every booking felt like an exercise in trial and error. If I wanted to continue staying in the heart of popular cities, I would need to widen my accommodation preferences. So, I tried my hand at the capsule hotel.
Now I must say capsule hotels are my absolute favorite type of accommodation.
In the bedrooms of capsule hotels, cocooned beds and personal lighting create a private and comfortable space despite the communal arrangement. Some capsule hotels even offer individual bed areas instead of stacked bunks but, in either case, the bed is more spacious and outfitted than you may imagine. Also, the rooms are surprisingly quiet and peaceful, which is unlike the bedrooms of many hostels, where the curtained beds allow sound to travel freely. Finally, male and female guests are usually on separate floors in capsule hotels, while most hostels do not have space to offer this arrangement. The overall system is perfect for me because I’m usually tired after a long day of sightseeing and I enjoy peaceful seclusion in a hotel. Capsule hotels offer this personal and secure space where you can rest comfortably without interruption.
Similar to hostels, capsule hotels offer guests private shower stalls with a space to change their clothes. However, many capsule hotels also feature a Japanese bath where you can enjoy a healthy soak in an indoor onsen. There are toilets and sinks on every floor, so you never have to wait, and capsule hotels actually offer more amenities than traditional hotels. Guests are also provided with easy-wear shirts and pants to make moving between the showers and bedrooms comfortable. Capsule hotel showers are clean, convenient and often even luxurious, so sharing the facilities with other guests is not a problem at all.
Finally, many capsule hotels have a spacious lounge area. The lounge is less formal than the traditional hotel but more structured than the hostel’s kitchen/dining area. It invites people to sit, use the Wi-Fi, have a drink, and socialize with other guests. The decor lends an air of elegance that the hostel setting lacks, but it is still more casual and comfortable than the hotel bar or restaurant. Therefore, you can meet and greet other travelers in a comfortable setting like a hostel, and still be able to retreat to your personal space, like a hotel.
So to summarize, I’d say the capsule hotel is the perfect amalgamation of hotels and hostels. Hotels are designed for private and efficient stays, while hostels encourage socializing and activity-filled visits. Capsule hotels manage to foster the discretion and care of a hotel while still maintaining the warm and open atmosphere of a hostel.
I am a skeptic turned fan, and now, I use capsule hotels more than any other type of accommodation. With capsule hotels throughout the major cities of Japan, it should be easy for you to give this evolution in accommodation a try, and I hope that you do. It’s a small but pleasing wonder amid this nation of marvels.
To note, as a price point, capsule hotels tend to be costlier than hostels but less expensive than hotels.