|By Jonathan Dubin, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 20, 2006 - TOKYO -- The capsule hotel, a quirky and inexpensive option for stranded commuters in Japan, brings a whole new meaning to the term 'hole-in-the-wall'. For about $30, a weary businessman or budget traveler can rent a capsule for the night in most major cities in Japan.
I recently had the opportunity to spend a night encapsulated within the eight-story Capsule Inn Akasaka. Located in Tokyo's busy Akasaka district, this slender berth-filled building offers an impressive variety of amenities for a businessman -- and I do mean man -- on the go. Almost all capsule hotels cater exclusively to men.
Right next to the check-in desk in the lobby are racks displaying essential business attire for purchase. If you have a soy-sauce-stained tie, dirty underwear or ripped pants, there's a ready supply of fresh, professional clothing for the next workday.
After guests remove their shoes and check in, they are required to deposit their clothes and valuables in a locker and wear one of the hotel's hospital-gown-like yukatas -- which are pretty much Japanese-style pajamas. The yukata is yours to wear for the night, but it must be deposited in one of the strategically placed laundry baskets at check-out time.
I found the locker room facility very clean, and the lockers strong and safe. The yukatas themselves were flimsy and bland, yet quite comfortable.
After changing into the yukata, guests have many options.
Chickening out, leaving and finding a real hotel room is certainly one of them, but I chose to find my personal space which was wedged among 200-plus capsules on floors two through seven. The capsules are arranged in stacked rows like something you would expect to see in a spaceship or morgue.
I found my berth in a row of identical capsules, and my friend claimed his resting place right next door.
We were both impressed by how much room was available. For someone less than six feet tall, it is possible to stretch out completely without your feet dangling in front of the capsule below. For an average-sized person, sitting up isn't much of a problem. Standing, however, is out of the question in the three-foot high capsule.
The floor of the capsule serves as the bed, and the linen and pillow provided were remarkably clean. There is a small ledge to place personal items, and a TV hangs from the ceiling. For a few extra yen, you can view some of Japan's unique -- for lack of a better word -- programming.
The capsule would have pleased Goldilocks immensely because it's possible to fiddle with an air-conditioning dial until the temperature is "just right." My friend had a little trouble and wound up waking up covered in sweat, feeling hotter than a mouthful of wasabi.
There is also an alarm clock and radio to play with, but I just tried to watch the 2006 Winter Olympics and allow my mind to wander.
But without vast spaces for my mind to do too much wandering, I grew restless and decided to explore the rest of the hotel.
On my floor was a smoking room, a closet-like room housing a vending machine that sold beer, and a bathroom stocked with packs of disposable razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other toiletries, all free of charge.
A businessman who wants to look clean for an important morning appointment can show up at the capsule hotel empty-handed and emerge well-groomed.
The seventh floor of the hotel served as a lounge. There were big, soft chairs lined up in front of a television set, and vending machines selling soft drinks, beer, various snacks and noodles packed with your favorite cephalopod and mine -- squid!
The lounge was a great option for those suffering a bout of claustrophobia after stowing away in their capsules.
The eighth floor of the hotel housed a sauna and an extensive bathroom with showers -- another great place to relax when not encapsulated.
Aside from the cacophony of sounds emanating from the banks of capsules throughout the night, the Capsule Inn Akasaka certainly provides the resourceful businessman with all the essential accommodations -- and for a reasonable price.
From a pragmatic point of view, a capsule is no substitute for a real hotel room.
But for a budget traveler, a businessman who missed the last train, or for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is worth every single yen.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Miami Herald
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