Capsule hotels, otherwise known as Pod hotels were first introduced to the world in Osaka, Japan in 1979 - the hotel was named the 'Capsule Inn Osaka.' Architect, Kisho Kurokawa designed a 'sleeping capsule' to provide guests with a compact yet comfortable place to sleep. Each capsule was fitted out with a television, radio, light and fire sprinkler system.
The popularity of the capsule concept hotel quickly became popular with Japanese businessmen - 'salarymen' who spent long days working at their city offices and nights consuming alcohol in the local Izakayas. After a night out, the the only previous option was to make an expensive commute home by train. Since its inception, the capsule hotel provided a convenient and cost effective solution for businessmen to rest for the remaining hours of the night before heading out to work the next day.
Once the capsule hotel concept was considered to offer travelers a unique travel experience, however capsule hotels have well and truly made their way into accepted popular culture with many of the world's cities offering this style of accommodation for locals and travelers seeking a cost effective alternative to traditional hotel or hostel accommodation. Many capsule hotels have embraced the minimalist approach however, the concept of sparseness has been overtaken by trendy sleek and ultra modern interiors.
It seems the growing popularity of 'pod' style accommodation has demonstrated such a need in the hospitality industry as this style of compact accommodation provides the traveler with an opportunity to maintain a modicum of privacy and style at an affordable price in a great city location.
International Airports are of course a natural fit for capsule style hotels which offer guests a place to rest and recharge for an hourly rate. One capsule chain the United Kingdom's Yotel group, operates capsule hotels at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick Airports. They also have a number of hotels in Amsterdam-Schiphol and Paris-Charles de Gaulle airports. The Nội Bài International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam has taken up the trend by offering travelers 'SleepPods' within the terminal complete with free WiFi, snacks and a complimentary guidebook to Vietnam.
Spending a few nights at a capsule hotel cannot be compared to any other type of 'standard' accommodation. Individual capsules are generally restrictive by their very nature. For those who have a fear of confined spaces - claustrophobia, this style of accommodation is probably best avoided. Some guests have actually likened the experience to sleeping in an over sized coffin.
While each hotel offering can vary, inside each capsule guests will find power outlets for electronics, a television and/or radio, small shelving and/or a small locker to securely store their possessions. Much a like a hostel, the bathrooms are communal. Depending on the materials used in the construction of the 'pods,' many don't provide enough sound insulation and as a consequence, any noises or bumps in the night by your neighbor is amplified to the extent your sleep (and sanity) may become disturbed. For travelers on a budget, capsule hotels can be around the same price as a nightly rate at a hostel. From approximately USD$30 per night guests get a bed for the night and a clean shower in the morning.
One of the main benefits of staying at a hostel or hotel for travelers is the ability to easily meet people. In comparison, it can be rather difficult to engage with others in capsule style environment. There are a number of common areas, however it seems for the most part the capsule hotel is not a place where guests seem to linger as they would in a traditional hotel or hostel lobby. For many Westerner's there is a certain novelty factor for those wishing to experience something different when on holiday and capsule accommodations can offer a place to sleep at a reasonable price making it a viable option for those traveling on a budget.
Last year, journalist Andrew Bucklow decided to experience for himself this traditional and unique style of accommodation when visiting Japan, he spent one night at the Anshin Oyado Capsule Hotel in Shinjuku. The following information offers up a condensed version of what he experienced.
When I checked in, the freebies just kept coming. I was given a pair of slippers to wear inside, a towel, a pair of pants, a top, a carry bag, a bracelet (with a key and a barcode attached) and a brochure with English instructions explaining the rules.
According to the brochure, my first task was to put my backpack in one of the lockers downstairs. Unfortunately these lockers are designed for businessmen who only have the clothes on their backs and a small briefcase rather than a tourist with a huge backpack, so instead I had to leave my bag behind the desk in reception. I got changed into the top and pants I collected at reception, put a few essentials in my carry bag (underwear, phone charger, Kit Kats) and headed up to the second floor.
The second floor is all about removing your clothes and getting clean. Warning: If you are a bit shy about getting naked, you are really going to hate traditional Japanese style capsule hotels. The bathroom is communal, meaning you have to shower in the same room as every one else. In Japan, people with tattoos are unable to stay at capsule hotels.
I removed my clothes and walked into the bathing area where I sat down (yes, their showers have stools) and took advantage of the complimentary soaps, shampoos and body wash before taking a dip in the onsen, which is basically like a huge hot bath. I went out into the dressing room area where once again I was inundated with many freebies. Combs, deodorant, hair gel, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
The third floor is basically the chill out area. There is a library, massage chairs, a lounge area and vending machine filled free drinks.
I had no idea how far Japan was ahead in terms of toilet technology. Firstly, the toilet lid popped up as soon as I walked inside the cubicle, I didn’t even have to touch it. It’s ideal for germophobes. Much like the drink vending machine, on the bathroom wall there was a control panel with a dizzying array of options. There was a sound effect button which you could use if you felt a potentially embarrassing noise on the horizon. There was a seat warmth button, an adjustable bidet and a strong deodorizer button.
