Japanese people used to be mocked overseas as living in rabbit hutches. When the first capsule hotel opened in central Osaka in 1979, it caused similar surprise in other countries.
The hotel was designed by the late Kisho Kurokawa, one of the greatest architects Japan has ever produced. He had previously exhibited capsule houses during the 1970 Japan World Exposition in Osaka Prefecture and designed the famous Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo's Ginza area in 1972.
Fast forward to Dec 15 last year, when a new women-only capsule hotel opened in the Gaienmae district of Tokyo. Albida Hotel Aoyama is in an excellent location, close to the intersection of Aoyamadori and Gaien-Nishidori avenues, and a five-minute walk from Gaienmae Station on the Ginza subway line.
The hotel was opened by Abiste Corp., which imports and sells accessories and trinkets at its about 170 wholly owned outlets in Japan, and about 20 overseas. Most of the Abiste outlets are located inside hotels. This is a quite unusual sales strategy, as department stores are the main marketing channel for other Japanese accessory companies, such as Yondoshi Holdings Inc. and Star Jewelry Boutiques Inc.
Abiste opts for hotels because although department stores have the advantage in sales revenue and drawing a large number of customers, hotel outlets have a much higher profit rate. The company has thus established a one-of-a-kind status in the accessory industry.
The company is naturally familiar with hotels, and had waited a long time for a good opportunity to operate one itself.
Albida Hotel Aoyama is the long-awaited realisation of that dream. With five stories above ground and one story below, the building has a reception desk and a cafe-restaurant on the first floor. Shower rooms, a laundry and a relaxation room are on the basement floor.
The hotel's 102 guest rooms are composed of three types, from capsule-type units to completely private rooms, on the second to fifth floors. The guest rooms are reasonably priced from ¥6,900 (S$83) plus tax to ¥8,900 plus tax. The prices increase by ¥500 when breakfast is included and by ¥1,000 on Fridays, Saturdays and days before national holidays.
Albida Hotel Aoyama also has a meticulously designed interior, and the powder rooms on each floor are equipped with latest beauty devices, massagers and natural, hypoallergenic cosmetics.
"I hope people will stay at our hotel like they would visit an aesthetic salon or the cosmetics section of a department store," an Abiste employee said.
The hotel is close to fashionable areas such as Aoyama and Harajuku, so it's an excellent facility for people in the fashion business who come to Tokyo from other areas.
Ahead of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, new hotels are opening one after another in central Tokyo. Many feature unprecedented concepts or styles. Strictly speaking, Albida Hotel is categorised as an inexpensive lodging house, which means the guest rooms cannot be locked due to the Fire Service Law.
Considering the good location, it might have seemed more natural to open a fashionable boutique hotel. But this means more restrictions and enormous costs. The company appears to have therefore come up with the idea of opening a capsule hotel for women.
Guests seem to like the fact that the rooms cost less than ¥10,000 and they can stay there as casually as they would go to an aesthetic salon. It seems like a success story that only this unique company, with its expert knowledge of hotels and female customers' preferences, could achieve.
The hotel reportedly aims to clear an occupancy rate of 75 per cent by the end of this year, and to shoot for 90 per cent next year, the year of the Tokyo Games. A very ambitious property indeed.
Miura is the editor at large of WWD Japan.