The Complete Guide to Japanese Capsule Hotels (And How to Find a Good One!)
In dense mega-cities like Tokyo and Osaka, the pod-like “capsule hotel” accommodates sightseers, business travelers, and locals who missed the last train with a simple, budget place to spend the night. Despite claustrophobic appearances, the benefits of a capsule hotel shouldn’t be underestimated! Along with cozy, comfortable bedding, many host a welcome array of luxury amenities, hot springs, food services, and more, making them a tempting alternative for even the high-class traveler. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at both the charms and drawbacks of the Japanese capsule hotel while providing some handy tips on how to find and use one!
Apr 05 2022
What Is a Capsule Hotel?
Capsule hotels are a form of accommodation popular in Japan consisting of rows of budget pod-like beds reminiscent of a sci-fi spaceship. Each guest is designated their own capsule, which has a bed, light, power plug, and sometimes a television. Some may also be equipped with a small locker for valuables while others will have a dedicated locker space elsewhere. A standard capsule will come in at around 2 meters deep by 1 meter high, so those with claustrophobia best steer clear!
Outside your capsule, everything is shared, including the lounge, bathroom, and toilets. More importantly, the majority of capsule hotels don’t have a lock on the door, so be wary of your belongings. This is partly why most are gender separated or accomodate men/women only.
While some may scoff at the idea of cramming themselves into a tiny pod without a lock, the vast majority of capsule hotels are clean, safe, cozy, and come with a selection of handy, even luxurious services like spas, saunas, massages, washing machines, and more.
The History of Capsule Hotels
The world’s first ever capsule hotel debuted in Osaka at the Capsule Inn Osaka in 1979. It was designed by Kisho Kurokawa, one of Japan’s most influential architects and a founder of the Metabolist Movement, which aims to fuse megastructures with natural biological growth. Kurokawa’s architectural achievements can be spotted all throughout Japan, such as the iconic Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza (pictured above, due to be dismantled in 2022) and The National Art Center in Roppongi.
With post-war reconstruction complete and the country bounding towards the infamous bubble economy, the late 1970s were a time of enormous growth in Japan. Owing to rapid expansion and inflating real estate prices, land and space in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka came at a premium, making it difficult for traditional hotels to set up shop around transportation and business hubs.
The solution to this dilemma was simple - downsize everything. Kurokawa’s ultra-compact capsule hotel was the perfect fit (literally), able to pack in guests right by train stations, business centers, and entertainment districts without paying a fortune. The success of Capsule Inn Osaka led to the format being replicated throughout Japan, eventually even spreading overseas. The Capsule Inn Osaka still operates today, and boasts a spa, sauna, breakfast services, free Wi-Fi, and more.
How Much Is a Capsule Hotel?
Capsule hotels are cheap, but not ridiculously cheap - expect to pay between 2,000 - 5,000 yen per night, with higher prices during tourist high seasons. The exact price will depend upon location, quality, and level of service, with those on the cheaper end often lacking facilities while being in less desirable areas.
Capsule hotels will either be cheaper than or around the same price as a “business hotel,” which offers a basic ensuite room and standard amenities for between 6,000 - 10,000 yen a night. If you value personal space and total privacy, it may be worth paying a little more for a larger, lockable room at one of these equally ubiquitous establishments.
Other alternatives to capsule hotels include guesthouses and hostels, which are less formal and aimed at travelers looking to mingle. Plus, if you’ve simply missed the last train and need somewhere to crash, it may also be easier (and cheaper) to opt for a manga cafe, where you can nap on a chair/sofa in a private booth and even take a shower.
Should I Stay In a Capsule Hotel? The Positives and Negatives
So, is a capsule hotel the right fit for you? Let’s break it down into the positives and negatives.
