I’ve been impressed by the consistent ability of the Japanese to find the most practical, efficient and user-friendly ways of doing just about anything. From omnipotent vending machines, to trains with revolving seats meaning no-one ever has to travel moving backwards, to heated toilet seats with an impossible range of different settings. If it could possibly be useful, it’s probably in Japan somewhere.
Hotels are no exception. Not content with providing tiny hotel rooms the size of large boxes, the Japanese have gone one better and actually provided beds in boxes. I am talking about the famous capsule hotels, where customers pay by the night to rent a bed in… Well, in a capsule.
We stayed for two nights in the 9 Hours capsule hotel in Kyoto. For a mere tenner a night, we were each provided with a large locker (including grey overall pyjamas that make everyone staying here look like prison inmates), a smaller box to keep our shoes in, and access to a long cylindrical pod containing a mattress, a duvet and a pillow. My dorm, on the sixth out of nine floors, contains no fewer than 30 such pods, within each of which a guest will sleep completely ensconced from other people sharing his room.
There are three boys floors and three girls floors. There are two lifts. One lift only goes to the boy’s floors. The other lift only goes to the girl’s floors. The intention clearly is to make congress of any description between any aforementioned boys and girls close to impossible. Given Japan’s growing reputation for ‘love hotels’, which are bookable by the hour regardless of your reasons for needing very short term late-night accommodation, a determination to avoid such encounters and the reputation that comes with them is absolutely understandable.
Nine Hours takes the capsule hotel concept to a whole new level. This is hoteling for Generation iPod. Throughout the ground floor reception, every surface you see is pure, gleaming white. Actual written words are used rarely. Simple minimalist pictures stenciled in grey on the walls and floors alongside arrows indicate the lifts, the lavatory, the lockers.
Unassuming black chairs sit evenly spaced beneath a bank of pure white laptop stations. The sleeping capsules themselves are immaculately organized, offer curved entrances, user-friendly draw down blinds, even an innovative alarm clock system that gradually turns up the lights as you wake up. The toilets are flushed using a wall mounted remote control, which also offers users a wide range of mysterious options.
Everything is as simple as it possibly could be, supremely efficient, determinedly easy to use, self consciously user friendly. Anything superfluous and unnecessary has been done away with. It’s like going asleep in an Apple store. If Steve Jobs had invented a hotel, this is what he’d come up with.
Of course, it’s a budget option. You probably wouldn’t choose to stay in a capsule if you had the means to stay somewhere more expensive, more private, more cosy. At a little more than £10 a night, this was intended as somewhere cheap to stay, and to provide some slack to an otherwise overstrained budget.
But even if you do have the budget for more luxurious lodgings, its worth spending even just a night in a capsule hotel simply for the experience. The sort of thing you’ll probably never do anywhere else in quite the same way…