Originally designed for businessmen who stayed out too late — either at the office or the bar — to catch the last train home, Japanese capsule hotels have evolved over the past few decades to accommodate travelers and locals alike. During our first visit to Tokyo last year, my wife Katie and I tried out our first capsule hotel and enjoyed it so much that we decided to check out another one this time around.
After doing some digging, we found out about the First Cabin chain of aviation-themed capsule hotels, and with 13 locations across Japan — including seven in Tokyo — we had plenty of options to choose from. We eventually decided to try out the Nihonbashi Yokoyama-cho location downtown, one of the newest First Cabin properties that opened in February 2017. Here’s what it was like to stay there.In This Post A Brief Intro to Capsule Hotels
Before we get into the review, let’s go over some basics. While even the most standard rooms (ie. a private room with a private bath) at hotels in the dense Japanese capital can easily exceed $100 per night, capsule hotels allow solo travelers to stay in the heart of the city for a reasonable cost. Although the capsules/pods themselves can be rather small, many of these types of accommodation will have common areas where you can get some work done.
You’re also going to need to be comfortable sharing the bathrooms and showers with other guests. In co-ed capsule hotels, individual floors are usually kept gender-segregated; all the pods and bathrooms on that floor either for men or women. Note that capsules at co-ed hotels are generally tilted more toward male than female guests — at the hotel we stayed in, the ratio was about 2:1 (men:women). However, don’t assume all capsule hotels will be co-ed; some hotels can also be all-male or all-female, so make sure to check before you book.Types of Rooms at First Cabin
In Tokyo, there are seven First Cabin hotel locations, each with its own pricing and mix of rooms, ranging from Premium Economy (traditional stacked capsules) and Business Class (same width, but nearly floor-to-ceiling) to First Class (about double the width of Business Class) and the rare Premium Cabin (suitable for two people to stay in the same room). All locations offer Business Class and First Class, but only a few of them have Premium Economy and Premium Cabin.
At the Nihonbashi Yokoyama-cho location we stayed at, we booked late enough that there was just one option available for each gender: Business Class for females and First Class for males. This location’s pricing is listed as ¥5,800 (~$53) per night for Business Class and ¥6,800 (~$62) per night for First Class, but we found that rates vary based on demand and season.Booking
With a four-night stay planned, we knew immediately which card we were going to use: the Citi Prestige Card. Due to the card’s compelling benefits, Katie and I each have our own account, so we were each able to book a 4th Night Free stay. Note that since the terms and conditions require you to be the primary guest on a booking, you’re out of luck if you’re trying to book a 4th Night Free for any travel companions at capsule hotels.
We booked this after the July 23 changes to the Citi Prestige Card, which allowed online hotel bookings. While other capsule hotels were available, we found that the First Cabin brand wasn’t available through Citi’s travel portal.
While all hotels and hostels now qualify for the fourth night free, we’ve learned from experience that sometimes you need to provide guidance to the Citi Concierge to save yourself significant time on the phone when booking obscure properties. At $0.20/minute for phone calls in Japan, I wanted to save as much phone time as possible, so Katie and I each drafted an email with step-by-step instructions for how to book our stays on the hotel’s website. It worked like a charm and shortly afterward, I received a confirmation email noting my booking details, the cost and our expected 4th Night Free credit.
While the rate listed online and at the hotel for a First Class cabin was ¥6,800 (~$62), it seems that First Cabin uses dynamic pricing based on demand and occupancy. Rates for my stay varied between ¥5,100 (~$46) and ¥6,300 (~$57) per night, or an average of ¥5,950 (~$54) per night. I thought I’d gotten a pretty good deal until I searched a random date in September and found the price for a Business Class cabin to be just ¥3,300/night (~$30/night), making a stay in Tokyo incredibly affordable.
In all, we paid $377 for my four nights in the First Class capsule and Katie’s four nights in the Business Class capsule, and thanks to our Citi Prestige Cards, we expect to get $94 back from the two 4th Night Free credits. The card also allowed us to earn 3x points, yielding a combined total of 1,131 Citi ThankYou points for our four-night stays.
Part of the First Cabin concept is that its hotels are situated within five minutes of the nearest train or subway station — at this Nihonbashi Yokoyama-cho location, there’s a subway less than a minute’s walk away, connecting three different lines: JR East’s Sobu Line (with service to Narita Airport and Tokyo Station) and Toei’s Shinjuku and Asakusa Lines (with service to Haneda Airport). The subway proximity was especially nice considering it was raining when we arrived — umbrella covers were left outside the entrance for those who needed them.
