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Saturday, July 18, 2015

No Sleep Till Death


Japan is famous for its ability to take something large, and make it smaller. It tried to do that with my ego, but I, of course, was able to not only overcome this problem, but defeat it without working up a sweat. This blog is my revenge for trying to shrink my ego.

One of those things that Japan has been good at shrinking, is the hotel via its capsule hotel that is only slightly larger than a coffin... I imagine.

In all honesty, I have never been in a capsule hotel... or laid down in a coffin. Why tempt fate, eh?

I do not suffer from claustrophobia or anything like that, but I do like a bit more of the creature comforts when it came to my sleeping arrangements in Japan, key of which is to try and always have female companionship beside, atop or beneath me at all times. It makes for a lousy sleep - but who cares.

I was just going to write about Capsule Hotels, but figured I better provide a brief primer and hopefully entertaining self-stories on other forms of bedding in Japan (excluding the obvious bed, bed).

I had a pretty nice bed while living in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan on the JET Programme. Though originally 'blessed' with a futon set-up, my wonky back and warm personality convinced my bosses at the Ohtawara Board of Education that I would be a very happy camper if I had something better.
Typical Japanese-style futon.
I never actually asked for anything. I never even complained about the futon... they just thought I should have a queen-sized bed. I, and various women, appreciated their thoughtfulness.

Since I had a great set-up, there was little need for me to spend any time in sub-par hotel arrangements for rendezvous... and I only found alternate bedding when traveling out of town on vacation.

I once made the mistake of staying at a Ryokan (旅館)... an old-school traditional Japanese hotel... how bad was it? Well... the walls were alive... cockroaches everywhere.

A very nice ryokan hotel room... outside the usual tourist trap locales. I would stay here.
I'll put up with a lot... actually, I won't put up with a lot at all. Insects outside. Me. inside. I hate bugs. I hate'em with a passion. It's why I hate camping. Every woman I know seems to love camping. I won't hold that against them, but I don't see the allure. I'm bug bait. I don't see why I should eat crappy food on a crappy bed with rocks under it. Screw the view. If I must, I could drive all night, see the view and leave. I do not see why I should have to rough it. Life is rough enough anyway. Can't I live in the lap of luxury? That's a great vacation in my books. Besides... where would I plug in my C-Pap machine?

Bugs.... Lyme disease... itching... Lupus.... scratching... spider bites with poison swelling through my veins... forget it. Besides, I'd miss my cat.

Anyhow... Japanese hotels... or at least the one I tried to stay at... horrible...

(To be fair, when traveling outside Japan, I have had some decent horror stories to share regarding barely legal 'crash pads'. Needless to say, I would stay at "Western style" hotels whenever possible. I prefer comfort to damn near everything else when vacationing.)

Ashley and I once traveled out to Beppu, to see the eight geysers of hell (geothermal hot springs and/or geysers)... the thing is, we found two more hells.

One was on the boat trip across from the main island of Japan to the large isle of Kyushu, where Beppu is situated... we didn't book a proper sleeping passage on the overnight boat (we figured we could just go and book passage - who knew it would be completely booked up months in advance? Damn Japanese efficiency!

While neither Ashley or I was unaffected by the heavy rolling seas... with all the cabins booked, we were welcome to try and find floor space in the communal sleep area atop the tatami (grass mat) floor.

Of course, the Japanese were aware of the sleeping situation first, and upon setting foot on the ship, immediately staked out their sleeping space. As such, when it came time for Ashley and I to stop looking out at the crashing waves against the boat's hull and to try and get some sleep, we were shocked to see that the experienced Japanese travelers had commandeered virtually every single inch of floorspace.

Ashley and I tried to find room on the floor... and the folks there did their best to do so for us, but it was like sleeping on the floor - because that's what we were doing... and so... she and I left the warm, dry area and took our chances out on the deck of the ship. In the rain.

Back then, I snored like a jet plane with asthma... which years later I developed into sleep apnea (hence the C-Pap machine), so the Japanese got lucky I didn't feel like being a burden to them by keeping them awake with my horrific banshee impression.

