I’ve been lucky enough to stay at some very nice hotels over the past couple of years but in Japan I was on a tight budget and determined to try something a little different. Originally created for businessmen who worked too late to catch the last train home, capsule hotels (カプセルホテル) have developed as an economical alternative to normal hotels in a country where space comes at a premium.
Consisting of a large number of extremely small coffin-like “rooms” big enough for a single person to sleep in, Japan’s first capsule hotel made its appearance in Osaka in 1979. They have a bit of a grim reputation for their chicken-coop approach to habitation but in 2009 Tokyo-based Cubic Corp decided to take a fresh approach to this uniquely Japanese mode of accommodation.
Their collaboration with Fumie Shibata of design studio S resulted in the development of nine hours (9h) in Kyoto, located on Teramachi street, two minutes walk from Kawaramachi station. Having already won multiple design awards I decided to check out what all the fuss was about…
Upon arrival the first thing you do is place your shoes in a numbered locker and give the key to reception while checking in; I doubt they get many people running off without paying the bill!
A night at 9h costs ¥4900 (£38) and the hotel’s philosophy is indicated in its name: 1 hour to shower + 7 hours to sleep + 1 hour to rest = nine hours (although guests can stay up to 17 hours if they wish). Everything is literally black and white.
The lobby also provides a functional lounge area for guests to use the free wi-fi and relax before sleeping. The no-clutter effect verges on being clinical but overall quite soothing (although I think I’d go manic trying to keep the place clean).
Female and male capsules are provided on separate floors with segregated lifts servicing each.
Clear bilingual signage is provided throughout the hotel with your navigation through the complex clearly defined as a step-by-step process designed to be as effortless as possible.
Your next stop is the locker and washroom where you can get changed and shower. All-black sleepwear is provided.
I was a bit disconcerted to see rows of security cameras in the locker room, presumably for the security of your possessions, but slightly creepy.
Everything is extremely minimal and a perfect balance has been struck between function and style; only the necessities are provided. No more, no less.
Individual body soap, conditioner, and shampoo sachets are uniformly arranged.
High-quality white towels left, showers right.
Have you ever seen a more beautifully sculpted sink?
After washing, you head down the stairs to your allotted sleeping floor. By this point, I was convinced I’d entered a certain Stanley Kubrick movie.
In stark contrast to the bright white everywhere else the only light on the sleeping floors came from the glowing capsules which are stacked two high along one side of the corridor.
Inside the capsule, the white moulded plastic shell is interrupted only by the ambient LED light and simple control panel.
Created by Panasonic the alarm clock emits no noise and instead controls the light, slowly dimming when you’re ready to sleep, then gently rising like the sun at the time you determine to wake.
At the entrance is a simple blind to enclose yourself in the pod. Far from being cramped like I had imagined there is enough room to stretch out and sit up. In no way did I feel claustrophobic or uncomfortable; in fact quite the contrary.
I’m a light sleeper who is easily disturbed by noise but I managed to sleep right through the night without interruption. I’m not sure if the capsules are soundproofed but they certainly seemed near silent.
I can honestly say that I got one of the best night’s sleep in the capsule that I’d had in a long time. Whether it was the feeling of enclosure or the gentle alarm system I’m not sure (perhaps a psychologist could provide some insights here). I quite fancy the lighting system for my bedroom.
Booking a stay at 9 hours is simple through their website and I’d highly recommend it if you’re in the Kyoto area; it’s worth it for the sci-fi (verging on monastic) experience alone. Below is a video to give you more of a flavour of what’s in store.