A little over a week ago I spent one night in a Japanese Capsule Hotel. Japan has some of the highest land prices and population densities in the world. To ensure that tourists, people with early appointments and businessmen who miss the last train home have a place to stay the cities have capsule hotels. These hotels rent out “rooms” that are slightly bigger than a coffin. A picture I took of one bank of capsule rooms is below. While in the US and Europe there are a number of pod hotels, capsule hotels rent spaces that are a fraction the size of a pod hotel room.
I was interested in trying one out for a couple of reasons. First, as chapter 4 of my macroeconomics book points out the world’s population is currently 7.1 billion people and growing fast. Plus, the world’s population has rapidly shifted from living in rural areas to one where most people live in urban areas. Combined this means cities in the world are becoming increasingly crowded.
Where are all those people going to sleep each night? In places like India, after dark a huge number of people simply lie down on the sidewalk for the night. Capsules are a better solution than having people sleep out in the open because they provide clean toilets, bathing rooms and protection from the elements, all of which improve public health.
Second, I was also interested to see how much space a person really needs to be comfortable. I am very tall and wondered if a capsule works even for people my size.
I booked a room at a capsule hotel in Osaka, which is Japan’s second largest city. It cost 29 US dollars or 3,000 Japanese Yen to stay one night. I was a bit nervous the day before. While I am not claustrophobic, the idea of spending the night sleeping in something only slightly bigger than a coffin was scary. I arrived about 9:45 pm, showed my passport and was given a locker where I could store my belongings. In the locker was a set of clean pajamas for me to wear to sleep. I then went upstairs to find my slot for the evening.
The capsule was a bit bigger than I expected. A picture of the interior is below. It was about 4 feet wide, 4 feet tall and almost 7 feet long. The capsule had a small television inside, one air conditioning vent, a reading light and sprinkler head in case fire broke out. If I got up slowly, I could sit up without banging my head against the ceiling. While it wasn’t spacious, the mattress was comfortable and the air conditioning made enough white-noise to block out some of the snores, coughs and groans from the other capsules. It was not the most restful sleep I have had, but I did get enough rest to function the next day.
I left the capsule hotel the next morning a bit groggy, but happy. Many economists, starting with Thomas Malthus, have been worried about population growth. The world only has so much land available and humans, like rabbits, can be prolific breeders. I left happy because the capsule hotel showed me it is possible to house billions more people in safe and humane quarters. The experience didn’t change my preferences; a fancy hotel room is still better than a capsule. Nevertheless, it is nice to know in parts of Asia capsule hotels exist as a backup in case hotels are booked or I miss my train.