So... huddled together on a deck chair (one), Ashley and I waited out the night and the storm, getting to see the sunrise (at 4AM??!!) on a boat. Romantic, right? Then someone got a runny nose cold. Not me.
Image from https://kiwiinjapan.files.wordpress.com - it was like this... only more cramped and without blankies, and because the weather was stormy and no one wanted to be outside... which meant there was plenty of deck chairs available for myself, Ashley and four other dumb people who froze their collective butt off. Mine grew back eventually.
Once there in Beppu, it of course rained  all day and all night, because that's what happens whenever I travel in and around Japan. I am the Ame Otoko (Rain Man)!!! We decided - Ashley did, actually because I was useless at planning anything - to stay at a Youth Hostel to save money - the second OTHER Hell.

Great idea for those on a tight budget and no sense of smell... apparently you are supposed to bring your own bedding... I didn't... so I lay (away from Ashley who was in the women's section) with a bunch of smelly Euro-dudes (sorry, they did stink), and froze my butt off because I was wet from the rain, as were all the clothes I had brought with me. There was a window in the place that could not or was decided not, to close. To top it off, my chattering teeth kept me awake all night. Those lucky Euro beatniks avoided my snoring revenge. 

The hostel I stayed at was like this, only the floors were crappy, the windows were crotch level and could not be closed, there was no fan, table or closets. It was maybe $8, so you get what you pay for.
Two nights of no sleep... and it's still raining... makes Andrew not quite a happy camper.

So... enough of that crap... the next morning, I grabbed Ashley and we went and got a proper American-style hotel... had a hot shower, grabbed some food from a nearby restaurant, used the hotel as a base, went sight-seeing, and spent a warm, evening cuddling because, although her runny nose finally stopped dripping, whenever—and I mean always—when we traveled together, it was always that time of the month. Always... as right as rain. So it was raining and flowing.

Ashley whether she couldn't afford the hotel, or if it was because I was the gentleman and offered to pay for it, who cares—I've always got enough money for a hotel room and a good cause.

More money? Sure... but sleeping on a deck chair or inside a drafty, smelly, cold youth hostel... well... all I know is that I don't ever want to have to live on the streets.Western-style hotels rule the roost when it comes to hotels in Japan.
JETs sometimes open their places up to ALL traveling JETs... not for cash, but just to be JET-like nice. I didn't do that, but Kristine did, god bless her perfect boobs. I think it's a great and affordable way to get around the country. However, when Kristine did travel to my area from far-off Saga-ken, she stayed at my apartment... and rather than sleep together as she told me years later she would have, she looked after me because I was sick with some icky gastrointestinal thing. Having to poop constantly takes the romance or sex out of any visit. No photos were taken at that time. Thank goodness.

Other times of travel... I simply crashed at other people's homes... like the one time I stayed at the apartment of Kristine's ex-boyfriend... while I thought it would be awkward, Kristine thought he and I would hit it off... and we did, because, like some people I know, she has mad skills, and knew he and I could get along with everybody... though apparently he was unable to do so with Kristine. Ha. Guys don't take photos of other guys - at least I didn't back in the early 1990s... mostly because I didn't have a camera with me. So no photo of his Tokyo apartment... just know that it was tiny, expensive, and up high in the building, and it swayed a lot from all of the little earthquakes that hit the Tokyo area. I dislike heights, and I dislike swaying from earthquakes even more.  

Love hotels... I've written about them a few times here... just do a search in the white row under the black and white RIFE image at the top. All I can say is... they look like a lot of fun, but again, Ash and I just used it to crash after a long day of shopping in Tokyo when we missed our train after spending too much time re-creating our first get-together at the Java Jive in Roppongi.

Ashley and I were shopping in Tokyo (we stored our wares in a train locker when we went drinking and dancing) and not sight-seeing, so I did not have a camera with me... But... after we got the room, we discovered that it was again that time of the month. Plus we were tired. I say we, even though I wasn't.

