Friday, October 3, 2014

Architectural history in tiny Tokyo capsules

Architectural history in tiny Tokyo capsules

I don't think I'd enjoy living in a place with a large round window with no shade right next to my bed.  Just the light from our parking lot security lights is too much for me to sleep at night.  In the heart of Tokyo you'd have all kinds of flashers and blinkers and an overflow of ambient light from the street all night long bathing your sleeping area.  Other than that, the size wouldn't bother me, at least for a short stay.  It would be like spending time on a space station with artificial gravity, or in a submarine.  A sort of futuristic, Kubrick-ian existence, at least for a while.

Then it would probably feel more like a prison.

What am I babbling about?  Nakagin Capsule Tower, one of those architectural/philosophical concepts brought to life many years ago and now in danger because it never really caught on or revolutionized urban living the way its designer intended.  Still, it was an ingenious idea.  And the few tenants remaining have put their capsules to some inventive use.  I guess its appeal is to the kind of creative, odd-thinking mind that would find a smallish, room-sized pinhole camera something worthwhile.  I find it worthwhile.  So I'd love if someone could find a way to preserve this building.  It probably won't happen.

Do you associate capsule hotels with Japan?  I always have, at least in the back of my mind.  Capsule hotels aren't up there with Mt. Fuji or even noise rock as far as characteristically Japanese phenomena go, but I vaguely remember news stories or segments on shows like Real People and That's Incredible! detailing capsule hotels as the kind of weird inventiveness common in booming, economic-powerhouse-yet-land-starved Japan of the 1970s and 80s.  Eventually the bubble popped, but we were left with some kind of skewed views about Japan, many of which persist today. 

Are there still capsule hotels?  Heck, yeah. 

I've never stayed in one myself, but a friend of mine spent a night in a place in Shinjuku and took me on a tour.  It looked like a set from Star Wars.  His sleep chamber was up a stainless steel ladder, set in a plastic or fiberglass wall.  I was disappointed in the bamboo screen that passed for a door.  I was hoping for some kind of vacuum-sealed hatch.  The common bath was a steamy pit with ankle-deep water and a lot of guys in white towels trying to dry off in the damp atmosphere.  I really needed to pee out some beer but decided I could hold it until I got back to my own, more comfortable business hotel room rather than wade in my sock feet to the toilets somewhere across the room.

Capsule hotels are probably suitable places for sleeping off a drunk or getting a few hours of sleep after missing the last train.  I'd rather pay a little more and stay at a business hotel where the rooms are still small but seem palatial compared to what you get at a capsule hotel.  You can stand up and the fiberglass is usually confined to the bathroom unit.  Bathroom units in every business hotel I've stayed in have seemed modular, probably built elsewhere and then have their fixtures installed when they're plugged into the hotel construction.  Maybe they're made by the same companies that produce the sleeping chambers for capsule hotels.

No comments: