Japan capsule hotels adapt to accommodate women

More and more capsule hotels (see below) are providing areas specially designed for female guests and a comprehensive range of amenities for them, breaking away from their traditional focus on men.

The low-cost option of capsule hotels is growing in appeal due to the rising hotel prices caused by such factors such as the increasing number of foreign visitors to Japan. However, an industry expert recommends checking out such hotels' facilities and surrounding areas before deciding to stay there.

There were many female customers one afternoon in late May at First Cabin Inc.'s Akihabara branch in Tokyo.

"I found it on the Internet," said a 23-year-old university student who came from Osaka Prefecture to look for employment in Tokyo. "The prices were low, but the hotel looked comfortable."

The hotel opened in 2013 and offers 149 capsules. Fifty are reserved for women, 2.5-square-meter capsules that form the core of its business. There are separate entrances for the men and women's accommodation areas, and card keys are required to gain access.

Female guests have access to a bath and powder room with supplies of shampoo, conditioner and face lotion. Capsules are available for ¥5,000 (S$54) to ¥6,000 per night - a low price for Tokyo.

"We have a high rate of female visitors traveling for business or leisure, with many repeat clients as well," the hotel manager said.

First Cabin started operating in the central area of Osaka in 2009, and it currently has six branches in Tokyo, Fukuoka and other large cities. About one-third of its capsules are reserved for women. Some days it even increases the number of capsules allocated for women to meet customer demand.

Prices draw customers

The Nine Hours hotel, which has a branch in Kyoto and at Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture, also has separate areas for men and women. They provide bedding and lighting especially designed for sleeping comfort and to help you wake up feeling rested.

Nine Hours at Narita Airport opened in 2014 and has increased its proportion of capsules for women compared to the Kyoto branch, which opened in 2009. According to the management company, the hotels operate almost at 100-per cent occupancy. Capsules in Kyoto are available from ¥2,900 per night, and at Narita Airport from ¥4,900 per night.

The main feature of Spa Safro in Sapporo is its bathing facilities: a natural hot spring bath, plus a salon designed for relaxation. Men and women are separated from the building entrance, so they do not encounter each other once they are inside. The majority of Spa Safro's customers are in their 30s to 40s, and capsules are available from ¥4,450 per night.

"Given the higher prices at business hotels, caused by things like the increasing number of foreign visitors to Japan, affordable prices are a great draw," said travel expert Kazuko Murata. "Capsule hotels offer a comprehensive range of facilities, so they are definitely getting a great deal of attention."

However, many capsule hotel customers are still male, so some women feel embarrassed when they use them.

"The communal lounge is full of men at hotels in business and entertainment districts, making it slightly uncomfortable for me to be there," said a 41-year-old female company employee in Tokyo.

It is also important to check the emergency evacuation routes and fire prevention equipment at capsule hotels. All the capsules at First Cabin and Nine Hours are fitted with sprinklers, while Spa Safro has set up such features as smoke detectors on each floor and emergency buttons inside each capsule.

"Customers are responsible for managing their own valuables," Murata said. "Some of the hotels can also be old or located within a busy business district, so it's a good idea to check out their facilities and surrounding area beforehand."

Capsule hotel

An establishment providing accommodations in small rooms about the size of a single bed. Many feature two-tier bunk beds. Capsule hotels are categorized under the Hotel Business Law as simple accommodations where many people share one large room. Bathrooms and toilets are communal. The facilities are extremely simple. Capsule entrances are covered by curtains or other dividers and cannot be locked.