I knew it was going to be a great trip when a guy in a spiderman mask grilled the cheese on my takoyaki with a blow torch.
I'd just arrived in Osaka, Japan's second biggest city; famous for its food and its notoriously incomprehensible local dialect. Mercifully, either through familiarity with tourists or a genuine love of Marvel comic books, my machine shop - chef crossover spoke English. I tried to convince him I wasn't a language teacher. He tried to convince me his name was Peter Parker. We both concluded that either the other was lying, or job opportunities had changed a lot for minority demographics.
"It's very hot!" I was warned —slightly unnecessarily given I'd just witnessed the cheese soldering process— as the fried octopus balls were passed over.
I made it three streets before abandoning the cooling process and deciding to eat the bite-sized delights anyway. Naturally, I burnt my mouth. That happens every time.
My room for the next two nights was a coffin-sized pod in a capsule hotel. I could pretend that during the annual string of Japanese holidays known as Golden Week, it was impossible to get more luxurious accommodation. This would have been technically true, but frankly I would have picked the capsule hotel anyway. Because... capsules. It was like being buried alive but without the commitment.
Stashing people in pods is Japan's answer to their crazy salary men working ethos. Expected to frequent the local bars after a long day at their desk, office workers often struggle to catch the last train back home. Either that, or they are flat-out too drunk to do so. The capsule hotels offer an enclosed sleeping area in a shared room, providing the bare minimum needed for an overnight stay at a cheap price.
Since the individual capsules do not have lockable doors, many hotels of this type are not open to women. The Eco-Cube in Osaka however, had a women only floor, accessed with an electronic keycard. Judging from the visitors I saw scattered around the lobby, I'd guess this particular capsule hotel catered more to curious foreigners and budget backpackers than they did to office business men.
The women's floor in the capsule hotel had about thirty beds arranged in facing rows of ten two stories high. The first night I was on the lower level, and crawled into the hobbit home pod on my hands and knees. The second night, I had a capsule on the second level. This required a scramble up the metal ladders between the pods, followed by a head-first launch into the pod's interior. It was risky, awesome and explained why children were not allowed as guests.
The capsules were roughly the size of a single bed, with enough vertical room to sit up. Each was equipped with a TV, radio, clock, dimmable light and single electric outlet. A futon lined the floor and a pillow and blanket were stacked at one end. The door was a tatami blind that could be hooked at the bottom for privacy. There was also a small —but truth be told, rather inefficient— air vent.
At the end of the room were lockers for each guest containing a towel and a toothbrush (for those caught unexpectedly out for the night). There were also toilets and a block of four showers. Being a ladies floor, we had the addition of a 'make-up' area consisting of hairdryers beside a long mirror. I laughed heartedly at this... then promptly used the hairdryers.
The quality of sleep you get in such places depends rather heavily on the wild nature of your neighbours and your feelings about chillin' in a coffin. The first night, I could hear the television in the next capsule over, but it didn't really bother me and being pod'ed was totally cool. Pretty sure it was akin to being packed up for an inter-planetary space mission. Plus, there was wifi: frankly, all my needs were met.
Even though I'd booked for two consecutive nights, I had to check out each morning. Lockers downstairs were provided for belongings, which was fine since unpacking in a pod was never really an option. The only problem I hit was I'd got soaked in the rain coming from the airport and there was nowhere to hang out clothes. This resulted in a soggy trouser fashion statement the next day.
For each of my two nights, I paid 3800 yen (approximately $38) for a pod in the centre of Osaka. Given prices during Golden Week saw hotels soar into the hundreds and even thousands of dollars a night, this was a deal to die for. From 5pm - 10am at least.