Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sleep like the dead

I thought long and hard about where to go next after not exactly being blown away by Sri Lanka, before ultimately making an impulse decision again after spotting an absurdly cheap flight to Tokyo. It was as good a reason as any, and this time I was a lot more excited about Japan, having strategically lowered my quality of life in recent weeks rather than coming straight from comfortable Korea like last time.

In the short term, I was particularly excited about spending my first night in a capsule hotel - you know, those extremely cramped, utilitarian bed/coffin arrangements that sprang up as a cheap accommodation alternative in the overcrowded megatropolis of Tokyo.

You might have seen these on TV shows highlighting how kerrrazy Japan is. I thought I had, but clearly I hadn't, as the image I had in my mind was of a fully grown man in pyjamas sliding horizontally into a barely-human-sized slot, like a poor family keeping its children in a chest of drawers (citation needed).

It turns out it's really not that bad, and I found there to be more than enough space. Though I have spent a lot of time in bunks over the last 20 months, which generally offered a lot less room and privacy (especially last time I was in Japan). You'll have to try harder than that to shock me, Tokyo - please take on the challenge.

How it works

I normally avoid making these egomaniacal blogs into useful travel guides, but I was impressed by the capsule hotel ideology and I wanted to share it. You pay for your room and get a key to a locker, where you can store your shoes (and anything else that'll fit) and swap them for slippers, a towel and other toiletries. There might have been pyjamas I was supposed to wear too, I didn't bother checking.

Maybe because I'd spent most of the day in cramped plane seats, it wasn't even a shock to the system to go overnight from this:

Probably the most spacious room I've had yet

to this:

Not actually asleep -
I was extremely knackered, but I couldn't sleep before documenting this, could I?

Admittedly, I did bang my head on that TV a couple of times

Sorry to disappoint you, but I don't think I'm going to find Japan all that strange, especially after visiting so many other countries in Asia that have adopted bits and pieces for themselves, softening the blow. I'm sure there'll still be plenty of singular oddities to document, like the pointless robots, child-accessible cartoon porn and dead cats from last time, but after getting over the initial amusement of climbing inside what looked like a cross between a laundromat and a morgue, my lasting impression of capsule hotels is the excellent economy they offer. Nice work, Japan!

I get more of a washing machine vibe from the front.
Don't try this at home, kids. You will get wet

Though this is Japan, so even a budget room set me back 4,000 yen (£31.17), making this probably the most expensive night's sleep I've had so far. Fortunately for my wallet, I'd be spending the next week in a sweaty loft out on the outskirts that was a lot cheaper (£14.12), and where my mattress doubled as the low ceiling of the common room below.

For contrast, the spacious room I'd inhabited in Thailand the previous week cost £8.08 per night, but after years of extreme penny-pinching I do finally understand the importance of things like value and quality. It's worth paying a little extra just to be in a country where locals of all ages don't openly gawp at you in the street and laugh in your face when you try out a few phrases. It was also more comforting than you might realise to leave the train station and see real roads, pavements and traffic lights again, and subterranean sewers kept out of sight and scent. I heard a car horn emit a single beep after a few days in Tokyo and realised it was the first time I'd heard that noise since I arrived. I like to show you photos of pleasant mountains or attractive ruins, but when you're living in these places for weeks or months on end, it's the small details that matter.

My loft at JGH

I won't go back to sharing rooms, but I know I'll have to make some sacrifices in Japan, though hopefully not full-on seppuku. So far, the worst I've had to contend with is noisy drunk people, but even that was entertaining for letting me hear an American teenager's controversial theory about why dropping bombs on Japan was a good thing for its people. No one asked, he just thought it would be a good idea to share that observation while in Japan. God bless America and whatever paranoid, jingoistic, factually unverified documentaries are substituting for this impressionable child's education.

I've got into the mindset that I won't let my inherent thriftiness stop me enjoying my time here, but only when not being an Ebeneezer is strictly necessary. Let's see how long that lasts...


  1. That capsule looks so comfy! I wish I had more to add, but I don't.

  2. I'd actually be terrified of staying in one of those. I'm claustrophobic, though. :P

    1. That's what I thought before I went to Asia. But I've stayed in hostels that were much, much, much worse - at least the drunk businessmen who these are mostly designed for are too tired to make much noise.