A night in one of Sapporo's Capsule Hotels (and Karaoke Boxes and Internet Cafes)

Japan makes the news a lot for its quirkiness compared to western standards. Some of the rumors are true, though many of them exist in very isolated incidents. Unfortunately, to save face, some of the best quirks about Japan are slowly being run out, in part to "fix" Japan's image for the upcoming Olympics.

One of the things people talk about when describing Japan is the accomodations. Space is at a premium, and in major cities, capsule hotels popped up as a place for stranded businessmen to crash after missing the last train. 
 Capsule hotels are just like they sound. There are banks of beds stacked two-high in large rooms where up to a hundred people or more can sleep together. Located near major train stations in nightlife areas, they are usually a last-minute choice.
 Each capsule is basically the size of a single bed. It comes with a futon mattress, pillow, and blanket. They pull everything out and wash it every day. A curtain of some kind closes shut for privacy.
 Each cabin includes a television, with a control box (seen below) to change the channel, set the alarm clock, control the lights (with dimmer switches), and operate the radio. The more-modern locations have an outlet on top, too, so prepared guests can charge their phone (and camera, in my case) while they sleep.
I have now stayed in three different capsule hotels*; two in Sapporo and one in Nagoya. One of the Sapporo hotels is part of a small chain (Capsule Inn) that also operates the Nagoya location; both of those have older style capsules without the outlets. However, the one I spent most of my time at while in Sapporo (Spa Safro) has the outlets.

*I stayed in what I think was a capsule hotel in Kyushu, although my "capsule" was actually a private room, and I didn't see any actual capsules during my visit.

Capsule hotels will have bathing facilities of some sort. A tall but narrow locker designed to hold a single day's worth of business clothes is provided to guests; I was able to fit an extra change of clothes inside and store my partially-full backpack (underwear, toiletries, small souvenirs) at the bottom of the locker. Usually, the hotels can arrange for storage of larger luggage, but it may not be secure.

Capsule hotels usually (but not always) have spa facilities to go along with the bathing/showering areas. They could just be a hot bath to soak in after cleaning. Spa Safro was a full-service spa; I could use the baths, jacuzzi, and saunas in addition to the cleaning areas. There were massage areas as well but those were additional fee luxuries.

Most capsule hotels are male-only, for obvious safety reasons. But some have women-only floors as well, including Spa Saffro - they have women's spa services too. As for cost, it's been my experience that a night will run 3000-4000 yen, which may seem expensive for a bed. But business hotels (small-room versions of western hotels) tend to cost 5000-8000 yen per night. Cheaper but usually less-comfortable alternatives include karaoke boxes and internet or comic cafes.
not my image
Internet cafes and comic book cafes (manga kissa) have night packs for about 1500-2500 yen, which will include unlimited computer use, a private cubicle (but not room), a blanket, and frequently a shower and unlimited soft drinks. They can be a little noisier due to the computers and usually are too small to stretch out in, but are great in a pinch. I used these when I traveled around Hiroshima and Kyushu, because capsule hotels are quite rare. Finding ones with showers can be tough but isn't impossible especially in popular areas.
not my image
Karaoke boxes are everywhere so it's not hard to find one. They, too, have all-night packs that often include all-you-can-drink sodas and other soft drinks. You get your own room, usually bigger than a hotel's, and you can sing as long as you want of course. The lights can usually be turned way down but not off, and doors have small windows so don't expect to get naked inside. The couches are generally somewhat hard and there are no pillows or blankets. You also won't find any showers. This is a last resort, but twice last year I ended up crashing in karaoke.

Capsule hotels may not be very cheap, but they provide a good night's sleep and bathing facilities (including toothbrushes, shaving tools, and more - most guests come with only the clothes on their back). And, for now, they remain an only-in-Japan option. But if you'd stay in a hostel, how is this any worse?


  1. Wow... these are cool. Not sure if I could handle sleeping in such a small room, but the idea behind it is awesome. Sort of something I'd imagine seeing in an 80's "futuristic film", like Blade Runner.

    1. The room isn't that small if you're not tall. I'm 5'9" or 5'10" and I can stretch out flat (barely). And I can sit up inside without bumping my head on the ceiling. Most people climb in just to go to sleep - every capsule hotel I've seen has a lounge area to relax or read in.

      And your mention of a futuristic film reminds me - The Fifth Element supposedly used capsules in the airplane scene on the way to Phloston Paradise. I haven't seen the movie in a while so I'm not sure how accurate that is.