Why You Should Consider Checking Out Japanese Capsule Hotels
Capsule hotels in Japan are a budget traveler’s best friend. Basic and affordable, like a hybrid between a hostel and typical hotel, they’re also a totally unique accommodation experience for a multitude of reasons – so much so that Japan’s capsule hotels are now virtually a tourist attraction in their own right. You know what you’re getting with a capsule hotel, and for those looking for little more than a place to rest, recharge and lay their head at night, you can’t really do much better.
But what’s so special about Japan capsule hotels? First, let’s learn what they actually are.
What are Japanese Capsule Hotels?
Japanese capsule hotels, also known as ‘pod hotels’, are a form of accommodation that prioritize sleep over the other less necessary aspects of a typical hotel stay. They’ve done away with the extra floor space, wardrobes, desks and chairs, and the ensuite bathrooms that many travelers simply don’t need from their hotel room.
In its place, each dorm-style room of a capsule hotel contains two rows of ‘pod’ units made from fiberglass and stacked one on top of the other. Each guest has their own pod which contains a bed, a light, a power outlet, and sometimes a shelf and/or TV. There are usually a dozen or so capsules to a room, meaning you’re sharing the space with twelve other guests.
So how did this extraordinary approach to hotel accommodation even begin?
The first capsule hotel appeared in Osaka in 1979, designed by the leading Japanese architect, Kisho Kurokawa. The intention was to find a both a cost-saving and space-saving alternative to the multitudes of businessmen who spent long hours commuting just to sleep.
While it’s a wholly different cultural experience to staying at a traditional Japanese ryokan, pod hotels are actually just as much of a must-stay when choosing hotels in Japan nowadays.
How do Japanese Capsule Hotel Rooms Work?
Claustrophobia sufferers, look away now – and for those in search of total privacy, you might want to look elsewhere as this isn’t really a capsule hotel’s vibe! But these pods still provide you with a semblance of ‘your own space’ – just in a minimal way. Here’s what you need to know about a Japanese capsule hotel room:
- Capsule: usually 1 meter high, 1.2 meters wide and 2 meters long
- Bed: fits flush with the capsule; usually a single mattress or futon
- Bedding: sheets, pillows and blankets are all provided
- Lights: controlled independently by each pod
- Power outlets for chargers/freeWi-Fi: usually provided
- Air conditioning: usually available
- Door: a curtain, blind or a door with no lock
- Window/TV: not guaranteed; depends on the hotel
Although you can stay as many nights as you like in a capsule hotel, the clue is in the word ‘night’. This isn’t somewhere you’ll lounge away the day: as staff have to change linens and air out rooms, you’re expected to vacate the pod and take your belongings with you when morning rolls around. As a result, we recommend only booking for one or two nights.
No Locks on Capsule Doors
Due to Japan’s hotel laws, individual hotel rooms can’t have locks on their doors – and neither can a sleep capsule. Though you’ll have a curtain, blind, or a small door, there isn’t a way to lock your pod. But don’t worry: secure baggage storage and lockers are provided for each guest, along with shoe lockers on arrival.
Shared Bathroom Facilities
As there’s obviously no space for a shower inside a capsule, the pod hotel solution is to provide shared facilities like bathrooms and showers. These are kept studiously clean, and usually there’s complimentary towels, soap, and shampoo for guests too. Some capsule hotels have communal baths as well – Japanese bathing culture making itself known!
With no solid doors, it’s easy to hear people walking, moving, even snoring in neighboring capsules. That said, capsule hotels are designed specifically for sleeping, so hopefully your neighbors are just as keen for a good (and quiet!) night’s sleep as you are. Bring some earplugs if you’re worried!
As the capsules don’t lock, these hotels normally have separate floors for men and women, allowing for both the bedrooms and communal bathrooms to be single-gendered. Some guests still prefer a female-only capsule hotel, and though less common these do exist around Japan. If you’re a couple traveling together it’s likely that you’ll want to sleep in the same room, but it’s also less common to see dorm rooms that allow for couples or mixed genders. That said, there are a few around.
Why are Capsule Hotels So Popular?
They Can Save You Money
Compared to the standard cost of hotel rooms in Japan, capsule hotels are pretty cheap. You’ll usually see a pod priced at 2000 to 5000 yen per night ($15 to $35 USD) though they’ll be more expensive during peak traveling season.
There are Plenty of Services Available
From the complimentary slippers at the door to the 24 hour check-in service, capsule hotels have considered every aspect of your stay. Most have plenty of reading material in the way of magazines and manga; there are entertainment options like in-house movie theaters, game rooms, and expansive lounges for all guests to use, and sometimes spas and saunas too!
They’re Sociable (If Desired!)
The lack of private space is balanced out with plenty of communal areas. Like hostels, there’s a lovely sense of community available in capsule hotels. But you don’t have to take advantage of this, of course. If you’re simply after a rest then head straight to your capsule and bed down.
They’re Conveniently Located
As they’re designed for ease and convenience, capsule hotels in Japan are usually in large cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and are situated close to transit hubs - that means major train stations and metro stops. Choosing a pod hotel based on location and proximity is one of the most useful aspects of these hotels, so when making your choice, think about your onward travel and where in the city you’ll be arriving.
Top 4 Coolest Capsule Hotels
Capsule hotels are really imaginative with their designs. Some are luxurious with windows and views for each pod, while others really lean into the overall concept by creating spaces that wouldn’t be out of place in a sci-fi movie. Some of our favorite capsule hotels include:
Book and Bed (Ikebukuro, Tokyo) – the bibliophile's ultimate dream brought to life! The capsules at this pod hotel are built into a human-sized bookcase, and there’s over 4,000 books shelved with volumes in both Japanese and English.
Nine Hours (across Japan) – a chain of futuristic pod hotels that feel like the inside of a spaceship. You can find branches at Shinjuku Station and Narita Airport among others – and there’s a female-only pod hotel in Kanda, Tokyo.
First Cabin (across Japan) – an airplane-themed pod hotel with multiple locations in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagasaki and Fukuoka. You can experience spa treatments, their on-site bar, and choose different price tiers from budget Economy to First Class luxury.
Capsule Ryokan (Kyoto) – a capsule-sized version of the traditional Japanese ryokan. This place has tatami mats, futons, wooden decor and a shared kitchen – a rarity amongst capsule hotels – and is a gorgeous option if you’re visiting Kyoto for its culture but can’t afford an authentic ryokan stay.
Peek inside a real Japanese capsule hotel with our video!