We recently penned a piece explaining why the Japanese will never tell you you’re an asshole to your face. What we forgot to mention, however, is that when it comes to hotel reviews, many tourists are much the same: we’ll smile through our teeth and say thank you, then write a truly dirty review.
Arigato gozaimasu very much indeed.
Another unfortunate insight one gleans from Tokyo’s capsule hotel reviews is that there is a gaping chasm between tourists’ expectations and the reality of staying in a keyhole hotel in Japan – one of the cultural differences that keeps us from having a good time in the city of konichiwa and kramped accomodation.
Namely: space is a premium. And just because something is small, unlike many other world cities (New York, for instance), it’s not inherently bad.
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Unfortunately, there are a number of tourists who don’t understand this. Case in point: Elvis (name changed for privacy), a middle-aged man from Israel, who wrote a scathing review of his capsule hotel because it was “so small you can’t get dressed.”
“Took it for one night to have the experience of a capsule hotel. Not clean, shower area has no comfortable place to get dressed or undressed. Designed like a construction site. Gives a homo-erotic feeling with everything so squeezed-in together, looking at everyone and everyone looking at you. Lockers are not comfortable and the entire place is weird,” he wrote on Tripadvisor.
“Sleeping capsules are not comfortable and sleep quality is poor. Been there, done that, next.”
Other reviews of the same accommodation by more experienced travellers, however, such as Manuel A, a Tripadvisor user with 770 contributions and 192 helpful upvotes, paint a different picture: “Convenient, centrally located. Only about 5 minute was from the train station, this capsule hotel was a good catch.”
“Price was very competitive. Service was excellent and capsules were very clean. Showers were clean too. Highly recommended and will be back for sure.”
Reviews of similar establishment Capsule Value Kanda reveal a similar story, with some guests calling it a “fun and fair experience” and others getting their best ‘critic’ hat on…
“Capsule was too hot. Ventilation needs to be improved,” one man wrote. “Length was just barely fitting as I’m 6’1.”
The takeaway? If you’re significantly taller than the average Japanese person, consider booking a normal hotel (or make like Sam Bentley and look on the bright side).
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One of the funnest experiences I had in Tokyo was staying in a capsule hotel! As soon as you walk in you see a bunch of dudes wearing these brown overalls and it’s like “oh damn we’re joining a cult!”. But no these were just comfy outfits they give you to help keep the environment clean and to get you all cosy. There are about 100 capsules on each floor, each with a TV, power socket and air con. Other than being able to hear the occasional snore I actually had the best night’s sleep there. You also feel incredibly safe in Japan which was one of my favourite things about Tokyo. The biggest no-go for me personally was the shower sitch. From what my brave buddy in this expedition @_benkeys told me, the showers are located in the same room as the bathing area and you HAVE to be naked to go in. So if you want to shower, prepare to have an audience. I didn’t fancy making eye contact with some random naked guy whilst I’m scrubbing away down there so I passed on the showering. If anyone’s interested we stayed at the Anshin Oyado Capsule Hotel (if you can read Japanese that’s what my location tag says.. I think.) It was mens-only, though you can find mixed capsule hotels and women-only too, and it was probably on the more expensive side of capsule hotels though we booked late (around $60/£48 per night) but it’s definitely a must-do if you’re visiting Tokyo! The real question is, would you be brave enough to shower there?
The best review, in our eyes, came from a man called Rafael, who has 139 Tripadvisor contributions and 86 helpful votes. Rafael hit the nail on the head, writing, “Let´s be fair, it´s a capsule where you sleep because either you lost your train or because you want to have Japan capsule experience, the second is my case.”
“Very noisy, people talking disregarding the others are sleeping, too many people for only one bath place and one toilet per floor. It´s cheap! yes 2000 yens per night in Tokyo, what else do want, even tough recommend for the experience. It´s not easy to find, out o kanda station, make sure you ask before adventuring yourself!”
A Tripadvisor review from an English backpacker, however, brings us back to the absurd, however, with a lady called Helen writing about her hellish time in a capsule hotel: “My boyfriend and I wanted to experience a night in a capsule hotel so we booked this hotel.”
“Understandably, we were on separate floors as this is Japanese culture and were were fine with that. You cannot check in until 4pm and it is quite difficult to find. On arrival, we were given our keys and assigned a capsule.” So far so mildly aggrieved.
“We were given pyjamas wear but they are clearly not designed for western women who are taller and have boobs! I opted not to wear mine.”
“My boyfriend and I went to our allocated floors and found our capsule which was small but clean. The powder room is lovely with showers and many toilets. There is a mixed floor which has a tv and seating etc,” she continued.
“Despite all of the above, I have rated this hotel poor because there is no door to your capsule which means you hear EVERYTHING and the main light is always on so you can’t sleep! There are signs that tell people to be quiet but people don’t adhere to them. At one point, some ladies decided to use the hair dryer in the bathroom for about 2 hours AND AT 2AM!!!!”
“The number of times I told people to be quiet was ridiculous! Needless to say, awful night sleep. The next morning, my boyfriend told me he had also slept badly due to noise and also the capsule was not big enough as he is 6’2 and his feet were hanging out! His lack of sleep was however made up by the men having access to a sauna/big hot bath etc!!!!!” Helen added.
“Whilst I understand that capsule hotels were designed to accommodate the Japanese businessmen who work late and are a bolthole to sleep, I didn’t enjoy my stay and would never stay again.”
While Helen acknowledges that the capsule hotel was not built for her, she forgets that – if you want an authentic experience – you don’t stay in a place that was designed for you. And if you want a comfortable experience, you either adjust your expectations or don’t stay in a capsule hotel (or go for one of the more luxurious iterations).
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With its unique look, 9h nine hours Asakusa has attracted a lot of fans from the architectural field. The building, designed by Akihisa Hirata, has 9 floors with 183 sleeping pods and on the ground floor, the famous FUGLEN Asakusa offers Oslo-inspired coffee and breakfast, day-time cocktails and selected local beers. Thank you @joniilow for sharing your superb photo!
The bitter, exaggerated review, which takes the cake, however, can be found on Quora, with one indignant traveller writing: “Most capsule hotels excel at being awful, stinking little branches hell. It is hard to find which one is the worst there.”
Not done there, he then said, “When it comes to the ‘normal’ hotels, look into Haginochaya area and around there in Osaka. It’s a super seedy place with many hotels whose main clientele are homeless guys. Perhaps the worst hotels you may imagine in Japan?”
“Some love hotels are very well into this ranking too. While most are quite interesting, eclectic castles of sensation, some have remarkably with stinky, smoked rooms, sticky pretty much any surface, blackened mirrors, flooding showers, non working electronics, secret taping of you in the bed and what not.”
Whilst he does make a couple of good points, he also appears a teensy bit biased, most likely by some bad experiences of his own.
The one word of warning we would give to travellers is that – though you will have to adjust your claustrophobia expectations before booking a capsule hotel – the one thing you can control is booking in a nice area, or at least as area you are comfortable staying in, as the following review of the Capsule Hotel Shinjuku 510 reveals.
“What a joke. Worst experience I’ve ever had. AVOID! What a strange, dingy, shocking hotel. This place is stinking, smoke everywhere, the capsule door is a see through mat and it stinks. Lots of strange men wondering and you cannot wait to leave,” our reviewer exclaims.
“When you wake up the next morning (if you got any sleep), you realise you are bang in the middle of a seedy sex district. Its cheap for a reason and I wish we had read the reviews before going.”
So: don’t hold out hope for space, but do demand cleanliness, and pick the right location. And above all: do your research.