Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Erotic Sounds of a Capsule Hotel

As previously mentioned, traveling in Japan is an expensive affair.  This is true not only for casual foreign passers-by but also for tens of thousands of Japanese business travelers who need to keep their company’s budgets in line but get to places promptly and rapidly.  For them, staying far away from train stations and other nodes of public transportation simply is not a viable option.  To be on-time to visit their clients and return to headquarters, they need to keep to downtown areas where they can come and go quickly.

However, downtown areas, being, well, downtown, tend to be especially expensive in an already high Japanese level of lodging expenses.  JR Hakata Station, being the busiest train station in both the city of Fukuoka and the entire island of Kyushu, is at the pinnacle of expensiveness for the region.  The author’s brief survey showed the cheapest single room in the oldest business hotels running at more than 70 USD at night.  Slightly more comfortable can easily go up to 150 USD, even without any of the usual star rating.

The Japanese hospitality industry’s solution is the capsule hotel.  Instead of putting rooms into a regular building, they put what is akin to bunk beds, put side by side with plastic walls in between each, across entire floors.  The same building that can handle a few dozen rooms can now easily pack in hundreds.  To further save space, baths, restaurants, and toilets are all communal.  The only personal space of each customer is the locker to put his personal things, and the capsule, with a bed, TV, and a bamboo separation screen.

Imaginable even to people who have never seen a capsule hotel, a separation screen, with can be hoisted and lowered as the customer enters the capsule, is not exactly the most sound-proof thing in the world.  Lying in bed, the customer can easily hear footsteps of others walking through the corridors between capsules, eating in bed, talking with others, and snoring away while deeply asleep.  The sounds are often so obvious that one can judge by the loudness and direction to figure out which capsule it may come from.

But probably the worst part of capsule’s lack of sound insulation is the TV.  While many capsule hotels have earphone plugs for TV, many, including the one the author is staying tonight, do not.  This means that in the quiet part of the night, customers can overhear what others are watching on TV, no matter how much the TV watchers attempt to turn the volume down.  The bulk of Japanese entertainment shows, consistent of comedic banters, tend to be inherently loud.  This adds to the volume projection across the floor.

While the regular comedy shows can be understandable, some customers take a step deeper.  As part of the service, TVs in capsule hotels (which, by the way, are exclusively male-clients-only establishments) offer adult entertainment channels, featuring 24 hours of Japanese porn…which also tend to be loud.  It can be annoyingly amusing to be woken up by sounds of female moaning coming from down the corridor at 2am, sometimes from different directions at the same time. 

It is only more amusing when ones see the hustle and bustle of people checking out of the hotel the morning after.  Over 90% of the customers getting out are in full-on suits, ready for a day’s hard professional work after what probably was a relaxing night of soaking in the baths, having some post-bath beers, and letting it loose with some TV programs.  Many of the businessmen checking out are also in pairs of twos and threes, possibly on the same business trip.  Hopefully there is no awkwardness at night…

At the end of the day, though, the behavior is understandable.  Middle-aged businessmen in Japan do work hard, and those often sent away for business trips tend to spent long duration away from wives and lovers.  The loneliness can be overbearing that they would risk judgments by colleagues and hundreds of strangers just so that they feel a bit more human (?).  Perhaps this is the same reason why all the red light districts in Japan are doing so well despite economic difficulties.  

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