Alamon: My Japanese capsule experience

SO THE truth is I was scrimping. I can always claim that I did it as some sort of ethnographic experiment to understand aspects of Japanese urban culture but the prospect of saving a couple of thousands for lodging in expensive Tokyo ultimately prodded me to try out the capsule hotel experience.

The standard room rate in one of the world’s classiest cities is equivalent to about seven to ten thousand pesos per night. I only paid around three thousand pesos for my two nights of stay in the capsule hotel at the Akihabara district and the savings, convenience, and novelty of experience was definitely worth the price and more.

It actually became an ethnographic experience in itself that is standard, I have come to discover, with every encounter of an outsider, with the Japanese in the context of their everyday life. In fact, the couple nights of stay at the capsule hotel became exactly that - a gateway anthropological immersion into what I am sure are just the surface contours of contemporary Japanese culture.

Perhaps there is no greater indicator of the power and strength of the Japanese collective conscience or that bond of solidarity in how they made themselves into a world superpower before the Second World War and how they rebuilt their society and economy after these were reduced to rubble after. Even though this importance given by the Japanese for the collective good above the self is challenged by the ethos of the millennial generation, indicators of these features were still readily observable everywhere.

Unlike in other cultures including ours where whoever occupies space for a table for four, for instance, even when is just alone, is accepted; the Japanese would opt to sit on a cramped corner table for one, bearing in mind that a bigger party might come in needing that space. To resolve the problem of where to place the bags, the Japanese have placed little baskets underneath stools or tables to avoid the habit of placing them on chairs meant for customers.

This auto regard for the collective good is also apparent in their orderly and quiet subways. Conversations on the phone in the train are highly discouraged and the golden rule is always to keep to the left in stairs and escalators. The exasperation of the Japanese for those who cannot follow these simple rules is displayed in the more touristy areas where they have reversed the rule and allow for the dominant keep right practice to prevail.

My capsule hotel experience I believe follow the same cultural logic that places premium over collective comfort instead of individual capriciousness. The first thing that you are instructed to do upon checking in is to remove your shoes and place these in your assigned locker right at the hotel lobby and change into paper slippers. Then you are given a basket with a set of uniform pajamas, toothbrush, and towels. Then you are guided to your male-only floor where your lockers and toilets are located. The male-only pantry, shower, and bath areas are on a separate floor.

I did ask if all hotel guests are required to change into the provided attire and I was told that it was my choice. But seeing everyone in the hotel don the Japanese style outfits forced me to put them on as well. Then I realized the logic behind it. The reason why shoes are left at the foyer of Japanese homes, just like how we are supposed to wear identical hotel outfits in the capsule hotel, is to prevent the dirt and grime that stick to our shoes and clothes outside from getting inside. The interior of the fully-carpeted and spanking clean hotel shows the advantages.

The sleeping space might be too cramped for the claustrophobic but it is more than enough night-time real estate for one. I believe it is what you call as a double sized cot and it comes with thick and plush comforter, although the lone pillow still reminds you of the spartan Japanese style. There is actually ample headroom to sit up inside the capsule and do little work or watch TV at the 24-inch LCD television. Needless to say, wall and USB sockets, free wifi, and an exhaust fan are all provided. It is also convenient that toilets and the locker where your baggage are kept are just in the same room in a separate section.

All these are fairly easy adjustments for anyone to make. The uniform and the slippers make sense, and the noise of the snoring neighbor in the next capsule can be remedied by the trusty headphones that are also issued. But the challenge of the Japanese collective experience was most apparent in the public bath house concept in the common shower and bath room for males. Here, there are no stalls and the expectation is to shower and then share the small warm pool with others in all of your collective naked glory. If you are modest, according to websites, you can cover your private parts with the small towel provided. The style certainly does away with the problem of soiled clothes and wet towels dirtying the clean shower area.

A theme is repeated here again and again that reveals a preliminary insight into the strange logic of the Japanese way of life. My capsule hotel experience gave me a simulated chance to know how it is to live in a Japanese home and by extension, Japanese society. Collective good and efficiency prevails over individual capriciousness.
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