Capsule hotels offer travellers and people who may have missed their last train home or had a flight cancelled a safe place to rest and refresh before carrying on with their journey.
What is a capsule hotel?
The most minimalist type of hotel in the world has got to be the Japanese capsule or pod hotel. Instead of an actual room, guests sleep in individual cells roughly the size of a single bed. While they may invoke feelings of claustrophobia for some, they are surprisingly roomy and tall enough to sit up in comfortably.
Invented by the Japanese in the late 1970s, capsule hotels have exploded in popularity in recent years, becoming something tourists seek to ‘experience’ as much as sushi and karaoke. While the design of today’s capsule hotels has evolved considerably, what hasn’t changed is their purpose. To provide an affordable alternative to conventional hotels, but also where late-night workers, weary travellers and party-goers can cheaply and safely rest their heads until the morning.
Another minimal feature of capsule hotels is the typical length of stay. They are designed for shorter stays, anywhere from a few hours to a single night. In fact, many have a mandatory daily check-out policy. Even if you wish to stay for longer, you’ll have to check-out and check-in again every day. For example, Nine Hours hotel requires all guests to check-out before 10 am and reopens for check-in after noon. This allows time to clean the facilities without disturbing any sleeping guests.
Nine Hours Capsule Hotel
Truth be told, I never imagined I’d end up staying in a capsule hotel on my honeymoon. But when finding myself in Narita Aiport with a 10 hour layover before a 7 hour connecting flight to Honolulu, naptime at Nine Hours capsule hotel was an absolute godsend.
Originally, I didn’t think we would need it, as I imagined I would spend most of the 12 hour flight from London sleeping. However, I failed to account for how excited I was going to be! My lifelong dream of going to Hawaii was about to come true. So I spent the entire flight wide awake. Needless to say, shortly after landing in Tokyo that morning having effectively pulled an all-nighter, I was about ready to pass out.
Nine Hours was always my backup plan, but I was also very curious to see what it would be like. Would I feel claustrophobic? Would I be able to fall asleep? How does it even work? I didn’t know much about capsule hotels other than you sleep in a pod or whatever. Had I been connecting anywhere else, I probably would have ended up having to sleep on a lounge chair. Now, I believe every major international airport should have one. Overall, the whole capsule experience was way better than I had imagined, although there are a few things you should know.
Men and women sleep separately
For starters, there is no such thing as a mixed-gender capsule sleeping room. In Japan, most capsule hotels are male-only, while those that also cater to women are gender-segregated. Or so we discovered at the Nine Hours check-in desk, as the clerk pointed to the male facilities through the door to the left, women on the right. It makes sense, as the pods are ‘unlocked’ and so gender-segregation is necessary for comfort and safety.
Since it had already taken us a couple of hours wandering through the airport sleep drunk to decide a capsule hotel was indeed what we needed, we were left with just 4 hours to spare before we’d have to check-out and check-in again for our next flight. Fortunately, they still had availability. Upon checking in, hubby and I each got a locker key and capsule unit number and said goodbye as we entered the separate facilities.
All the essentials are provided
In the women’s locker area, I stored my suitcase in the large lockers and changed into the robe and slippers provided. There is also a bathroom with toilets, showers, and essentials, including shampoo, conditioner, bath towels, and toothbrushes. So I didn’t even need to open my suitcase.
After brushing my teeth, I headed into the sleeping pod area to find my cell. Everything was clearly marked in both English, Japanese… and Emojis. I was assigned an upper bunk and used the stairs to climb inside. The most surprising thing was definitely how spacious it felt, as the potential for claustrophobia had been a concern. Since pets, food or drink and smoking are strictly not allowed, the facilities are kept very clean.
Nine Hours is famous for its minimal, futuristic sci-fi design and innovative sleep technology. That’s right, sleep technology. Each pod is equipped with a light and sound system designed to lull you to sleep and gently wake you up.
Once inside my pod, I tucked myself in under a soft duvet, pulled up the privacy blind and shut off the light. I took a moment to appreciate the soft sound of waves rhythmically coming in and pulling back from shore before drifting off… My body may have been in Tokyo, but in my mind, I was now laying on a beach in Hawaii.
A few hours later my alarm woke me up. Since I couldn’t risk missing my flight I used my cell phone’s alarm instead of the pod’s. Trying to pull myself out of the deepest sleep I’d had in years, I opted for snooze over shower. Besides, I still had another flight to go. Eventually, I had to get dressed and meet hubby back at the check-out desk. We gave each other one of those looks that simultaneously said, ‘best idea ever’ and ‘I urgently need more sleep.’
To use Air Bnb’s rating method, I give Nine Hours a perfect 5/5 score for cleanliness, comfort, value, location, and accuracy. Would I spend a night in a capsule hotel again? Most definitely. But only for short stays, which I believe is their true purpose. For spending more than a night in Japan, I highly recommend experiencing a ryokan (see post).
Would you stay in a capsule hotel?
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