We've looked at some radical ideas for hotels in the past, including Russia's Ark Hotel, Mexico's Tubohotel and Sweden's Treehotel. Perhaps it is the Japanese "capsule hotels," however, that most stretch the imagination. A capsule hotel is Japan's solution for cheap accommodation for guests primarily wanting to sleep and nothing else. Though the idea sounds similar to a hostel, the sleeping quarters consists of "capsules" measuring approximately 2m x 1m x 1.25m/6.5ft x 3.3ft x 4ft (that's not much bigger than a coffin) and stacked next to and on top of one another. A separate section of the hotel houses the public bathing facilities, lockers for personal belongings and if you are lucky a restaurant or vending machine. It is also common to find men- or women-only capsule hotels, however they are predominantly used by men.

The very first capsule hotel was opened in 1979 in Osaka and was designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa. Kurokawa created the world's first example of capsule architecture when he built the Nakagin Capsule Tower in 1972, which housed micro apartments and offices targeted towards bachelor "salarymen." Today the capsule hotel concept continues to prove popular throughout Japan. If you are up for the challenge of sleeping in an enclosed environment and aren't turned away by the coin laundry similarity, we recommend the following destinations:

9h (nine hours) is one of Japan's newest Capsule Hotels and offers a "luxury" capsule experience. Located in Shimogyo-Ku, Kyoto, 9h features 125 modern capsules spread over 9 storeys, separate male and female quarters, designer locker rooms, showers and a lounge. The hotel also offers guests a sleek 9h amenity kit, including: bottled water, toothbrush, shampoo, conditioner, body soap, slippers and optional lounge wear. The capsules feature a Panasonic alarm clock system with controlled lighting, and curved mattresses and pillows made of four different materials to ensure a natural posture while you are sleeping in the capsule. Prices start at approximately US$65 per night.

Capsule Inn Sapporo is located in Sapporo and is a male-only capsule facility. The hotel offers a classic style of capsule accommodation, with sleeping pods featuring a curtain, TV, radio, self-control air conditioning and a small table. Guests are provided with a cotton robe and have access to lockers and shared bathroom facilities. Capsule Inn can also be used for short periods of time (minimum three hours) and prices start from US$26 per night or US$15 every three hours after 6pm.

Like the accommodation itself, the process for using capsule hotels is very streamlined ... here's nine hours "how to use your capsule" rules:

  • Check-in:
  • Leave your shoes in the shoebox. Fill out the Check-in Card. Get your Locker key and sleeping pod number.
  • Shower
  • Store your belongings in the locker. Take a shower & slip into some comfortable lounge clothes.
  • Sleep
  • Climb in, snuggle up and sleep in your private capsule.
  • Shower
  • Shower and prepare for a new day. Collect your belongings from your locker.
  • Check out
  • Return your Locker key at the Front Desk and check out.

NB: This type of hotel accommodation is not recommended for sufferers of claustrophobia!