Japanese Diary

Shichi – Sleeping in a Capsule

first cabin

When I initially checked-in to First Cabin, I was asked to confirm that I wouldn’t be playing loud music, or producing inharmonious sounds, or using a noisy alarm clock, all in the interests of my fellow guests. The counter displayed a box of earplugs, ‘free of charge’, and I was soon to discover why. The ‘capsules’ are never entirely closed off from everyone else. Basically, they’re little cubicles open at one end, across which runs a stiff vinyl curtain.

Despite my tiredness, I could tell straight away that it was going to be a difficult night, sleep-wise. The bed was very hard and flat. It reminded me of a well-stuffed vinyl bench, except wider, and of course, it wasn’t vinyl, or if it was, it was well disguised under the bedding. There was a light duvet, a pillow, and a large flattish bolster affair that served as a head-board. The opaque vinyl curtain had a gap of about 10 cm at top and bottom, and let through light from the hallway. And even with everyone trying to be quiet you could still hear people walking back and forth, curtains scraping on their tracks, the rustle of papers, the sound of coughing, or of people going through their bags and getting ready for bed, or getting out of bed, and this went on for the whole night, as people checked in or departed at all hours.

I decided to take a shower before bed, so donned the rather uncomfortable tunic and pants and made my way to the shared bathroom. The series of rooms were dazzlingly bright after the subdued lighting of the hallways and were well-stocked with mirrors, hair-dryers, low stools and toiletries. Removing my slippers, I followed the signs to the shower section where it was clear that I was expected to remove my clothing and place the items into a basket, then cross the Tatami matting to the shower on the opposite side of the room. I was hesitating – weighing up the possibility of taking my towel in with me, when a naked woman appeared from the shower opposite and walked past me to her basket of clothes. At this point I realised I’d just have to go with the flow. And I also felt annoyed that I come from a culture where I still feel self-conscious in my own skin. The shower was great! Hot, clean, and with good water pressure. A nice touch was the Shiseido shampoo and conditioner. I felt much better afterwards.

I settled down for the night at around 10 pm and eventually fell into a restless sleep.  At around 3.30 am I was startled awake by the sound of music, a woman singing… in my half-asleep state I couldn’t tell if it was in Japanese or English or some other language, and for a moment I thought I’d somehow left a radio on. The music played on for a few minutes before it stopped and the relative silence resumed. At 4.30 am I got up to go to the bathroom and was surprised to see that there were many more capsules with closed curtains than there had been earlier. And in the bathroom itself, there was an astonishing number of women sitting at the counters, applying make-up, drying their hair, etc. I guess some people start their days early, and it seemed to me that they were dressed for work, rather than travel.

I’d asked for a wake-up call, just in case the vibrations of my watch alarm didn’t wake me, and right on 6.00 am, I heard a gentle tap on my curtain, which was then drawn aside, and a cheery face peeped in. “Arigato!” I called out softly and the figure retreated. Despite having spent a week or two studying Hiragana, and learning a few Japanese words prior to my trip, ‘Thank you’ was the only word I felt confident of testing on anyone.


Next stage of the trip: Haneda to Asahikawa

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