Capsule hotels are one of Japan’s most famous inventions. These basic lodgings packed with tiny sleeping pods are very popular both with single travelers on a budget, and also with long-distance commuters who party too late and miss their last train. For foreign visitors too, staying in a capsule hotel is one of those unique experiences you simply must try when in Japan.
The world’s first capsule hotel opened in Osaka in 1979 and up until recently the basic design of a capsule hadn’t really changed since then. Sleeping pods are stacked one on top of the other and sleepers gain access to upper levels with a ladder. Crawling inside you find enough space for a bed, a TV screen, and that’s about it. Washing facilities and toilets are shared.
Recently however, a company called First Cabin has been challenging all our assumptions by opening a novel type of “luxury” capsule hotel in locations around Japan. Their compact quality cabins are inspired by the first class seating on airplanes and feature larger beds, more stylish interiors, and sometimes even tables.
JR West are now entering into this quality capsule hotel business in a joint venture with the First Cabin company. JR West already operate two hotel subsidiaries nationwide: the Granvia luxury hotel chain and Via Inn business hotels. Now JR West and First Cabin are combining their expertise to launch a new brand of high quality capsule hotels at railway stations across the Kansai region.
This new initiative has been spurred on both by JR West’s desire to diversify their business interests, and First Cabin’s plan to open 100 hotels by 2022. It is hoped the new hotels will help to satisfy a growing need for accommodation among both domestic and overseas travelers. The new business will be able to capitalize on JR West’s extensive network and resources, and First Cabin’s specialized know-how to open new hotels at an accelerated rate in the Kansai area. The first hotel will open this month and the plan is to open a total of three hotels this year making use of currently empty station space to build the new facilities. The new hotels will retain the “first class” touches of First Cabin’s previous capsules while adding a touch of railroad atmosphere. The two companies clearly take the project seriously having invested 90 million yen to get it started with JR West contributing 51% and First Cabin contributing 49%.
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.