Business

Once aimed at salarymen, Japan's new capsule hotels reach out to tourists and women

by Anna Masui

Kyodo

Capsule hotels have long offered tiny spaces to sleep at rock-bottom prices, but they are now looking to attract a wider range of customer than the typical male office worker who has missed his train after a night’s drinking.

A new breed of lodging featuring the signature stack of sleeping capsules is focusing on women, younger travelers and foreign tourists as well as men seeking more than the bare minimum.

New Japan Kanko Co., which claims to have inaugurated the first capsule hotel in Japan, in the Umeda district in the city of Osaka, in 1979, opened the Cabana exclusively for male guests two years ago.

The capsule hotel in Dotonbori, one of Osaka’s prime tourist spots, provides compartments roomier than the company’s other capsule units — roughly 2 meters long and 1 meter wide and high, which the company says is big enough for a person 180 cm tall to sleep or sit upright.

Amenities have also been readied to accommodate foreign tourists. Multilingual staff speak English, Thai or Korean, while the restaurant on the first floor provides a menu in English and serves sushi handmade by chefs.

Equipped also with a sauna and gym, Cabana rooms range in price from ¥4,100 to ¥4,600 per night.

The company says Cabana has proven to be popular among foreign and repeat guests.

“In order to secure rooms for repeat Japanese customers, we are restricting availability for visiting foreign clients to around 70 percent (of capacity),” an official said.

In Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku entertainment district, the Capsule Hotel Shinjuku 510 offers 22 rooms for female guests in the basement and the first floor, while upper floors are for men, with separate check-in areas and facilities.

Since opening in 2008, the women’s section, called Ladies 510, at Sanno Kanko K.K.’s property has been running at more than 80 percent occupancy, and nearly all rooms are normally booked on weekends, the company says.

Conveniently located within a 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station, the hotel draws many guests visiting the area from other cities and towns for sightseeing, concerts and other events.

The hotel, which charges ¥3,600 to ¥4,800 per night, is also a choice for many students who visit Tokyo for job hunting.

“Our principal guests used to be company employees who missed the last train after drinking in entertainment districts,” said Tetsuya Akasako, president of Sanno Kanko. “But we need to attract younger people as new guests to continue our business.”

First Cabin Inc. has designed its rooms along the lines of a first class cabin in a passenger plane, aiming at a slightly more upscale feel than its competitors.

The company runs five cabin hotels in Tokyo and one each in Kyoto, Osaka and Fukuoka.

Rooms are 2.1 meters high and occupy 2.5 or 4.4 sq. meters. They cost ¥4,600 to ¥6,800 per night.

“We eliminate wedding, banquet and other fringe facilities (common at other hotels in Japan) to cut costs and raise the quality of services,” Tadao Kimachi, president of the company, said.

Some 60 percent of guests are frequent visitors who the company says like the comfort and sleek design of the rooms.

First Cabin plans to establish a chain of 50 hotels at home and abroad, including those under franchise, by 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games. The company says its cabin hotels require less cost and time to build than regular hotels.

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