Due to the very light occupancy for the first night we were staying here — and the general demographics of the other guests — the front desk easily guessed who we were when we arrived, using a multi-lingual binder to provide us with an overview of the hotel floors, amenities, rules and regulations.
Despite making reservations through Citi Concierge, payment was taken at the time of check-in and we were given the choice of charging the stay in Japanese Yen or US Dollars. Unlike many credit card machines we’ve experienced overseas, this one actually disclosed the exchange mark-up. Just a quick reminder, but you should never take the US Dollar option — even if you’re using a card that charges foreign transaction fees. Since the transaction was outside the US, you’ll likely still get dinged with that charge even if you charge the stay in USD.
Then, it was time for the check-in agent to start giving us stuff:Tap cards to use when getting onto the elevator and into the capsule areas of our own floors. We each received a key — each capsule has a lockbox for valuables — that’s built into a wristband, making it easier to take to the bathroom, shower or public bath areas. JVC over-the-ear headphones so you can watch TV in your capsule without bothering your neighbors (I used these to listen to music during my stay and although they weren’t noise-cancelling, they were still of excellent quality). At request, you can borrow a chain lock to secure your luggage in the common luggage storage area. There’s a basket of packaged ear plugs at the check-in desk in case you don’t have your own.
Arms full, we headed to the elevators. Call the correct elevator for your gender by tapping your tap card on the reader — that’s right, for safety and peace of mind, you only have access to floors assigned to your gender.
First Class Capsules
Each gender-segregated floor has a combination of First Class and Business Class capsules. My floor (2nd floor) had one long row of 14 Business Class capsules with two rows of First Class capsules. I was assigned to the middle room in the row of five.
The main advantage of the First Class capsule over the smaller Business Class one is its width, which allowed enough room for a table (26 inches in diameter) and some floor space (35 inches from bed to wall). First Class rooms have three two-prong power outlets, two individually dimmable lights and a 31-inch TV with Japanese programming. The beds (74 inches long by 47 inches wide) each have two pillows, although only one of them has a cotton pillowcase.
The room comes stocked with amenities, which are left on the bed:Large and small cotton towels A packaged “body towel” washcloth Packaged toothbrush and toothpaste Packaged slippers (left on the floor by the entrance) One-size-fits-all First Cabin branded pajamas.
The entrance to the room can be closed by sliding a thick curtain shutter. Note that while it latches via magnets, the capsule can’t actually be locked. As explained at check-in, this is due to local laws forbidding the locking of capsules.
For securing your valuables, there’s a large locker under the bed. I was able to fit my daypack and clothing packing cubes inside, but it was tight.
For large bags, there’s a luggage storage area on each floor and you can request to borrow a chain lock to secure it to a metal pole. This area only had one bag in it when I arrived. While I originally chalked this up to low occupancy the first night, this area remained mostly empty even when my floor filled up. So, you’re likely not going to have to worry about finding a place to leave your bags.
Compared to the capsules, the bathrooms feel quite spacious. There were four sinks, five urinals and three stalls for the 26 capsules on my floor, while showers and bathing facilities were located on another floor (see Common Areas, below). I never saw more than one other person in the bathroom at a time. In addition to the amenities provided in the room, there were hair dryers, packaged razors, “shaving wash,” aftershave lotion and cotton swabs available.
Based on my previous experience at a capsule hotel, I figured that my room wouldn’t receive any service during my stay, however that’s not the case at First Cabin. My room was cleaned during the day and seemed to be fully reset each night, with linens and pajamas replaced and new packaged dental kits, washcloths and slippers left for me. Entering the capsule on my fourth night looked the same as the first night!
Business Class Capsules
The Business Class capsules, where Katie was staying, were much smaller but a lot of the elements were the same. These were also reset daily with fresh linens and amenities, with the biggest difference being the room size.
Instead of being under the bed, the lockbox was a cabinet on the side of the bed (29 inches long x 6 inches wide x 17.5 inches deep). There was also a compartment under the bed (32 inches wide x 8 inches deep x 6 inches tall), but this doesn’t have a lock on it. The capsule itself measured nearly four feet wide by 7 feet long and came with a 31-inch TV.
