What to expect at a Japanese pod hotel
Get a good night’s sleep at one of Japan’s new generation capsule hotels.
Futuristic white round pods line the dark aisle of a 30-metre-long room, each lit up from the inside. There are 50 pods in total, stacked in double rows on both sides of the aisle.
These are the sleeping capsules at the Nine Hours hotel located in the Shinjuku neighbourhood of Tokyo. Nine Hours is one of the trendy capsule hotel chains gaining popularity in Japan.
Another new capsule hotel chain, Prime Pod, has opted for wooden capsules with TV screens and power sockets. Common to them all is clean and simplistic décor.
Japanese salarymen who had a bit too much to drink and missed their last train home were the typical clientele in the 1980s when up to 700 guests per room could be accommodated in pods.
The capsule hotels of today are popular with a new clientele, especially foreigners and women.
“Our clients are 80 per cent foreigners,” says Kimoto Yoichiro, manager of Shinjuku Nine Hours hotel. The chain has opened six locations since 2009, including one at Tokyo’s Narita airport in 2014.
Sleeping in a capsule has indeed gone mainstream.
The receptionist at Prime Pod Kyoto quotes the same types of statistics. “Eighty per cent are foreigners in the high season, such as during cherry blossom season,” says Chiharu Ogita, who works at the front desk.
Prime Pod is a chain founded in 2016. It now has two locations: one in Tokyo’s Ginza area, and one in Kyoto. The Kyoto outpost boasts Nordic style light-coloured wooden décor and a bright lounge area with wooden tables and big windows overlooking the city.
In the off-season Prime Pod Kyoto attracts Japanese retirees, she says, noting that this is a new demographic. Sleeping in a capsule has indeed gone mainstream, even becoming a bucket-list item for many tourists visiting Japan.
German traveller Kevin Schwamberger and fellow countryman Dominik Denzler spent three nights in the Centurion Cabin and Spa capsule hotel in Kyoto and also stayed at the Grids capsule hotel in Tokyo.
Both men remarked on how quiet the Japanese capsule hotels are, despite the fact that there are often 50 people sleeping in one room.
While the Centurion chain is about a decade old, it expanded into the capsule market just a few years ago. Of its more than 20 locations, about one-fourth are now pod hotels. The chain is known for its dramatic décor of stylish dark wood and red and maroon colours, with hot tub and sauna often on site. As bathing in a Japanese onsen is typically done naked, there are usually separate spas for men and women.
Centurion’s capsule hotels are atypical in having family floors. A group of four people can stay in a small room with four capsules and an en-suite bathroom. Children are allowed to stay in the family rooms, too, which is also unusual. Traditionally capsule hotels have denied entry to children under the age of 18, or at least 14 when accompanied by a parent.
Su Ichen, the receptionist of the Centurion Cabin and Spa in Kyoto, says that people usually book the family room just for the experience, whereas many solo travellers still resort to capsule hotels due to their low price. A bed in a capsule hotel usually costs between 30 to 50 euros, which is roughly one-third the cost of a room in a hotel.
Saving money was indeed the main reason Finnish travellers Jenni Puomila and Jonna Palkispää recently chose to stay at the Nine Hours Shinjuku capsule hotel.
At Nine Hours Shinjuku the women stayed for three nights in a room with 50 other people. They were on the women’s floor, which was impeccably clean and quiet. The shared bathroom facilities were nice, too, with multiple showers and even a bathtub available.
The Finns were particularly impressed by the hygiene standards. Every morning they were given an amenity kit containing two towels, a pair of slippers, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a black pyjama set.
“It’s really clean. Nobody takes their belongings into the capsules. Everything is kept in lockers,” says Palkispää.
While staying in a capsule hotel works out well for solo travellers, it’s more complicated for couples who may not want to sleep on separate floors.
Couples looking to try out capsules together do have at least one option: Tokyo Kiba Hotel. This capsule hotel has a combined floor for men and women where the pods are big enough to accommodate two people at a time. In most other capsule hotels men and women can only socialise in the hotel’s common areas.
A peculiar aspect of capsule hotels is that if you stay several nights, you will most likely still need to check out in the morning and check in again at night. In between, you can keep your luggage in the lockers, but you can’t spend your whole day lounging in bed.
This is because the rigorous cleaning team needs to do their job and keep the capsules nice and tidy.
Text Mirva Lempiäinen
Illustration Camille Romano