Discover Japan’s quirky mini-lodging for the busy and cash-strapped traveller.

You know that feeling when you’re planning a big trip and you want to See All the Things and Go All the Places, but your dreams are far bigger than your budget? If Japan is on your itinerary, you might want to consider staying in capsule hotels: a ordable, small-scale lodgings that typically cost between $30 and $50 a night. Instead of a room, you get a pod just big enough to sit up and lie down inside, usually furnished with a bed, TV and Wi-Fi connection. Bigger hotels stack dozens of pods into two rows in a single room, resulting in something that looks a little like space-age bunk beds on a shuttle to Mars.

Each capsule includes a curtain or breglass door, which you can close when it’s time for lights-out, but keep in mind you won’t get the level of privacy you would in a regular hotel. And because each capsule has no bathroom of its own, a room for the night comes with access to a luggage locker and communal bath. The hotels tend to be very clean and efficient, and hotel reception will give you some sort of gown or robe, which you can wear when you move between your capsule and the bathroom. Some hotels even include restaurants or bars on site, where you can imbibe in capsule style.

While some capsule hotels are co-ed, and some provide rooms with genders split between floors, the very first capsule hotel was for men only. It debuted in Osaka in 1979, and was aimed at salarymen who had missed the last train after a long night of drinking. These days, however, hotels are increasingly geared toward women and travellers of all kinds, from foreign tourists to students visiting potential college campuses.

As these hotels have garnered worldwide fame, some companies have opened designer capsule hotels that come with a much higher price tag, like the women-only Nadeshiko Hotel Shibuya, which offers beautiful, traditional Japanese design, bathing and food. These extra frills can cost up to $130 per night, almost five times the cost of a typical capsule hotel. While it is still cheaper than a fully equipped hotel room in the middle of Tokyo, these kinds of designer hotels are better suited to travellers who are looking for a quirky experience and don’t mind shelling out a little extra for the privilege. For the everyday traveller, however, sticking with the standard capsule hotel is an excellent choice for a budget-friendly trip. Just be sure you aren’t feeling too claustrophobic before you hop in!

How to capsule

Here are three tips for enjoying your capsule hotel experience, and being a good neighbour to your fellow pod people.

Do NOT eat in your room

Eating and smoking are prohibited in capsules, so head to the bar for your smokes and munchies.

DO use your inside vioce

Because the walls are very thin, you’ll want to be courteous to your fellow sleepers.

Do NOT bring a friend

Each capsule is just big enough for one, so leave your sweetie at home (or in another pod).

Illustrations by Reiko Ema