Instead of white-labeled pajamas, the female pajamas featured a pink First Cabin logo.
Other notable differences between First Class and Business Class: there were only two power plugs (instead of three), one lamp (instead of two) and the shutter closed from top down (rather than being pulled horizontally across). Like the First Class rooms, the shutter left a small (seven inch) gap at the bottom.
The female bathrooms had amenities that were geared more toward women, like cleansing oil, face wash, skin lotion, emulsion, makeup remover pads and curling irons, in addition to the same cotton swabs and blow dryers that were offered in the male bathrooms.
Since capsule hotel rooms don’t provide much space to spread out, an important factor is the amount of common areas. At this First Cabin location, however, there were only a wooden desk with five chairs, a couch and a few chairs in the main space — which really wasn’t much for a hotel with 150 capsules. The lobby also contained a restaurant and bar area.
We used the table and chairs often during our stay, and while we were joined by other guests a few times, the common area never got too busy. A self-playing piano added to the charm of the room — for a short time — while a bike mounted against the wall reminded us that we could rent bikes from the front desk at a rate of ¥1,000 (~$9) per day.
In addition to a common working area, First Cabin also has male and female Japanese public baths. Traditionally, these will include individual bathing stations and soaking tub(s), and you unclothe in one room before entering the bathing areas in the nude. While some public baths have a variety of tubs (hot, cold, even carbonated and rose-flavored) and saunas, however the public baths at this hotel consisted of just the bathing stations and one hot tub per gender.
There are also private shower rooms available for those who don’t want to bathe in front of strangers. Both types of showers featured two types of shampoos, conditioners and soaps that smelled wonderful.
As digital nomads, one of the most critical features we need from the places we’re staying is a reliable and fast internet connection. First Cabin mostly delivered, with download speeds ranging from 5Mbps to 25Mbps, and upload speeds constantly clocking in around a blazing 50Mbps.
Food and Beverage
Understandably, there’s no room service at capsule hotels, but there was a restaurant/bar on the ground floor between the street and the check-in desk. And hotel guests get a 20% discount.
We tried out the restaurant/bar for dinner. There were a variety of dishes available, from grilled meat dishes to pizza and pasta. On the standard menu, the only English is in the headers. We used the Google Translate app to figure out what to order. We later found out there was also an English-language menu available, although it did have fewer options listed.
Katie got the lamb grill with fries (¥780, ~$7 before the discount) and I ordered a salmon pasta dish (¥880, ~$8 before the discount). Both were deliciously prepared, but quite small considering our American-size appetites. While the prices would have been reasonable for a filling dinner, the size of the dishes didn’t make it as good of a deal — especially compared to other local restaurants we tried the other nights.
Along with dinner, we tried a couple of drinks. I had the Original Cocktail, a strong ginger-flavored drink, while Katie ordered a local beer. While the beer was reasonably priced at ¥440 (~$4), it still couldn’t beat the cheapest drink option in the hotel: the vending machine.
The two vending machines near the common work area on the ground floor offered a wide variety of coffees, teas, juices, energy drinks and alcoholic beverages. While the non-alcoholic options were reasonable at ¥110-120 (~$1), the alcoholic options were surprisingly cheap as well — a half liter can of beer started at ¥230 (~$2) while canned mixed drink options were priced at ¥160 (~$1.45). If you’re looking for a late-night snack, you’re going to have to rely on the many nearby convenience stores as the lobby vending machines’ only food option was mixed nuts.Overall Impression
We were very impressed by our stay at First Cabin. The rooms were sharp and kept fresh and clean. While the Nihonbashi Yokoyama-cho location isn’t near any tourist attractions, its location provided easy access via subway to both Tokyo airports, Tokyo Station and any places in the city you might want to visit. Plus, the hotel is within walking distance of convenience stores, a pharmacy, a grocery store with take-out food and plenty of affordable and delicious restaurants. And we paid just $30 to $40 per person per night — after fourth night free credit — and found future dates that were even more affordable.
As for the downsides, it was the aviation theme that had hooked us originally, so we were disappointed by the utter lack of aviation integration other than the names of the capsules. We each found the beds to be very hard, but still slept well enough. The lack of any soundproofing also meant we had to wear ear plugs to muffle our loudly snoring neighbors.
Have you ever stayed at a Japanese capsule hotel? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.