Now departing: Your dreams. A review of Nine Hours, a Tokyo airport capsule hotel
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Have you ever had a layover in an airport where you'd love to have a bed for just a few hours? Or perhaps you're on an overnight layover and don't want to pay astronomical prices for an airport hotel? Well, there's a practical solution for that situation, and it's at Tokyo's Narita Airport: a capsule hotel called Nine Hours.
Japan's capsule hotels grew in popularity decades ago as a place so that businessmen working -- or partying -- late into the night could crash before heading back to work the next day. They're now an iconic part of the Japanese culture, and different types of capsule hotels have popped up, from traditional-style ones to aviation-themed capsule hotels.
As a fan of the genre, I was happy to discover that Tokyo's Narita Airport (NRT) had a capsule hotel. It seemed like the perfect solution for an overnight layover I had at the airport before a morning Japan Airlines flight back to the U.S.
Here's what my stay was like.
A price for a night in the capsule started at 5,500 yen ($50), but the rate increases as the hotel fills up. One walk-in guest was quoted 7,500 yen ($70) while I was checking in. He pointed out the 5,500-yen price listed in the brochure, and the front desk agent responded that this was the starting price.
If you need to just crash for a few hours, you can rent a capsule by the hour between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. The stated price is 1,500 yen ($15) for the first hour and then 500 yen ($5) per hour after that. That means a five-hour stay costs a total of 3,500 yen ($30).
For my overnight layover in Narita, I booked through Hotels.com and paid $53 for the night. The slight price difference was more than made up by the earnings I got by going through Hotels.com. That included a credit toward a free night through the Hotels.com loyalty program and 10x Capital One miles (each worth 1.4 cents, netting a 14% return) by putting the purchase on the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card. (Offer ends Jan. 31, 2020.)
Don't let the name throw you off like it did to me: You aren't restricted to nine hours at the hotel. Check-in opened at 1 p.m. and checkout was 10 a.m., and you could stay the entire time between these hours, if you wanted.
However, no late checkout is available, and everyone has to check out daily at 10 a.m., even if you're staying for more than one night.
Just note that you need to contact the hotel in advance if you're arriving after midnight. If you don't contact them ahead of time, your reservation will be canceled at midnight. This isn't a great policy for guests on a late inbound flight.
The capsule hotel was in a central area of the airport between all three terminals, but closest to Terminal 2. It was hard to find at first. From Terminal 2, I took the elevator down to the underground Floor B1F and passed through the train station. Then I started seeing signs to the hotel.
At the end of this hall, I passed through a door, headed up an escalator and U-turned to get to the entrance.
At the front desk, I gave my passport to check in. The receptionist asked what time I was planning to leave in the morning, but she didn't note this in the system. Instead, she seemingly used this information to choose which capsule to assign me. Perhaps this was to group those getting up around the same time in nearby pods.
After being checked in, I was handed a bag with a couple of towels, pajamas for the stay, slippers, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
From the front desk, I would have had to bid adieu to any travel companions of the opposite gender. Men entered the door to the left, and women entered the door to the right.
And, in case I was too jet-lagged to know what to do next, Nine Hours helpfully posted its five-step process in each room to guide me through my stay.
From reception, I passed through a set of double doors into a locker room. Each guest had a locker that shared the same number as his or her capsule.
These lockers were about 6 feet tall but only 14 inches wide. If that was too small for your bag, you were directed to check the bag at reception. In this locker room, guests were encouraged to change into the provided pajamas and slippers. No shoes were allowed beyond the locker room.
Further down the hall from the locker room was a series of bathroom stalls and sinks.
The only amenities provided in the bathrooms were hand soap at the sinks and hair dryers.
In the next room down were six first come, first served showers.
Showers were stocked with three bulk Tamanohada-branded bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash.
In the male section, there were 71 capsules, numbered 101 to 171, stretched along one long corridor.
Generally, it seemed odd numbers were on the top and the even numbers on the bottom. The lower capsules were just a couple of inches off of the ground, while the upper beds had four steps to climb up into them.
The capsules were stocked with a pillow, a heavy blanket and a fitted sheet. Under the fitted sheet, there was a foam mattress that made the capsule decently comfortable.
Each capsule had a roll-down shutter that you could lower once you were inside the bunk. From the outside, it looked like a hard barrier.
However, inside, I saw that it was just a simple -- and not at all soundproof -- vinyl shade.
When you lower the shade, make sure the knobs are properly in the notches. I didn't do this properly when heading to bed and woke up in the middle of the night to an open capsule.
From photos, it's hard to tell how large the capsules are. Looking at photos before arrival, I felt a pang of claustrophobia. But the good news is the capsules were surprisingly spacious. I could comfortably sit up straight with room to spare above me.
Nine Hours lists the following dimensions for the capsule: 43 inches wide by 87 inches deep by 43 inches tall). I didn't bring my measuring tape into the capsule to confirm.
There were two shelves carved into the capsule on either side of the head of the bed to store electronics and locker key.
In the middle, there was a control panel with a single U.S.-style power outlet, dimming control for the light, a speaker, a knob control for "Bgm" -- which I assume stood for background music -- and an outlet labeled "Caution."
When it was time to head back to the terminal, you just left your bedding in your capsule.
Then you cleared out your locker, putting the pajamas and unused towels in the bag you got at check-in. All I needed to do was hand over this bag and my locker key to the front desk to check out.
I've had mixed experiences at capsule hotels in Japan. Some nights have been frustratingly loud due to snoring from nearby capsules. Other stays have been truly first-class thanks to a full-height room and even floor space. I wasn't sure what to expect from this airport capsule hotel and was worried that it'd be too busy and loud to get rest and too small to be comfortable. Thankfully, neither of these fears were realized.
Other than being a bit warm when I first closed the capsule, I slept well during my overnight layover, and the facilities provided all that I needed. If I have another overnight layover at Narita, I'd definitely stay at this Nine Hours capsule hotel again. And as long as you're comfortable with the semipublic sleeping and locker room situation, I'd recommend it to you as well.
All photos by the author.