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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 52: 15 November

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysI go to check out what is still a Japanese phenomenon, but which is rumoured to be spreading west - the capsule hotel. These establishments offer a city centre bed for the night for 3600 yen, about £17 or the price of a round of coffees in a downtown café. For this extraordinary value you have to put up with a certain degree of regimentation. The hotel I try is a cross between a high-tech school dorm and an executive morgue. Shoes must be removed before you even reach the front desk (this in itself must be quite a test for the late-night inebriates). Whereas in central London cheap hotels generally mean seedy hotels, the capsule hotel is kept, like everywhere else in Tokyo, pathologically clean. Interior surveillance pictures on a bank of video screens at reception roll over like ever-changing symbols on a fruit machine. You pay as you enter, and are given a locker key, a note on how to behave ('Persons whose bodies are tattoed are requested to keep out') and a towel. In the locker on the floor on which you are to be stored you exchange your clothes for a pair of pale blue shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Businessmen are turned momentarily into butterflies. Finally you're issued with a razor and toothbrush. You are then shown to the allotted capsule. These are nothing more than plastic boxes, 6 feet long by about 3 feet wide, stacked one above the other in long rows. A thin but comfortable mattress is provided, the temperature is controlled from a panel by the right shoulder, as is light and a tiny colour TV. The less you value individuality the easier you will overcome the feelings of claustrophobia and loss of identity. For me, waking in the middle of the night in such a place would be profoundly depressing, if not terrifying.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 52
  • Date: 15 November
  • Country/sea: Japan
  • Place: Tokyo
  • Book page no: 177

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