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  • Shona McCarthy

Full Cabin Hostel, Tokyo


(A screen capture from my booking through Airbnb. 2019.)

When I booked this accommodation in Tokyo via Airbnb, I did not know you would only get a capsule to stay in if you were a man. I probably should have read the description more closely. But what really happened was different. Really different. So, very very different that I really want to emphasise that this is a great place to stay, especially on a budget. The building itself was a little tricky to find because from the street it doesn't really look like a hotel. It's located in Chuo ward, not far from Akihabara, which I mention in another post. It looks like an old apartment building. A sandwich board sign on the road tells you that there is a vegetarian restaurant inside, and a place to get a massage. What I didn't know till I got inside was that all of these businesses were being run by the hotel staff, which turned out to be the most entrepreneurial and enterprising group of people I have probably ever met.

(How the entrance looked from the street. Taken by me. 2019.)

The office was on one floor, the rooms on others. Men and women stayed on separate floors for the most part. I guess this assures security. But it isn't quite so simple. I'll explain more later. The room I was shown to was a massage cubical complete with a table, a light, and what seemed to be disposable sheets. I was kind of relieved they didn't put me in one of their futuristic pods. I had been so nervous about how I'd feel in such an enclosed space that I had brought a soft blanket from home for comfort. Now, most people would have disliked the smell of the sheets. It was like a mixture of clay and rubber. But the smell was so deep and profound that even when I got home back to Australia, the smell took months to fully wash out of my clothing, with some dresses still retaining it eight months later if I smelt them deeply. I don't know what it came from. But somehow I liked having a smell that would remind me of my journey long after it was over.

(A photo of the room I stayed in, plus the clothing I wore to Disneyland. One advantage of this place is that it isn't too far from Disneyland in Urayasu. And notice the rack on the wall! It made the perfect place to dry my towel every night! 2019.) The first night when I arrived, I wanted to go to bed early since I wanted to go see Tokyo Disneyland the next day. I had been worried that I would feel lonely since I was travelling alone, and Tokyo is such a big city. But my neighbors in the next cubicle kept speaking to each other in loud Mandarin for about half and hour after I lay down. Other nights, my neighbor seemed to be a Vietnamese man who's sleep would be periodically broken by phone calls. It turns out that all these people were staff in the hotel. Hearing that I had company made me feel less alone. The floor had a glamorous dressing table against one wall. But overall, the space was dominated by lockers. It was mostly quiet but just a little messy, creating the odd sensation that I was backstage at a school production mid-act but also in someone's home. I liked that it wasn't too sterile.

(Another screen capture from my booking. Those tables really are there, and the one I saw had a sink in it. There was another mirror in the bathroom I was more inclined to use. 2019.)

My body was sore from all that I had done throughout the trip I was on, since I had spent most of it dragging a big suitcase around, and I quite enjoy getting the odd massage. So, eventually, I went and asked the staff for one. I had expected they would have a separate studio for doing this. They did not. Instead they told me to return to my room. So I did, and I took off most of the clothes I knew would get in the way of my massage. Then they told me to go into the next room and change into a set of thin clothing they had left there; a polyester shirt and shorts. I found I was much too large for the shorts, so I asked to be allowed to keep my own leggins on. They acquiesced.

(See? The tables were really there! Selfie, 2019.)

The massage itself was cheap and thorough. Somehow, knowing that I was only next door to a room where I had slept made the massage all the more relaxing for me. The man who massaged me was small but strong. So I feel like it might have been the best massage I had on the trip. Being able to simply walk right back into my room and fall asleep made it even better. Though it did feel a little funny to know that I got massaged on the same table where some of the staff had been sleeping. It actually filled me with a strong admiration for these people. They wanted to make the most of every single room and space in the building. They didn't want to waste a single thing. It was oddly inspiring. I would have liked to have eaten at their restaurant. The staff assured me that the vegetarian restaurant had cheap, delicious food. But somehow I always got back to the hotel too late to have anything there. One night, I got very hungry. But since the hotel was close to many convenience stores, I was able to go and pick up some food very late at night. Since it was around midnight I was able to get foods for very cheap. I didn't want to disturb the other guests by eating hot food in my room. So I stood out the space in front of the elevator and ate my konbini Spaghetti and stale donuts there. While I was eating, a man who worked in the hotel popped out of the elevator, greeted me, and then continued on his way. The bag of donuts was so large it lasted me for days.

(A closer image I took of the disposable bedding. I don't know what it was made of. But I was dirty enough in that bed sometimes that I'm glad it got thrown away. I might have clipped my finger and toe nails in there at one point. 2019.) There was an old man who kept showing up in my floor and chatting happily with the staff. It was revealed to me that he was a long term resident. I don't know why this was the case, but one day I opened the door of my room, wanting to go to the bathroom. The old man was there, walking around with no pants on. He seemed a little offended by me. I didn't know what to say, so I ignored him. I should have guessed that there would be men there some of the time, since the floor had two toilet cubicles, and I was explicitly told not to go into one, since it was for men.

(A screen capture from Airbnb showing some of the lockers. I found no need to use one since my door had a lock on it. 2019.)

I guess my point is that if you want to see a physical embodiment of people making the most of what they have, this is the place to go. Even now, I'm still touched by the sensation of how hard these people were trying. It's not a good place to stay if you look at it only in conventional terms. But it can make you see your own life in a whole new way.


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