Berth of the blues?;The big picture

19th June 1998 at 01:00
(Photograph) - Snug, cosy or claustrophobic? For these Japanese businessmen in their "capsule hotel", nothing could be more practical than a low-budget berth for the night. Missed the last train home? Hand over your 2,500-4,000 yen (pound;1 0-pound;1 7), change your shoes and money for a snap on bracelet, kit up in disposable paper nightwear, tank up in the bar and snuggle down.

Each plastic moulded capsule has radio, TV (with porno channel) and alarm clock Other facilities are communal, like bathroom with individual toothbrush and pre-smeared tooth-paste, TV lounge and bar.

Distinctly not aimed at foreigners (many refuse to admit them) and generally the preserve of men, capsule hotels do a brisk trade in the large Japanese cities. After a night spent roosting with 500 or 600 other "salary men"

(office workers) the capsule guest can sally forth next day at peak efficiency.

To Western eyes, the capsule hotel is a stark example of culturally determined personal boundaries. Space and privacy are not required for businessmen who miss their last train home.

These are not hotels for riotous parties, luxurious room service or relaxing holidays. This is the hotel as warehouse for transient workers.

In line with this distinctively Japanese way of looking at life, big cities also offer fast restaurants with computerised ordering, communal tables and a simple menu. One such, in London, reminds its customers: "This is not a destination restaurant. We ask you not to linger at your table after finishing your meal." Customers at the capsule hotel cannot linger after finishing their sleep - as soon as they awake, the cleaner appears in mask, goggles and rubber gloves to dispose of bedding and night attire.

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