A paranoid me might question the timing of that monthly time, but when we were together and not fighting, we were a great couple. A couple of what - I don't know, but we were a great couple.
Image from http://img.izismile.com/img/img3/20100329/640/love_hotels_640_04.jpg. Ash and I stayed in a Love Hotel suite with a similar sized round bed that I rolled off at least twice during the night when trying to sleep. Really. Round beds may look cool, but they remove extra space that could be useful when engaging at full kanoodle.
That pretty much just leaves the Capsule Hotel (see the topmost image on this blog). The Japanese phrase for it is actually the katakana phonetic spelling and pronunciation of the English term: カプセルホテル - ka-pu-se-ru ho-te-ru.

While I am a proponent of 'any port in a storm', I don't believe Capsule Hotels were around when I was living there, or I might have tried one.


Anyhow... from what I understand, these capsule hotel rooms are about the same size as a coffin, and are stacked atop one another in a wall. There are steps along the lower sides and hand rails to reach the upper berth...

Lying a mere 3'x3'x6' long (91.44 x 91.44 x 182.88 cm), these capsules are actually, from what I hear, quite comfortable. They have a personal light, radio, television, sheets, bedding, and a curtain or a plexiglass door at the base where, generally speaking, you place your head - closer to the open flowing air, right?

The main problem here is that if you have a group of snorers situated in other capsule rooms, chances are you'll be bombarded with their snoring noises. Still... what did you expect from this convenient little place to hang your hat? The Ritz-Carleton it ain't, but any port in a storm, right?

The odds are actually pretty good that you'll be surrounded by snorers as most people who partake of the facilities will be drunken Japanese business men too wasted to have made it back home, or foreigners who want to see what the experience is like.

For your convenience, the main area of the hotel will offer a public bath, TV room, vending machines for snacks and beverages, a small lockable locker for your street clothes, a sleeping yukata/robe, and if you are lucky, even a small restaurant... though I think you can always find enough real food via vending machine.

However, you are not supposed to eat in your sleeping capsule, nor are you supposed to smoke in it... if you need to do one or the other or both, you can do so in the communal TV area.

When you arrive at one of these capsule hotels, you get to deposit your shoes at reception and then are shown a room of lockers where you can change and place any personal belongings you don't want pinched in the night... it happens, even in Japan, though I never encountered anyone trying to steal anything from me except my time.

The lockers also have the cloth yukata, as previously mentioned, plus, wait for it... okay, don't... awesome plastic slippers for your feet, which if you are like me with size 10 flippers aka size 30(cm) in Japanese footwear, you won't find anything remotely comfortable, seeing as how the largest shoes in Japan are generally size 26(cm). That's okay... you'll get used to the small sized slippers and even figure out how to walk in them by scrunching your toes up to lock them in place while the heel of your hoof treads high enough to never actually touch the ground.


Aside from listening to Mike Rogers on the radio with his What The Funday programming in both Japanese and English featuring rock, punk and modern pap, you'll soon realize that if you keep shoveling coins into the bolted in TV on a stretch arm, you can watch all the porn you need - generally about three minutes before you are done for the night.

Oh - and some places offer free Wi-Fi... so you can finish that business report due in the AM... or surf porn to your heart's content - so I'm guessing you shouldn't be shoving coins into the TV for paid-for porn, unless that computer of hand-held device belongs to your workplace.

As a plus, the capsule is air-conditioned, so aside from a few lucky JETs (like myself) who had it in their homebase, this may be your first comfortable, non-sticky sleep (except for the porn) that you get in Japan.

Now, if you are a woman, and worried about being around all these drunken horny men... just not that it should be akin to a Japanese office party, which isn't a joke I am making, unfortunately... but note that SOME capsule hotel establishments do have separate areas for male and female clientele... but definitely not co-ed.

Capsule hotels can be rented on a nightly basis from between ¥2,000-4,000 (US$16.20 to $32.40) a night.

If you can afford it, I'd still recommend getting a regular hotel or a love hotel—just to see what all the hubbub is about—over any other type of hotel or rest area in Japan, but obviously, if it's that time of the month, you can beat the price of a capsule hotel.

Regardless, for me, it's all about the creature comforts of home, without the creatures.

Camping! I mean, Kanpai!
Andrew Joseph

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