Inside Tokyo’s Disturbing Capsule Hotels

Inside the creepy capsule hotels popping up all over Tokyo.

Imagine living in a city where it is the norm to work more than 100 hours of (unpaid) overtime a month. Where the cost of living is so high you have to live either in a tiny box apartment or miles away from your job. Where working yourself to death (via strokes, heart attacks or suicides) happens on such a regular basis that the government has declared it a national health crisis. And where this phenomenon is so common there is even a name for it: karoshi.

Welcome to Tokyo.

“There aren’t a lot of great jobs available,” my friend Tatsuro Nishimura, a Japanese photographer now lives in New Jersey, told me, adding employers have the upper hand. “When you sign the employment contract many of them will have 20 hours of overtime in the contract… but the reality is much more.”

The Japanese commitment to work (or the company) especially in Tokyo has been blamed for Japan’s staggeringly low marriage and birth rates – because how you gonna get married and have sex when you’re at the office all the time? – high suicide rates and death related to lack of sleep.

While the government is aware of the problems – in April it (unhelpfully) capped the legal overtime limit to 100 hours, has put suicide prevention bars along the subway stops and other measures that don’t actually address the root of the problem – the private sector has over the past decade, invested in capsule hotels, which offer Japanese businessmen and women coffin-like spaces to crash in at rock bottom, hourly  prices. These days they also attract the budget tourists – but the average customer is still an overworked, completely stressed out office worker.

capsule hotels


Related: Disappearing Japan

To try and get some sleep (and not die), the Japanese have long turned to capsule hotels where stressed out workers can book a cubby hole to sleep in hourly, for up to eight hours.

capsule hotels

I visited the Anshin Oyado hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo’s busiest train station that has over 750,000 people passing through it each day. To combat sexual harassment, unwanted cubicle guests, prostitution and other issues that could conceivably come up with a room jam packed with hidey holes, the capsule hotels are almost all single sex – or have separate floors for men and women. The Anshin Oyado is a male hotel. But they let me in anyway. Which, I am aware, is not saying much for my feminine allure. We’ll move on.

Related: Japan: 13 Weird Things to Know Before You Go

Room rates were right up my cheap ass alley – around $110 a night and included (according to the website): “a ticket of a dance show by men, women and transwomen dancers at a theater restaurant ROPPONGI KINGYO… It will offer a superior performance consists of beautiful light and darkness! The special dancers and the stage move around (of course, dancers, and even the stage will be moving!) will give you great experience in Tokyo. You will see great performance themed everything called NEO KABUKI. After that, you can enjoy conversation with many fascinate actors.”

capsule hotels
Inside the cubicle

Sadly, I had a claustrophobia attack while having visions of being buried alive so… I missed the show due to an immediate check out. But I did get some footage before I left. Enjoy!


Note: On the bright side, it’s Japan so everything was clean, nothing smelled (except a faint hint of cigarettes, but again, this is Japan) and there were lots of amenities every where (yes, I took a plastic fold up hairbrush). So yeah, if you don’t mind the whole industrialization of humanity/harvesting/Matrix feel then you should TOTALLY go for it. I’m just not gonna go with you.

Post Script: If you have tattoos, you will not be welcome. It’s a cultural thing. In Japan, only criminals and members of the Yakuza Crime Syndicate have tattoos – and outside of “respectable establishments, you will find signs like these:

capsule hotel

For the upcoming Olympics, the government has asked everyone to ease up on these rules due to foreign athlete’s love of tats, but regular rules still apply.