By Jinman Li
Tokyo–Capsule hotels, a simple form of lodging that originated in Japan in the 1970s, finds itself in a wave of increasing female focus.
A capsule hotel reduces lodgers’ needs to the bare necessities of a tiny individual pod with a bed, lights, Wi-Fi coverage, and sometimes a TV. A typical sleeping space costs half as much as a conventional hotel room.
Japanese salarymen used to be the major target audience of capsule hotels. Now business travelers and vacationers also take up a significant proportion of the expanding available space.
According to research conducted by WiseGuy Research Consultants Pvt. Ltd. in August 2017, the global capsule hotels market was valued at $159 million in 2016 and was expected to reach $226 million by the end of 2022, growing at a compound annual rate of 6.03 percent between 2016 and 2022. Although the global market is expanding fast, Japan still plays a significant role in the capsule hotel market.
In recent years, the trend of women-only capsule hotels is spreading beyond the big cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.
“Women have long been considered the most ‘under-utilized’ resource of the Japanese economy,” Noelle Takahashi, Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) candidate in Kanagawa 2nd District and a Womenomics researcher, wrote in a research paper. Japan ranks 114 out of 144 in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report.
Empowering women economically, widely known as “Womenomics,” is one of Shinzo Abe’s key initiatives to make institutional changes during his second term as the prime minister of Japan. It is contained in Abe’s “three arrows:” fiscal stimulus, monetary easing, and structural and economic reforms.
Womenomics shows progress, as the rate of Japanese working women, ages 25 to 44, rose to a record high of 62.5 percent in 2013, one year after Abe was reelected in December 2012, compared with 60 percent in 2010, according to a 2014 Goldman Sachs research. The female labor participation rate is planned to reach 77 percent in 2020 by the Abe administration.
“Women have higher occupancy rates in many facilities we already operate,” said Keisuke Yui, founder of Nine Hours, a chain capsule hotel corporation that owns 55 facilities across Japan. The company opened its first women-only branch in Kanda, Tokyo, in July 2017. As Kanda is one of the foremost traffic hubs of in Tokyo, the location is viewed by Yui as convenient “for many active women.”
Foreign tourists are another main target of capsule hotel operators. The number of foreign tourists entering Japan more than doubled after the country was selected to host the 2020 Olympics, to 28.7 million in 2017 from 10.4 million in 2013, according to data compiled by Japan Real Estate Institute.
“Fifty to 60 percent of our customers are foreigners that come from over 60 countries,” said Yui.
Diane Bailey and her teenage daughter Alex Bailey came to Japan from Switzerland to visit Alex’s cousin, who is an exchange student at the University of Tokyo. They learned about the concept of capsule hotels in Japan and decided to give it a try.
“We never heard of such hotels in Switzerland,” said Diane. “It is a good alternative to ordinary hotels, and they are of good quality.” However, they also said it is a bit noisy in the living space.
The hotel that Diane and Alex stayed in is Akihabara Bay Hotel, a women-only capsule hotel located close to the Akihabara Station. It contains 130 capsule beds, and the size of each bed measures 206 cm by 100 cm by 100 cm, almost as wide and long as a single bed.
Price is one of capsule hotels’ biggest advantages, as hotels in major cities in Japan are expensive, said Takahashi, the Womenomics researcher. About 50 percent of existing hotel rooms charge between 5,000 yen ($46.55) and 12,500 yen ($116.25) per night, with a long tail extending to the high end of the rate spectrum, according to a report published by Savills Research & Consultancy in June 2017.
In comparison, average capsule hotels cost 2,000 yen ($18.62) to 5,000 yen ($46.55), said Matsui Natsumi, a 21-year-old receptionist at Nadeshiko Hotel, a women-only capsule hotel located in Shibuya, a major commercial center in Tokyo. This figure is generally in line with the price listed in booking websites as well as in media coverage.
Flexibility is another appeal. According to a 2015 McKinsey report, travelers usually prioritize convenience in their lodging selection. As capsule hotels are usually located in city centers and built within walking distance of public transportation, they become a popular choice for short stays.
Compared with the all-gender capsule hotels, women-only capsule hotels offer an extra feeling of safety to customers, especially to solo female travelers. These hotels usually have security locks on each capsule floor and amenities designed for women.
Kyoto Nakai, a Japanese tourist who travels alone in Tokyo, said that she chose Nadeshiko Hotel out of safety concerns as well as its convenient location in Shibuya.
Even for millennials seeking a “unique experience” capsule hotels are a draw.
Nadeshiko Hotel, launched in spring 2016, charges higher than the average capsule hotels, at rates of 5,000 yen ($46.60) to 9,000 yen ($83.88). It is popular among customers ranging from 20 to 40 years old and usually has 18 out of 24 rooms taken on weekdays and is full on weekends.
The hotel’s special offerings include free Japanese yukata wearing, large public baths and an exquisite gift bag with amenities including skin care products, a Japanese cloth purse and a pair of earplugs.