February 23, 2010

On Saturday I met up with friends to talk about some writing opportunities and then met Simon Richmond, main author of The Rough Guide to Japan. We went with him to check into the new Capsule Ryokan, a few minutes walk from Kyoto Station. Built for budget travellers, the ryokan has double rooms and capsule beds.

The owner, Keiji Shimizu, has put extensive thought into the planning and design of every detail from the tatami in each capsule to the internet access and high tech toilets and showers. In fact the capsules had to be custom-made to fit the tatami as the standard modular units have curved corners. The double rooms also have tatami that sits on a raised platform, providing storage space for backpacks and suitcases underneath.

This adaptation of traditional concepts and elements to create something suitable for contemporary life is one of the aspects of Japan I am interested in right now. Capsule hotels have been around since 1979 but Shimizu-san claims this is the world’s first tatami capsule. He has also tried to retain the feel of a ryokan using other elements such as imitation shoji and favouring clean simple design.  He says,

I found foreign travellers favour Japanese taste/feel but they also favour Western convenience. Ryokan and capsule hotels are the two most famous and unique Japanese lodgings. One is full of traditional Japanese taste and the other is unbelievably space efficient. I could not help but to mix the two together and make it into one.


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