- Cozy and clean
- Great locations
- Generous amenities
- Secure lockers
- Lots of extra facilities
- Rules to ensure peace and quiet at night
- Some meal services available
- Lounge spaces with Wi-Fi
- Luggage service often available
- Women-only floors/areas available
- Unable to lock pod door
- Sleeping in close proximity to strangers
- Tight, claustrophobic space
- Unable to stay multiple nights without re-checking in
- Sometimes noisy at night, difficult for light sleepers
- Uncommon to stay with a partner and not family-orientated
- Ill-suited towards meeting new people
- Basic or zero kitchen facilities
- Meal services are sometimes limited
- No control over air conditioning besides on/off
- Tricky to get in and out of pod
- Toilets are generally not near pod
What Is Staying In a Capsule Hotel Like?
Without further ado, let’s take a look at how a night in a capsule hotel shapes up! Keep in mind that this is a general overview, and your own experience may differ.
First, you’ll need a booking. While it’s possible to show up without one, capsule hotels are popular and fill up fast, making it better to secure a pod beforehand.
Like any hotel, you’ll first check in at reception upon arrival. You’ll be asked to fill in a form with your personal details like name, nationality, and such, before paying and being allocated a numbered capsule. If you have a large suitcase or bulky luggage, you may be able to hand it to the reception staff to take care of during your stay. You’ll also receive a locker key to keep valuables safe and a pair of indoor clothes, slippers, and other amenities along with a keycard to access your floor.
Many capsule hotels will require guests take their shoes off and change into slippers after checking in, so keep an eye out for any shoe lockers before stepping into the sleeping quarters.
Capsule Hotel Facilities
Once you’ve settled in, you can unwind by taking a shower/bath, relaxing in the lounge, reading a book/manga (many have a small library), watching TV, enjoying massages, or replenishing yourself with a bite to eat or drink.
Most capsule hotels will provide toiletries like soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, towels, hairdryers, nightwear, and more, so you can freshen up before your next move. As changing in your capsule demands great flexibility, you can instead use the dedicated locker rooms/changing rooms to slip into some more comfortable clothes.
You can also connect to the Wi-Fi to continue planning your trip or get some work done if visiting for business.
Of course, feel free to hit the town instead - most capsule hotels are centered around vibrant entertainment districts! Just make sure to double check if the front door locks after a certain hour.
Capsule Hotel Pod
Unlike the surroundings, most capsule hotel pods will be bare and basic, with bedding already laid out to hit the hay in an instant. Pods will generally be the size of a single bed, so you’ll have room to at least roll over and bring a daypack in with you.
Most pods are stacked atop each other forming two levels, with a ladder or step to reach the upper pod. While not overly strenuous, crawling into your pod is no walk in the park, especially on the top level, so take your own flexibility and fitness into account before booking.
While, as mentioned, the door can’t be locked, it can be closed and fastened to prevent others from seeing in. The extent of this depends on the facility, with some being flimsy curtains while others are more secure.
Along with bedding, the pod will likely have lights, power plugs, built-in digital alarm clocks, basic air-conditioning/fan controls, and TVs if they’re fancy. If amenities weren’t provided at check in or another location, they may be sitting on the bed.
The next day, gather your belongings and return the keycard, locker key, and clothes to reception.
Even if you’re staying another night, most capsule hotels require guests to check out and leave during the day before re-checking in from the afternoon. However, you may be able to leave your luggage at reception.
How to Find a Japanese Capsule Hotel
Booking a capsule hotel in Japan is as easy as booking a regular hotel. Simply search online or on a booking website, find one that fits your needs, check the neighborhood, and place your reservation. You can either pay in advance via credit card or at the premises if possible. Just be aware of the fine print - some have restrictions on gender, age, opening hours, and more.
Seeing as capsule hotels are all about location, definitely take the time to see what train stations and sightseeing spots are nearby before booking. If you’re in Tokyo, it’s better to stay near major stations like Tokyo Station or Shinjuku Station, or in areas with tourist attractions like Asakusa, Shibuya, and Harajuku.
Things to Be Aware of When Staying in a Capsule Hotel
Being such a unique form of accommodation, many international guests are unaware of certain rules and regulations that can affect one’s stay. To ensure you won’t end up disappointed or accidentally offending a neighbor, take the following into account when deciding if a capsule hotel is right for you.
