Posh pods: Inside Tokyo’s nicest capsule hotels

Story highlights

Perceptions of Tokyo capsule hotels are changing thanks to a rise in luxury-focused chains

First Cabin wants guests to feel like they're inside an airplane's first class cabin

Le Luck Spa is for women only and focuses on beauty and health treatments

CNN  — 

Dressed in black and purple pajamas with keycards around their necks, two Japanese businessmen sip whiskey in a Tokyo hotel lobby bar. Next to them, a woman in business attire dress puffs away on a cigarette while chatting to two Western backpackers.

It’s an unusual sight to many eyes but it’s not an untypical Tuesday evening in one of Tokyo’s most trendy inns – a swanky, upscale capsule hotel.

Traditionally, Japanese capsule hotels have had a shabby reputation in the travel world. Often located in the popular bar areas, the coffin-sized sleep spaces are notoriously frequented by Japanese salarymen in a drunken stupor who missed their last train home. Most are men-only.

Now, a new kind of stylish capsule hotel is popping up across the country. With a blend of function and style, they attract both local business people and foreign hipsters in search of fashionable accommodation.

Here’s a look at several capsule hotels that are changing the game in Tokyo and beyond:

First Cabin Tsukiji

First Cabin Tsukiji – where I stayed during my last visit to the Japanese capital – is part of one of the most popular hotel chains that’s redefining the capsule concept. The reception area, which is integrated with the bar, looks like an airport business class lounge.

Despite the more luxurious approach, it still represents compact living in its most extreme form. The room – sorry, capsule – is basically just a bed. When I stretch my arms I easily touch both walls.

No desk. No closet. No floor. But it’s high enough to stand up straight, which makes it feel surprisingly spacious. It’s clean, comfortable and actually very cozy.

First Cabin aims to create a feeling of being in the first class cabin of an airplane. But for me it evoked memories of hiding in one of the small huts I built as a child, where the entrance was covered with a blanket and comics were read by flashlight.

Instead of a door, there’s a sliding pull-down shutter. Above the shutter is a 32-inch flat screen TV with headphones so as not to disturb neighbors. There’s a safety box where valuables can be stored. What else do you need, really?

I slipped into my hotel-issue pajamas and strolled down the corridors, which are lined with capsules.

Every few steps there was the sound of snoring or a person packing a bag. Signs urge guests to be quiet at all times while in the sleeping area. I nodded discretely to my fellow lodgers as I made my way to the shared facilities, like showers and lavatories. Two floors up is the hotel’s 24-hour public bathing area, with characteristic Japanese hot tubs.

Men and women stay on different floors, with the sleeping areas and facilities accessed with a key card.

Located just a few minutes walk from the famous fish market and close to the Ginza shopping district, First Cabin Tsukiji is one of the best budget accommodations in the area. The chain has expanded and now has a total of five hotels in Tokyo and three more in Kyoto, Osaka and Fukuoka.

First Cabin Tsukiji, 2-11-10 Tsukiji, Chuo 104-0045 Tokyo Prefecture; +81 3-5148-1130

9h nine hours

Another chain that has gained attention for its swanky approach to minimalistic living is 9h nine hours.

First opened in 2008 in Kyoto, it has expanded across the country, including Tokyo’s Narita Airport. Here, you don’t book per night. You get exactly nine hours – that’s an hour to shower, seven to sleep and one to relax.

Each of the pods has a panel, designed by Panasonic, which controls the lights and sound system. The alarm is designed to wake guests by gently by raising the lights.

9h nine hours Narita, Narita International Airport Terminal 2, 1-1 Furugome, Narita-City, Chiba 282-0004 Japan;+81 0476-33-5109

From $70 per night
Rates provided by Booking.com

9h nine hours Kyoto, 588 Teramachi Shijokudaru Teianmaenocho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto 600-8031 Kyoto Prefecture; +81 75-353-7337

Centurion Cabin & Spa

Tokyo’s Women Centurion Cabin & Spa is, as the name suggests, for women only. Sleeping pods are spacious and chic and come equipped with a TV, tablets, humidifier and aroma diffuser. At the heart of the hotel is its spa, with sauna and hot tubs.

It caters to the previously untapped market of businesswomen in need of some affordable accommodation.

Centurion Cabin & Spa Ladies, 4-2-4 Akasaka, Minato 107-0052 Tokyo Prefecture; +81 3-6441-3381

Spa & Capsule Hotel Grandpark Inn Kitasenju

Spa & Capsule Hotel Grandpark Inn Kitasenju in Tokyo says it “caters for men” and aims to create a luxurious atmosphere for gentlemen.

There’s a whiskey bar, business center and “onsen” sauna area. Reviewers say it’s targeted more at the Japanese market than international tourists.

Spa&Capsule Hotel Grandpark Inn Kitasenju, 40-9 Senju Nakacho, Adachi 120-0036 Tokyo Prefecture; +81 3-5284-2641