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a capsule hotel

January 8, 2004

capsule
hotel

The first night of this year, I slept in a capsule hotel. And – contrary to my expectations – they’re not bad! A Japanese friend once told me that you shouldn’t go to capsule hotels because ‘only strange businessmen stay in them’, and it did sound like a recipe for a night of unsettling half-formed dreams about being trapped in a box by a man with a thin moustache and strange, black eyes like weird oily marbles. But in fact, it’s really a bit like a youth hostel, albeit a youth hostel where you sleep in a small compartment. The capsules are stacked along the walls of a dormitory, which means that while you are in a communal space of sorts, you’re also separate enough to be able to ignore people walking about or coughing. Each capsule has a roller blind that comes down over the entrance, which means that while you’re in your own space, it still has the air-flow and acoustics of a larger place, so it doesn’t feel claustrophobic (as it would if there was a door you closed behind you).

The capsules are quite well-appointed, as three-foot high box-shaped living-spaces go, with a radio, a TV, and a little shelf on top of the radio to put things on (you put your bags / coat in a locker outside the dorm room).

The other thing that surprised me was the 1970s feel of the whole place. I now realise that capsule hotels were a 1970s idea, but for some reason I was expecting something more 21st century. Instead, the place really had the feel of the dormitory of a spacecraft constructed in the early seventies. Especially at night, when the main light was very low, and lights glowed by the entrance of each capsule. I also seem to remember a low background hum, like the throb of distant engines, but maybe my memory has added that detail retrospectively…

Capsule hotels are also very, very cheap: one night (including breakfast) cost a little over 2000 yen – which is about 12 pounds sterling – even though the hotel was right in the middle of Osaka.

Another TV advert: a naked woman stands caressing a long, nicely-planed plank of wood. I am beginning to wonder whether I actually see the same things everyone else sees when I watch TV …

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