Inside The Capsule
I decided to head to my capsule which was on the seventh floor. I scanned my barcode at the door to gain entry to the capsule room which contained rows and rows of top bunks and bottom bunks. Each capsule has a mattress, pillow, TV, fan, alarm clock, headphones, a bottle of water and ear plugs.
In terms of size, when I lay down inside the capsule, my feet almost touched the door at the end (I’m about 180cm tall). I could sit up without my head touching the roof but I couldn’t extend my arms fully without touching the sides of the capsule. Overall though, it was rather comfortable and I had a solid sleep that was slightly interrupted by the snoring businessman in the capsule below me.
For travelers who wish to experience a night or two in a capsule or pod hotel outside of Japan, the experience is a little different - for a start it's ok if you have tattoos. The capsule concept is truly is a unique form of accommodation, with the following hotels rated as some of the best capsule hotels to be found around the world.
Anshin Oyado, Japan
A new luxurious take on the capsule hotel which is located three minutes walk from Shinjuku station in Tokyo. Each capsule room has an air conditioner, tablet computer, and a flat-screen TV provided inside (along with a cosy futon style bed), and all guests can enjoy full use of free artificial hot springs and a misting sauna.
The inside of the hotel and capsule rooms are fully equipped with Wi-Fi and and the internet café can be used at all times. The accommodation charge starts from 5,480 yen, USD$49.50 and guests can stay up to 21 hours if checked in by 3:00 p.m. With regard to the security aspect, lockers with the latest authentication system are installed for storing valuables and the room access management using auto lock is done at each floor, so guests are able to feel safe and secure.
Sleepbox in Moscow is the best option for anyone who wants an entirely fuss-free stay. There are no gimmicks, no arty stuff or dust-ruffles. The hotel offers guests sleek pods for a comfortable sleep and shared bathrooms.
Bloc Hotel, London Gatwick
The Bloc Hotel at London's Gatwick Airport offers small rooms with enough space to accommodate a standard hotel bed. Located close to the departure lounge, the hotel is suited to those who need a place to rest their head between travels, rather than anyone looking for a week long holiday in a cosy capsule.
Situated just steps from South Terminal Departures, BLOC is convenient for travelers with an early flight. Many of the rooms offer spectacular views of the busiest single runway in the world. Central to BLOC’s appeal is its cutting-edge technology. There is free super-fast Wi-Fi available throughout the hotel and almost every element of a guest's stay can be controlled through a smart phone or tablet. From unlocking your door to customizing the room lighting and temperature and operating the state of the art TV and check out, everything is at close at hand. For guests who are not technology savvy, they are able to utilize the old-fashioned key card and TV remote.
There are 245 rooms offering a luxurious space to relax at an affordable price. Rates start at just £59 per night (USD$77). Capsules come with Egyptian cotton linen sheets, monsoon showers and Zenology shower products.
This pod hotel has a real futuristic vibe, complete with slotting bunk beds and touch screens dotted around the building. An interactive app instantly registers all hotel guests and a digital concierge is available to answer any questions, all in the middle of the city center.
Pod Hotel, New York
Basically the best way to stay in New York if you are on a budget. For a capsule hotel the rooms are reasonably spacious. There is a bar located on the rooftop where guests can look over at the city. Guests will be surprised with efficient, thoughtful designs along with a number of guest centric social programs. Rooms have been designed for the savvy traveler who knows what they need and demand to stay connected to the world. By eliminating the excessive, the hotel boasts it's eliminated costs also. The savings made were then passed onto their guests.
CAPSULE by Container, Malaysia
Capsule by Container hotel is the first airport capsule in Malaysia located in the at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2). Designed for transit travelers and frequent fliers, the hotel provides those who need a place to rest and recharge before catching the next flight. Guests can enjoy a cold beer or a soft drink at the Capsule Bar upon check in.
The hotel has developed the idea of green & sustainable living into cozy & smart lodging, a minimalist capsule with style. Rooms in the standard capsule hotel offer guests cosy rooms with just a tiny bit of space next to a single bed. CAPSULE provides guests with slippers on arrival also.
The CAPSULE Hotel, Sydney, Australia
Matching a futuristic style with warm and welcoming service, the Capsule Hotel is one of the top places to stay in Sydney. The hotel offers an unbeatable central location and the staff are dedicated to providing guests with an unforgettable experience during their stay in Sydney.
At the Capsule Hotel a one night stay costs between USD$40 for a single pod and USD$55 for a queen-sized capsule, making an affordable price point when compared with a suite or even a room on Airbnb. Capsules come complete with a safety deposit box, a large locker, LCD TV, USB plugs, headphone jack, a mirror, adjustable lights, clocks, alarm clock and full climate control.
Would you spend a night or two in a capsule hotel to save on accommodation costs?