Sleeping (or Not Sleeping) in Tokyo

As I mentioned before, accommodation in Japan was a constant issue my first couple of weeks there – the time I think of as the Honshu portion of my Japan month – resulting in a lot of short term hotel stays or manga cafes. So when I decided I would go to Fukuoka next and spend 10 days exploring the island of Kyushu I booked all of my hostels up front. That’s when I discovered the joy of Japanese hostels; friendly, clean, amenity-filled places where I easily met new people and had a home to hang out in any time of day. But before that happened I found myself in two very different situations that both seemed to fittingly describe the adventure of finding accommodation in Tokyo, or not finding any at all.

After roaming around Honshu we returned to Tokyo in a whirlwind. It was Matt’s final days not just in Japan but in traveling – he had to return to France – and we had a few things we still needed to check off. First the Tsukiji Fish Market, which we would try to go to around 4 am for the tuna auction, and sumo wrestling practice, which started around 7 am. We already knew that finding a place to sleep for a Friday night would be difficult, so when we realized that we had a few really early morning activities planned and had already experienced the late night bar scene of Tokyo, we decided to forgo any attempt at accommodation our first night back and only booked a place for Saturday. Why waste money on and time searching for somewhere we didn’t plan to spend more than a couple of hours anyway?

We got to Tokyo Friday at 8 pm and put our backpacks in luggage storage at the train station. That’s it, we were committed. All night out in Tokyo. Let’s do this.

We went straight to the Shinjuku neighborhood, knowing we could find a lively scene there. We bar and restaurant hopped, returning to our favorite haunt of Golden Gai for its compact variety of bars and congenial drinking companions, until it was time for the fish market. We wandered around the wholesale market while they prepared for the day’s sales until a guard discovered us – technically we weren’t allowed in that part until 9 am but had explored unnoticed for almost an hour – and had a 5:30 am breakfast of fresh sushi, then hopped on the subway to see the sumo wrestlers. We lucked out by asking a man on the street (through a charades act of a man stomping) where we could find such a practice, and he helpfully led us to a sumo stable, which would have been impossible to find on our own. We watched alone for a quite a while before a tourist group showed up. From there we still had time to kill before we could check in to our next hotel, so we wandered the shopping district of Harajuku looking for gifts before returning to get our bags and making our way to our destination. We checked in at the hotel at 12:30 pm on Saturday; we slept till 5 pm.

Tokyo made it way too easy to not worry about finding somewhere to sleep. There’s always something going on there. So we turned what could have been a stressful mess resulting in a strange sleeping arrangement into an activity-filled night and morning out in the action-packed city.

My second accommodation story in Tokyo was after Matt left and I was left to find solo options. This is how I ended up staying in a capsule hotel.

Capsule hotels are known to be something you should experience when visiting Japan. I’ve never seen anything like them anywhere else. For starters, I was lucky to even get into one since most are men only. I found one in the center of Shinjuku that had a female floor and was able to book Capsule 8136 for one night. Check in was at 4 pm and check out at 11 am for everyone; no one is allowed in the capsules during the day. The floor was filled with two levels of capsules stacked tightly in a U formation. The capsule itself had enough room for me and a few important things, plus a built-in outdated TV and radio and an overhead light. Everything was controlled by dials and buttons on a panel straight out of a 1980’s movie space shuttle. A shade rolled down in the opening for privacy. I sent a picture to my friends who said it looked like I was sleeping in a microwave. That was a pretty accurate description.

Each capsule had a corresponding locker for safe storage (although it did not fit luggage, which was relegated to an overflowing shelf in the hallway) and had inside it some highly fashionable tan pajamas, slippers, and a towel. The attached bathroom was a room of Japanese wonder: toilets whose lids opened when you entered the stall and started playing sounds to drown out the natural sounds of someone using the bathroom, showers with all hair and skin cleansing products ready for use, and a room full of sinks and beauty products as big as my first NYC apartment. In the morning I learned why it had to be so large and well-stocked: all the capsules had emptied out and it was full of women primping for their day. Since everyone was required to check out, the common spaces were overflowing with people all getting ready to go at the same time.

The capsule hotel was a good option for a night when I knew I was just going to check out the next day anyway to go to the airport, but I wouldn’t do a long-term stay there. I heard of other ones that include spas but they seem to be the men only ones. My only option would have been a sauna for an extra $15. Plus they all have a no tattoo policy in those types of spaces, and given my previous two new tattoo posts you know how well that would have gone over for me.

Oh Tokyo, you never fail to disappoint in your unique, quirky, lively, fascinating offerings.

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