Thursday, August 10, 2006

Capsule Hotels (カプセルホテル)- Uniquely Japan, Truly Worthwhile



Ahhh... yes... the capsule hotel. You thought you could just go through japan, spending time in your ryokan or five star hotel and not succumb to the cheapness of the capsule? Well, if you have money, I wouldn't worry about it. After spending time in one of these, you might be tempted to shout out "Do it to Julia! Not me, Julia!" But let me lay out the virtues of this unique Japanese lodging.

I stayed at the Greenland Espa in Hakata. Greenland is a chain of capsules all around Fukuoka. No matter which one you might choose to stay in, it's worth doing some research beforehand. For example, if you book a capsule over the internet, it's ¥3150/night; over the phone, ¥3450/night, or ¥3990/night if you show up in person. Depending on the demand and quality, some cities might not have those special rates. Luckily for me, the Espa was located right next to Hakata Station.

First observations - TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES. At some hotels it should be very obvious, but at others, do it anyway just to be safe. It's also considered rude if you spend five minutes unlashing shoelaces or struggling. Bring something easy to slip off, and store them in the provided lockers. Take the key from that locker to the counter and you are ready.

Internet no yoyaku ga arimas
"I have an internet reservation."

sanpaku
"For three days."

If you're a foreigner, they will ask you for a copy of your passport or gaikokujin registration card and proceed to explain the features of the hotel floor-by-floor. Most capsule hotels have places to relax - lounge area with TV's, a restaurant, massage area. This particular one had a sauna - excellent. You are usually given a choice if you're staying more than one night - either pay everything up front or pay day-by-day. Once you have paid for at least one night and the capsules are available, you can hand over your passport and valuables to the attendant to put in your own security box.

If you do go for a massage as soon as you check in, it's an interesting experience. The price is about the same as you'd expect anywhere else, but you get a little more attention, as you always do in Japan. I didn't really feel like a foreigner in there. First of all, change into the robe and shorts provided by the hotel - all capsule hotels should do this; you are rarely expected to wear street clothes while inside the hotel.

The massage is truly pampering. First lie face up, and you are asked if you want an ear scrub and scented eye drops (they sting a bit). Naturally, if your Japanese is a little weak it would be hard to explain exactly what kind of treatment you want. When in doubt, just reply "omakase shimas" (please decide for me). On the other hand, it might benefit you to know the words for neck, back, legs, pain, harder, softer, etc. Regardless, once she is finished, you are escorted to a lounge area and given a free drink, included with the massage.

Your key in a capsule opens your "room" if it has a lock, and your locker - there is no space to store anything next to your bed. Keep in mind that the lockers are designed for businessmen who might be staying on a spur of the moment decision and are only carrying one change of clothes. It's tight, but manageable. In addition, laundry services should be offered.

And what about the sauna and baths? Ahh, that takes me back. 2000 years to be precise. The layout and procedure of these baths remind me a lot of what I read about the Roman baths being a center for relaxation, but also conversation.


Dum loquimur invida aetas fugerit
While we talk, hostile time flies away

- Horace


Remove all your clothes before you enter, and rinse yourself off in a shower provided, either sitting or standing. Then proceed to the larger baths - these are not for washing; you should not have any soap. Rather, just for soaking and relaxing. I know there's an order to be followed - hot, warm, cold or cold, warm, hot - but I'm not sure which way you're supposed to go. Also, I saw many Japanese people only go in the hot bath and neither of the others. Regardless, when it's crowded or even sparse late at night, this is a time for men to relax and talk; after a long day of walking around and muttering "tsukareta" (tired) to myself, they engaged me in a little conversation.





As for the capsule itself, no big surprises. You may be given the choice between top or bottom; both have the same privacy screen. All the "rooms" should have a television, alarm, radio, light, and mirror. Sleep well, and don't be claustrophobic.

If you need to check out one day, just hand over your key and say:

ima shuppatsu shimas
"I'm leaving now."

taihen kutsurogemashta
"I had a great stay."

They will give you your shoe key and your valuables, and you are off. I should point out most of these hotels are for men. There are many that provide for women, but I don't believe any are co-ed. As you can see I'm working to improve the visual aspects of this site as best I can. I am so tsukareta right now. All the desserts I brought back as gifts will be eaten soon.

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