Monday, February 11, 2008

2/16/08 Capsule Hotel in Akihabara

Akihabara. This wasn't my first time in this mythical district of Tokyo.

Back during my first few weeks here, the usual suspects and I all made a pass at Akihabara. We were naive and inexperienced in those days, and we showed up mapless and clueless about what exactly we were looking for, assuming we would be showered with entertainment with one shoe still on the train station. We toured a couple of large but otherwise predictable electronics superstores, lost interest, then moved on. I was disappointed with the experience to the extent that I figured (hoped?) we must have missed something. Well, my tortured heart can now finally rest. We revisted Akihabara with a vengeful, neon-lit passion.

By the time we arrived it was late enough in the day that the flashy lights were on in force and carpeting the walls of the buildings, casting an electric aura over the people shopping on the streets below.

This place is geek heaven. We walked into a little indoor strip mall and were exposed to a barrage of interest. Entire stores were devoted to model robots and all the tools and supplies needed to dress them up. In more than one instance, the iles of toys were so tightly packed that I had to take off my backpack just to manuver, as it was still laden with beer jell-o and posters. Video games, comic books, DVDs, and all manner of anti-social products abound.

The arcades were numerous and on steroids. Best to check a directory before venturing in too far, as entire floors are dedicated to something as specific as fighting or racing arcade games. Everywhere I looked was well populated with button mashing patrons.

An absolutely mammoth electronics store. So. Many. Lights.

This business looked to be devoted solely to wires of various kinds.

In spite of the huge amount of things for sale, I didnt have much desire of purchase anything myself. The frenzy of activity was foreign enough to my senses that I didnt feel as though I was a part of the action, but merely a wide-eyed observer passing through.

All the nerdery had us tuckered and hungry. We made a pit stop at this awesome Turkish kebab stand.

It was delicious smelling, but at the same time strange to watch a man hack at a rotating, solid log of meat with a knife the size of a machete.

Once we were all one blinking light away from a seizure, we went on a bit of a side trip.

Tung suggested that we check out this restaurant in Shibuya called The Lock Up (if I remember correctly). The place was heavily themed, although I felt like the decor looked a bit thrown together at times. When we arrived we were greeted at the door by a line 20 people deep and growing. Luckily I had called and made a reservation earlier in the day, because the wait time probably would have been long enough to break our resolve. Upon entering we were subjected to a couple of automated, jumpy creatures, not at all different from the sort one would find at a haunted house on Halloween. After those encounters we paused for a short time at another little waiting area. Here we were briefed by a couple of women dressed as police officers of a sort. After a short introduction, one of the girls slapped a handcuff on my wrist and led us through the dark corridors. It seemed to be a fairly large building overall, but it was divided into a maze of narrow hallways, flanked on either side by a honeycomb of little rooms. Most of the rooms featured bars of some sort over the little windows and doors. Most of the cells that I peeked into while we walked had occupants intent on enjoying themselves.

A lively Shibuya street near the restaurant.

A small sidetrack, if I may: Japanese restaurants. This honeycomb layout is unfortunately quite common in Ashikaga's eateries. For me, part of the fun of eating out is seeing other people. Maybe happening to spot a friend and have a quick chat or throw them a wave in recognition. I enjoy a social atmosphere, you know? Here, though, especially in some of the nicer places, everyone is ushered into little booths with walls, which sometimes even have their own doors. I don't know if the place is crowded or empty. I don't know if the group sitting in the room four feet next to me are strangers, coworkers, or the cast from Heroes having a celebratory meal after some filming on location in Japan. It annoys me a bit. Why would I even be at a restaurant if I didn't want to see other people? If I wanted so much privacy I could just get takeout and eat at home, perhaps in the closet with the lights out. I wonder how Japanese people make friends in this country, as there doesn't seem to be a wealth of opportunities.

Wow. So there you have it. We finally made it our little cell. I was uncuffed, and we got down to the business of eating and drinking. The food was pretty normal, but many of the drinks had a bit of theme to them, coming in beakers like a potion, while others were served with fake little syringes filled with flavoring. We were minding our own business when suddenly the lights went out, strobe lights came on, and crazy music began blaring seemingly from several directions at the same time. During the "jail break", a masked beast of a man began roaming the halls and generally doing the things one might expect a long-imprisoned monster to do. Eventually the policegirls caught up with it, subduing the creature with a hail of capgun fire.

Our waiter/prison mate whips us up a little something while Mike experiments with a beverage.

One of the main reasons for the whole trip was to show Mike's friend Keeble a good, Japanese time. So when we were all too tired to walk, it was time to return to Akihabara, where we had booked our accommodations. We arrived back late enough that everything nerdy was closed, and as a result all the lights were turned off. Wow. I honestly barely recognized the place without all that glittering going on. I was shocked at the difference.

To top off our Japan experience, we decided it would be a good idea to stay at the Capsule Inn Akihabara(the only capsule hotel in Akihabara!). And let me tell you, it was awesome.

I had heard about these things several times before, and I was a bit apprehensive about how small the capsules were going to be. I'll say I was pleasantly surprised. I had imagined shoving myself into a coffin and then spending the night trying not to claustrophobically freak out, but it was nothing like that. If I was a bit taller, I might have had an issue as far as length, but the width was more than enough. It felt a lot like sleeping in a bunk bed, which was reinforced by the ladder needed to climb into my top row capsule.

Now rather than attempting to adequately describe the tubes on my own, allow me to offer up a few highlights from the Capsule Inn's website.

At the Capsule Inn Akihabara, a separate capsule unit is available for each guest, as a sleeping space. Each room has blinds to be drawn for complete privacy. In the capsule unit, amenities like a TV, radio, alarm clock and adjustable lighting are provided. You can control all these devices in a sleeping position, as if you were in a cockpit of an aircraft, or spacecraft.

You might recall the movie The Fifth Element, directed by Luc Besson. Our capsule units will remind you of the main character, Bruce Willis' small living and sleeping area.

Ladies and gentlemen, I was, for a night, just like Bruce Willis. Yes!

"I demand that you address me as Bruce!"

Here's a cool little rendition of the interior.

There were bathrooms, lounging areas, and vending machines on every floor, and men and women slept on separate levels. It reminded me of a bit of a college dorm. The next morning, a half an hour before check-out, a recorded message blared telling us to wake up and get the heck out, in a super polite way of course.

This little machine in the inn lobby could charge any number of brands of cell phone for a small fee.

It was cheap and convenient enough that I could definitely see myself staying there again, despite the reduced novelty.


Next are a few little randoms from the trip that I thought worth sharing.

Everyone is probably tired of seeing pictures of kaminarimon, but this time it was lightly snowing, so I couldn't resist.

This one is from a storefront in Akihabara that caught my eye. Their specialty seems to consist solely of pimping things out with rhinestones.

I could get "Amazing Adventures" all gemmed out on my sneakers. That'd be smooth.

Got a shot of one of my beer jell-o packs before it got devoured. Its an interesting flavor, sort of a sweet yet beery taste... unique.


  1. Very interesting post. I would love to try a capsule hotel someday but am not sure my 6'3" frame will fit lengthwise.

    That restaurant looked pretty crazy. I think it is cool to have a theme like that but I agree that being separated into a room like that away from the rest of the restaurant and other people doesn't make sense.

  2. Yeah, you might have had some issues with these capsules. They were 1m x 1m x 2m, but the length definitely felt shorter.