A close look at Japan's capsule hotels
Capsule hotels (also called pod hotels) are very popular in Japan. You see them in most cities, and a lot of people really like them for overnight stays because they are relatively cheap (¥3000 – ¥4000). I’m claustrophobic and never really had any interest in staying in a tiny space only big enough for a bed. Also, I’m not really a fan of communal bathrooms. But I just couldn’t leave Japan without experiencing it at least once. It’d be like visiting Japan and never eating sushi or ramen. So on a recent trip to Kyoto, I decided to try one out.
I did my research before selecting my capsule. I’m picky about hotels. I’m very particular about cleanliness, and I really like to make sure the location meets my travel goals. So I checked all the hotel travel sites (Hotels.com, Agoda, Kayak, Booking, Trivago, etc.), Trip Advisor and Google. I read reviews, mapped the locations, and looked into amenities for each capsule hotel available. After several hours, I decided on the First Cabin Capsule Hotel in Kawaramachi Sanjo.
Capsule Hotels vary. A lot. They’re like hostels in that you share all facilities except the bed. However, the pod itself and types of common areas differ from hotel to hotel. Some are more like fabric-covered bunk beds while others are like stacked cubby holes with mattresses in them. The pods at First Cabin are not stacked, so you have more room than a lot of the other capsule hotels I saw online. The one I stayed in was as wide as a twin bed (the walls of the pod surrounded the mattress on all sides) and maybe six feet tall. I could sit up completely in my bed and even stand on the mattress with only having to duck just a tiny bit (I’m only 5’2”). The room also includes a TV, temperature control, two plugs, and a secure compartment to store your valuables while you’re out. The pod doesn’t have a door, but it has a shade that slides all the way down for privacy. This hotel also offers mini-suites (they refer to them as first-class cabins), which are slightly bigger spaces that offer more than just a bed but don’t have private bathrooms. All capsules provide guests with disposable slippers, pajamas, and a towel and washcloth.
The two major concerns I had about staying in this kind of hotel were safety and noise. Neither was an issue here. Rooms and floors are separated by gender for safety reasons at First Cabin. This isn’t the case at all capsule hotels, though, so if it’s something you’re interested in, ask before booking. Japan is a relatively safe country, but I prefer staying in all-women dorms when traveling alone (as a peace of mind thing). At this hotel, the sleeping areas are accessed with key cards so not just anyone can get to the pods. And it’s a completely noise-free zone. Guests are not allowed to listen to music or watch television without headphones. They’re not supposed to talk on the phone and, honestly, I didn’t even hear travelers talk to each other in the capsule space.
The shared spaces at First Cabin exceeded ALL my expectations. The lobby features a few sofas, a big table for travelers to sit around and socialize, and a bar with a variety of beers and cocktails available for purchase. The hotel also hosts special events in the lobby on some nights that offer guests free food or drinks. The bathroom situation is also quite good. Each floor has sinks, toilets, and vanities, and there’s a shower area for each gender on one of the floors. The spa (shower area) has several private shower rooms, one or two secluded bathtubs (complete with body wash, shampoo, and conditioner), and a few vanities stocked with everything you could need, to include curling irons, facial care products, and even toothbrushes. There are also irons, steamers, and humidifiers in the dormitories and a spot to store your luggage.
From what I saw, most capsule hotel guests only stay a night or two. I stayed for five, and felt completely at ease and comfortable. The small space didn’t bother me at all. It felt way more private than I thought it would, the amenities were great, and the hotel staff was wonderful. I managed to get a business-class cabin for only $20 per night; a terrific value! I can’t imagine a better accommodation for the price. I would definitely try a capsule hotel again. I highly encourage you to try one too.