Giant Robot - Issue 22                (or see the Bangkok Metro Urban Scrawl version)
Summer 2001





With the world's population growing steadily and people's appetites increasing and crowding into massive mega-cities, one Japanese institution, the capsule hotel, may indeed be pointing the way to the future.

The capsule hotel ("ca-pu-se-ru ho-te-ru" in Japanese) derives its name from the capsule, a box about 1 meter wide, 1 meter high and 2 meters long, that serves as your "room". The classic "room-the-size-of-a-closet" complaint is no exaggeration. Crammed inside are a mattress and, in most hotels, a TV with headphones, a light, and a clock.


Capsules hotels make perfect sense in Japan because of economics (astronomical land prices and punitive taxi fares) and culture (mandatory late-night drinking sessions with work colleagues and an ability to tolerate large crowds, small spaces and large crowds in small spaces). "Sararimen" (mid-level executives) out drinking after the last train leaves for home can fork over big money on a long, lonely cab ride for a couple hours sleep, or just spend Y3000-Y4000 ($25-$33) to hang out with their buddies in the capsule hotel lounge and then sleep peacefully in the capsule until morning.

In fact, the capsule itself is used only for the largely motionless pursuits of sleeping, reading or watching TV. For other activities, capsule hotels have some or all of the following: saunas, bath areas, restaurants and snack bars as well as lounge areas featuring lounge chairs, larger-sized TVs, and vending machines offering instant noodles and beer. It's like room service, only faster and cheaper. Bathe, dine, chat with colleagues or watch TV until you're ready to retire to your "room" to sleep.

Anyone who can handle the sleeping compartment on an overnight train can manage a capsule hotel. If you think of it as your "room", then it's small. But look at it as a covered bed with a shuttered door, and you'll be fine. Some people describe the capsules as "coffin-like", but I felt more like I was in my own personal cocoon, complete with reading light and TV. After a long day cruising around wintry Tokyo, the hot sauna, warm bath and cold vending machine beer were all I needed to sleep soundly in my own little womb.

- Amit Gilboa