On Sunday night, I fulfilled all of my deepest fantasies.
I moved into a book shop.
(And anyone who expected that proclamation to end differently clearly hasn't been paying attention.)
'Book and Bed' in Tokyo's Ikebukuro is another new example of a capsule hotel with a difference. The difference being that it is blatantly a book shop. The hostel is on the seventh floor of a high-rise building packed with restaurants. Taking the elevator spills you into a tiny space with just the window of the hostel reception. If another guest is checking in, you have to knock them out the way to stand in line. If they have a large suitcase, throwing them bodily into the elevator behind you may be your only option.
No cash is taken at the hostel. I had paid online for my bed and then used my IC train card to pay for a towel rental and mini shampoo set. Unusually for Japanese accommodation, a communal supply of soap and shampoo was not available but the little set was cute, came with a small branded tote bag and only cost ¥500 (~ $5 / £3.5). Once checked in, I was given a key code to punch into the door to my right that revealed the rest of the floor.
Entering the hostel brings you face-to-face with a floor-to-ceiling shelf of books. On the opposite wall and over by the window, a wide cushioned bench is loaded with pillows for sprawling on during mammoth reading sessions. It is only on second glance that you can see the gaps between the books leading to concealed alcoves that hold beds.
My bed was on the upper of the two levels and large enough to contain a locker for valuables. There were also slightly smaller areas with no locker tucked behind the shelves, and an overspill section of just bunks at the back of the floor. While snuggling in among books is clearly the way forward, the bunk-only space was quieter and darker. Relaxing and reading the books is clearly a big part of the 'Book and Bed' experience, so the main area by the shelves remains lit with quiet music playing until late (close to midnight). However, if you did want to turn in earlier, ear plugs are a dormitory's BFF and there's a free set with each bed.
Tea and coffee were available and being situated in the heart of one of Tokyo's busiest districts, pretty much everything else you might want is on your door step. I picked up a Starbucks tea while I was out and sat padded with cushions and my laptop overlooking the bustling streets below. If they allowed cats, I'd honestly never leave.
My only gripe that evening is that whispering is hellishly annoying. Talk or don't talk: but the hissing and clicking of a whisper is worse than fingernails on a chalkboard. Is that only me? Probably not now I've made you think about it. You're welcome.
The books were predominantly (and understandably) in Japanese, but there were a collection of English tomes. Travel books were in English along with a selection of anecdotal tales from life in Japan and a range of fiction. The staff also spoke fluent English and were very friendly.
Like the previous hostel I'd stayed in, I had to make my own bed with the sheets and blankets provided. Also like the previous hostel, I almost tumbled out my bunk in the process. Let's declare this a developing skill set. Notices in my bunk area and around the hostel were printed over (what looked like) pages pulled out of a book. This did make the wifi password a little hard to read (and bookworms might have to suppress a pang of horror at such desicration) but it was a cool touch!
The toilets were (a) plentiful and (b) resembled UFOs. Opening the door caused the toilet seat to lift and then emit a cold blue glow from deep in its porcelain interior. This left you fumbling for the light switch in the eerie luminescence of the toilet bowel. Effective? Yes. Strange as hell? Indeed.
The following morning I had planned to make an early start. I failed. The copy of 'Mao's last dancer' is to blame. While I liked this place so much I would consider staying random nights for the change of scenery... this was perhaps a heads-up that not staying before a really important appointment would be prudent.