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The following is a 2001 travel diary entry by yours truly, reworked for E2. Combined spa and capsule hotels are quite popular throughout Japan, and are often well worth the extra ¥1000 or so compared to a "normal" capsule hotel.

After some random rambling among the soaplands of Susukino (Sapporo, Japan) I stumbled onto the Hokuo (北欧, "Northern Europe") Spa and Capsule Hotel, which is a cavernous spa complex with a multi-floor vertical layer of capsules bolted on. Entry is a stiff ¥2500 to the spa (obligatory) plus ¥1200 for a capsule and ¥600 as an extra night fee (applied 22-06), totaling ¥4300 (around $40), which can be considered either really bloody expensive for a bath, or a cheap night's lodging in the heart of town with an extraordinary spa thrown in for free.

Capsules are well-named: they're self-contained little units, somewhat larger than the average train berth or, come to think of it, the average half-a-bunk-bed you're allocated in most youth hostels (even I find it easy to sit up inside one) and with a TV, radio, light control, etc built in. The check-in procedure, however, is a little on the complicated side:

  • remove your shoes on entry
  • put them in a little locker in the lobby
  • check in at the front desk
  • exchange your shoe locker key for a clothes locker key
  • find your capsule
  • put your street clothing and baggage in the nearby locker
    • which, BTW, will probably be too small for your rucksack, although I managed to predict this and left mine at the station
  • change into the bathrobe
  • go explore the spa!
The bathrobe is what you wear around the hotel, when you go to the baths just take a towel (free) and leave your robe in a basket.

Hokuo's spa is on a grander scale than most and in fact immediately topped yesterday's record for wackiest spa, off the top of my head the place has hot baths inside and outside, cold baths inside and outside, saunas both inside and outside (in a faux log cabin), a tepid jacuzzi, body-shaped jet baths, a steam bath, a cold waterfall, a shower area... I hope you'll excuse me if I forgot a few. You also get free underwear, toothbrushes, razors, Q-tips, and use of assorted toiletry paraphernalia (including, oddly enough, shampoo and rinse bottles labeled "Tukanpesu" and "Huuhtelu" in Finnish!) and there are also rooms for exercise, quiet relaxation, watching movies, plus a beauty parlor, massage parlor, pub, and other value-added services. All quite legit though, the place is visited families with kids and even has a capsule floor reserved for women. There are more than enough services of a more dubious nature everywhere else in Susukino... and yes, you can leave and come back (check-out is at 5 PM!), but in order to reclaim your shoes you'll have to settle the bill first, which can be paid with VISA. When you return, just show them your receipt to reclaim your locker key.

In all, definitely worth checking out should you end up in Sapporo. Hokuo is at South 6 West 5 a block from the unmistakable exterior of the King Xmhu (read: "Moo") disco and and seems reasonably happy to accommodate gaijin with some semblance of a clue.

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