Sometimes what happens in Japan stays in Japan, and the “capsule hotel” phenomenon is a prime example. Unlike, say, sushi or the Honda Civic, this is one Japanese invention that hasn’t triggered a stampede of foreign adopters and imitators.
The lack of enthusiasm makes sense to everyone but the Japanese, who see nothing wrong with filling a building with coffin-like sleeping pods in a sort of pay-by-the-night mausoleum. Indeed, in such a compact and crowded country, stacking up Salarymen in this way is one of few practical options.
The capsule hotel idea goes back to 1979, when the first one set up shop in Osaka. Since then they’ve proliferated, and now they come in a range of sizes accommodating anywhere from 50 to 700 guests.
In case you’re wondering, it’s not as if you’re expected to wedge yourself into your snug plastic enclosure and stay there the whole time. Capsule hotels typically feature common areas such as a lounge and bathing/toilet facilities as well as those sleeping pods.
And to be fair, it should be pointed out that the Thermos-style enclosures have amenities the average coffin lacks, such as TV and radio. In fact, maybe “coffin” is too harsh a word—“kennel” might be better. Most importantly, capsule hotels are substantially cheaper than standard hotels. As long as you’re not claustrophobic, that idea is sure to appeal.
The Capsule Inn Akihabara is a high-rise honeycomb of sleeping pods in one of Tokyo’s most wired-up, hyperactive neighborhoods. For a rock-bottom 4,000 yen, they’ll provide you with one of 169 pods (140 for men, 29 for women), each measuring a whopping 1 x 1 x 2 meters. If you can manage to extricate yourself after your night’s sleep without calling the fire department, you’ll find yourself right in the middle of the action.