And This Is The Box You Sleep In

When booking my first capsule hotel, I was getting ready for an uncomfortable, but memorable experience. I was so wrong. These things are comfortable! They don’t feel like a coffin at all, more like your own personal little cabin. I was surrounded by Japanese men only, no other tourists had made it to this somewhat remote hotel. Everyone was very polite and respectful. And even though each cabin had a private screen with a free and large selection of Japanese VOD porn movies inside, it was quiet at night.

Onsens are traditional Japanese bathhouses that get their water from hot springs. Tattoos are usually forbidden in here to keep the Yakuza out. Even without a hot spring on the second floor of the very narrow but high hotel I stayed at, its tiny Spa had a large Japanese jacuzzi in it, easily big enough for 10 people. It was open all night and only closed for two hours at noon for cleaning. Deciding to chill in 41°C hot water at 3 a.m., not a problem. And you’ll probably have the entire thing for yourself. No one watching and silently judging you for making Onsen rookie mistakes, like using the shower head to clean yourself instead of the bowl of water they provide you with or not sitting down on a tiny stool while washing.

Entering the hotel (after your initial check-in) is a clearly defined process. One that feels more like a ceremony after a day or two:

  1. Walk through the narrow entrance.
  2. Use shoe cleaner spray on your sneakers.
  3. Put them in a shoe locker, take the key.
  4. Put on a pair of throw-away, single-use-only slippers.
  5. Hand your shoe locker key to the reception.
  6. Leave your large backpack at the reception and get a little badge to reclaim it later.
  7. Have your wristband-key and a mesh bag with two towels and a fresh bathrobe/room wear handed to you.
  8. Take the elevator to the second floor.
  9. Put on your room wear.
  10. Put everything else in your actual locker.
  11. Take the elevator to level 6.
  12. Throw your smaller backpack into your capsule, get comfortable.
  13. Decide to chill in the small Japanese Onsen-style Spa on the second floor, since you’re only wearing a bathrobe anyway and there’s not too much to do in your capsule beside watching TV or using your smartphone.
  14. Take the elevator to the second floor.
  15. Wash, jump into the hot water.
  16. … And so on, you get the idea.

After that you can chill in comfortable chairs in the relaxation room, surrounded by a large manga collection or head into the little sauna. But whatever you do – not a single word is spoken here. This only became obvious to me after a couple days. The only place where people talk is the cramped entrance area on the ground floor. It’s a bit like ending up in a monastery where the monks have taken a vow of silence, without having signed up for it.

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