Capsule Reconsider Your Choice of Hotel

A few weeks ago I went to Osaka to catch up with my friend from Takarazuka, Crazy K.

To save money we looked for a cheap hotel. Because Japan’s urban areas are some of the most densely populated in the world, the main way hoteliers can reduce their costs is to reduce your space. In the case of our particular hotel they reduced it to this:

Capsule Hotel
Our hotel "rooms". Believe it or not, these are the extra wide capsules - we paid $2 more for that little piece of relative luxury.

It was a bizarre mix of high-tech and high school. After checking in at reception we were given keys to our metal lockers where we could stash all of our stuff. We then refreshed ourselves in the communal baths, bought drinks and snacks from the onsite vending machines, watched TV in the 1980s communal lounge, and then retired to our $25 coffins to die sleep.

The capsules were actually surprisingly comfortable, and I would’ve slept quite well if I hadn’t foolishly consumed caffeinated coffee at 11pm, and if drunken salarymen hadn’t entered loudly at 3am triggering a half-asleep and justifiably grumpy capsule occupant to start shouting “Oi”, “Ooi”, “Ooooiiii”. How considerate.

The next morning I witnessed a quintessentially Japanese sight. A crumpled businessman emerged from his capsule, got dressed outside his high-school-style metal locker in a shirt, cufflinks and a fine business suit, and styled his hair for a power meeting, thereby transforming himself from a shrivelled drunk to a successful business professional in just 5 minutes. It was like I was witnessing the accelerated metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly. Well maybe not a butterfly… perhaps just some kind of ultra-efficient grey moth.

This is Japan.

BBQ on Chita Peninsula

Yesterday we had a BBQ lunch at a delightful little harbour at the south of the Chita Peninsula. The BBQ was arranged by the previously mentioned “Special Tomato Friend” and his good mate “Fisherman Friend”. As it turned out, Fisherman Friend invited some of his fisherman mates, who rocked up one-by-one throughout the afternoon, bringing with them more seafood and beer. (Some of which was actual beer.) It seems that Tuesday is the standard day off for fishermen of this area, and Special Tomato Friend isn’t too busy at this time of year – he’s just waiting around for his hydroponic tomatoes to grow.

Fisherman at BBQ

Anyone who has studied Japanese knows that there is all the difference in the world between Standard Japanese (標準語) and the language that real people actually speak. I have discovered that the absurdity of the Japanese spoken can be calculated accurately using this equation:

W = D * 1+Ff * 1+(1/2A)


W = Weirdness of Japanese

D = Distance from Tokyo in kilometres

Ff = Number of Fishermen Present

A = Alcohol Consumed by Present Fishermen

The value of W fluctuated from 600 to 2300 throughout the afternoon, making it extremely difficult for me to accurately follow the conversation. However, I did glean the following points:

  • Australian Snapper is too thin. Japanese Snapper is nice and fat. You guys gotta fatten up your fish!
  • Japanese politicians LOVE nuclear power plants. Every time one is built, the get a little bit richer. Japanese people don’t really like them.
  • When I retire I’m gonna drive my boat to Australia. Do you think one tank of fuel will be OK?
  • …but I won’t retire until I’m 75. (Given that he’ll probably live to 150, that doesn’t seem so absurd.)

The BBQ was absolutely delicious. It included some of the best squid sashimi that I’ve ever tasted (nice and firm but not hard and chewy), a couple of boxes of fresh crabs, and deliciously fatty Wagyu beef.

Box of Crabs

Preparing the Food

Another interesting fact about the location of the BBQ was that it was a popular spot for those undertaking “Empty Business Trips” (空出張). In Japan, it is important to be seen to be busy in the eyes of your work colleagues. This means staying late even when there is no work to do. In order to stay late, you need to find something to do all day! There were about 5 cars with businessmen undertaking Empty Business Trips at the harbour for the majority of the time we were there. They’d even leave to get some lunch from the convenience store and then come back for the afternoon shift!

Empty Business Trip
Here is a Secom employee busy checking the electronic security system that must have been surreptitiously installed on this rubble car park.

Another absurdity of the afternoon was when Special Tomato Friend gave Nicewife’s dad a hat with “USS Arizona – Pearl Harbor” emblazoned in English across the front. This gift was made with absolutely no sense of irony. Fantastic!