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Hotels Too Expensive? Don’t Mind Small Space? Here is a very Japanese Solution


Have you ever stayed in a capsule hotel?

It was invented in Japan in the 1980s, and made famous worldwide for its tiny space.  Initially, the users were businessmen, who missed the last train home, or who needed a short break during a day after a very late night out with a client.  They are usually cheap, industrial, and uncomfortable, but they recently are going through some significant makeovers.

Increasing Inbound Visitors

Over the last several years, Japan has seen a huge increase in inbound visitors.  The number of foreign tourists has been on an annual 10% increase for many years, but since 2012, which recorded 8.4 million visitors, the rate of increase has been more than 20%.  In 2013, for the first time, the number reached over 10 million.  In 2015 it was nearly 20 million, which was comfortably exceeded in 2016.

But what about accommodation to receive all these visitors?  Hotels are notoriously expensive.  Staying in a traditional Japanese Inn is out of reach for most people.  But Capsule Hotels are not suitable foreign visitors – or are they?

NEW Capsule Hotels in Kyoto   

In Kyoto, there are new hotel openings and expansion of Air BnB facilities to catch up with the increased demand.  But the most eye-catching development is the new openings of Capsule Hotels having traditional Japanese décor and comfort.

One of these new capsule hotels boasts beautiful wooden flooring and paper lanterns in the corridors, which reminds the guests of traditional Japanese architecture.  Each compartment is decorated with nostalgic Japanese images too.  The sizes of the beds are also slightly larger than the standard capsule hotels.

There are still some difficulties, especially with noise.  The beds are almost adjacent to the corridors and to the bed next door, so there is not so much consideration for privacy.  But then, this is part of Capsule Hotel’s nature and experience.

Considering they are usually located in city centres, with prices from 4000 yen per night/person, it is extremely reasonable, although standard capsule hotels are from 2000 yen per night.  The normal hotel prices in similar areas could be at least double, so it is good value for money with a little twist of cultural experience.

Women Only Capsule Hotels

Another issue with Capsule Hotels goes back to its origin.  The boundaries and securities of the compartments are not very tight.  It is expected that the users are mostly middle-aged businessmen (not women) who just want a small quiet place to rest.  Nobody assumed that a user would be expecting comfort and security.

The problem is that this original and obscure characteristic is the fundamental appeal to the visitors.  Capsule Hotels are starting to provide separate parts of the building for women, or some went as far as making the hotel women only.  It may seem too extreme or too patronizing in some eyes, but the response to this separation, while keeping the original atmosphere, is generally positive.

One of the women-only Capsule Hotel in the shopping district of Shibuya in Tokyo offers a very convenient location with amenities such as colourful kimono trial sessions, rental yukata nightwear, a souvenir shop, and a brasserie bar (men are allowed in here).  There is a lounge with free Wifi, tea and coffee with a tatami floor.  The price for the stay is 6,500 yen, so it would be more than double the standard capsule hotel in the area, but it is about half the price for a regular hotel room.  This concept fills the middle ground and provides a safe and pleasant option for women budget travellers.

Place to Stay, Place to Meet

Filling the need for a comfortable option for a very short stay was overdue.  The 24-hour operating Haneda Airport in Tokyo opened its own Capsule Hotels a few years ago.  For travellers who arrive too late or too early to catch onward transportation, there were no other options but to pay a lot of money to stay in a hotel or to sleep on a bench.  Now there are many other terminals opening capsule hotels has proved very popular.

But the most notable development is still in the tourist areas.  The ones with a communal space, with kitchen and dining areas, are very popular with the guests, especially those staying multiple nights.  The open space provides opportunities to share information and experience, and make friends.  In one particular case, the use of the communal space has expanded beyond the hotel guests.  It hosts live events by local musicians.  Not only hotel guests but also local people can attend and enjoy the evening.

These Capsule Hotels are the development centre of new ideas for what the hospitality industry can offer.  The small industrial place for a little nap has evolved into economical but pleasant community buildings.  This evolution is still ongoing.  By the time Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020, the Japanese hospitality “Omotenashi” is going to be tested on a massive scale.  The new waves of Capsule Hotels will surely be a part of it.


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