- Guests are expected to keep quiet, especially after around 9 pm/10 pm. If you wish to meet other travelers, chat, and drink, then head to the lounge.
- Eating and drinking in the capsule is a no-go. Instead, bring your food to the lounge or other shared spaces.
- Many capsule hotels are gender-separated or cater to men/women only.
- Most capsule hotels fit only one person, so couples generally cannot stay together. However, more and more are starting to offer bigger pods with double beds.
- Many capsule hotels have age restrictions - young children generally cannot stay.
- Bathrooms are shared (gender separated). However, most also have partitioned shower rooms with lockable doors.
- Food options and additional services vary from place to place. Check what’s included when booking.
- Many will distribute ID cards to enter the premises and your designated floor. Be careful not to lose it!
- Most don’t have kitchens, so you can’t make your own food. However, many have kettles and microwaves to make instant noodles or heat up bento boxes.
- The front door may lock after a certain hour. Confirm the times at reception before heading out.
- Some capsule hotels do not allow guests with tattoos.
Recommended Japanese Capsule Hotels
Here are some stand-out capsule hotels across Japan for a taste for what’s available!
Nine Hours is a chain of swanky, futuristic capsule hotels positioned by major transport hubs like Narita International Airport, Shinjuku Station, and Shin-Osaka Station. The interior resembles the inside of a spaceship, with the capsules themselves designed to be smooth, cozy, and secure - like a cocoon. There are private showers with amenities, along with cafes, workspaces, and more.
Moon Station Hotel
The sterile, whitewashed rooms of Moon Station Hotel, located in Oshima, Tokyo, look straight out of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” There are both mixed and female-only capsules, along with double beds for couples and families. Children over 6 are able to stay and there is an on-site convenience store for food and drinks.
As its name suggests, First Cabin recreates a premium overnight airport/airplane experience. They have locations all over Japan, including several in Tokyo and Osaka along with Fukuoka, Nagasaki, and Kyoto. There are several “cabin” types available at different price tiers, ranging from luxurious “First Class Cabins” to budget capsule-style “Economy Cabins.” There are also lounge spaces, spas, amenities, and some even have an on-site bar. The facility is separated between male/female rooms.
Capsule Ryokan Kyoto
This retro capsule hotel in the heart of Kyoto goes against the grain to create a traditional Japanese aesthetic through wooden tones and warm straw mat flooring. Unlike most capsule hotels, there is a shared kitchen to cook meals along with ensuite rooms with several standard services like free Wi-Fi, luggage storage, washing machines, and more. If you want cheap accommodation without forgoing the feeling of being in Kyoto, this may be a good option.
Resol Postel is a stylish capsule hotel aimed at tourists in the heart of Tokyo’s popular Asakusa area. With gentle aesthetics colored by Japanese art blending the modern and traditional, this is less a place for salarymen to crash and more a hub for international travelers to discover Japanese culture. Entire rooms can be booked for groups while the gorgeous lounge offers space for solo travelers to mingle. It’s also superbly located between Asakusa and Ueno Stations and within walking distance of Tokyo Skytree and Senso-ji Temple.
Sauna And Capsule Hotel Hokuo
Sauna Hokuo is the epitome of “capsule hotel meets luxury.” Accommodating its classic pod-like beds is an array of opulent add-ons like an open-air bath, spa, sauna, and more, bolstered by a retro Japanese-style “izakaya” serving up classic dishes for both breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This hotel is for men only.
For more recommendations, check out our list of capsule hotels in Tokyo’s Asakusa and Ueno!
Japanese Capsule Hotels - Affordable, Snug, and Convenient!
Capsule hotels fill the gap between costly hotels and dirt cheap hostels. With the sacrifice of a little space and privacy, travelers will receive irresistible prices, stellar locations, and the chance to feel like you’ve traveled into the future. Next time you’re planning a trip to Japan, throw in a few stays at a capsule hotel to spice up your itinerary while lightening your budget!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.