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The first capsule hotels of Japan were originally targeted towards businessmen who burned the midnight oil and missed the last bus or train back home. Instead of staying in pricey hotels, or worse, sleeping out on the streets, capsule hotels offered these tired businessmen an affordable place to stay for the night. Although they are designed to be very compact, all the essentials of an overnight stay are provided.

Hotel front

For my recent trip to Kyoto, a friend and I managed to book capsules at 9h nine hours, a capsule hotel located at the historic and bustling district of Gion. Listed down below are four reasons why you shouldn’t shy away from this peculiar hotel during your next visit to Japan!

1. It’s affordable.

Japan is no cheap country to travel to. And if you’re there to sightsee rather than do a staycation, the last thing you want to spend money on is an expensive hotel that you’re just going to sleep in anyway. While capsule hotels are not as swanky as business hotels, it’s definitely a step-up from bed space hostels!

2. The beds are surprisingly comfortable.

The sleeping capsules were stacked in 2 levels. Small ladders are attached next to each “top bunk” to help guests up their capsules. If you think sleeping in a box would feel cramped and uncomfortable, think again! The capsule was unexpectedly spacious on the inside. (Of course, it helped that I’m a small, 5-foot girl). Each space was furnished with its own light fixtures, alarm clock, and charging station.

3. Lockers are provided for your belonging’s security.

Have you ever tripped on your roommate’s humongous suitcase that’s just scattered on the floor? I have. What’s great about staying in a capsule hotel is that everyone is required to stow away their luggage in their lockers. Aside from more walking space, the lockers give me a sense of inner peace knowing that my bags would be locked safe while I’m out and about exploring.

4. You don’t have to schedule with your friends who has to bathe first.

Finally, the last thing you want to do while on vacation is to wake up extra early to take a shower because there are four of you in one room who are all morning shower-takers. This capsule hotel has a dedicated floor for bathing (the lockers are located on the same floor). There are enough shower stalls, sinks, and blow dryers that you don’t really have to wait your turn. Huzzah for extra 30 minutes of sleep!

While these reasons are enough for me to try another capsule hotel again, there are downsides to this kind of unique housing. While most of your floor mates are generally good noodles and follow the no-talking rule in the sleeping area, there are some bad eggs who can’t resist gossiping in the middle of the night. It’s not that bad, though, since you ARE encased in your own little universe. Finally, you probably shouldn’t book a capsule hotel if your claustrophobic. I mean, this one is pretty obvious, you guys.

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The Imperial Palace in the Chiyoda district is one place that is quite overlooked in favor of places like Ginza, Akihabara, and Tokyo DisneySea, but it is a hidden gem that is closed off to most visitors unless you join a private tour. It is the current residence of the Imperial Family so only a few areas are open to the public. The palace grounds are perfect for both history and nature lovers since the area features relics from a bygone age and a beautifully designed garden. You can see remnants of the old palace such as the watchtowers and the moats, the more recent buildings like the Imperial Household Agency Building and the Chōwaden Reception Hall, and the East Garden that sprawls over 2,300,000 square feet (210,000 square meters).

The Imperial Household Agency Building
Chōwaden Reception Hall

The area used to be a part of the Edo Castle built by a samurai named Ōta Dōkan in 1457; the land became the home of various ruling clans before being inhabited by the current Imperial Family. The old architecture are remains from the Tokugawa Period during the late 1500’s when the landscape needed to be changed since the castle was on the coast centuries ago. Although not a lot of structures from the Tokugawa Era remain, some notable ones you will see are watchtowers perched atop the towering barriers and the various gates around the area. Japanese Buddhist motifs are evident in the tiled, curved roofs and the mokoshi pent roofs on the watchtowers. The stone barriers and the moats have also been preserved, although vegetation has already taken over through time.

Watchtower
Moat
Moat and barrier

The Imperial Household Agency Building and the Chōwaden Reception Hall were built  during the 1920s and the 1960s respectively. The Taishō and Shōwa eras continued Japan’s Westernization after the Meiji Era, hence the architecture of the two buildings. The Imperial Household Agency Building is designed in Teikanyōshiki style which blends 1920s Western architecture with Japanese-style roofs; influences from Palladian architecture are evident in its symmetry and use of columns. The Chōwaden Reception Hall is a mix of modernist and traditional architecture featuring a streamlined façade consisting of glass, tiles, wood, and cement underneath a Japanese-style roof. It is the largest building in the palace yet far from the opulence usually associated with royalty. The Japanese Imperial Family appear here in front of a public audience yearly during the New Year and the emperor’s birthday.

East Garden

Among the public parks and gardens in the city of Tokyo, the East Garden is my favourite. The garden is exquisitely designed and showcases a myriad of plant species that bloom during the spring. The East Gardens used to be a part of the honmaru (“main circle”) and ninomaru (“secondary circle”) which were spaces used to defend the central part of the castle. You will find the Museum of Imperial Collections and the ruins of the castle tower in the garden. I was lucky to be here in the end of May when the weather was only starting to warm up because I managed to catch most of the flowers blooming, turning the flowerbeds into carpets of pink, purple, white, and red. Unfortunately it was no longer cherry blossom season so I did not see the sakura trees flowering. This place would also be beautiful in the fall when the garden transforms into an earthy palette of reds and browns.

It’s easy to miss out on the Imperial Palace because of the other modern sights of the city, but you won’t regret spending your time there even if it will take the whole day. To see the buildings mentioned, you need to join a private tour since security is tight and the area is off-limits to the general public. You can’t go to those areas alone, so the tour gives you access to some restricted parts of the palace, but even that is only a small fraction of the entire property. The tour is free but you need to make a reservation early, so you might as well plan early and go for it while you’re in Tokyo.

Vermillion, ruby, scarlet, cerise, maroon, red—it’s everywhere. From the intricate floral hair ornaments and beautiful ornate robes of the passing geishas and maikos, to the pocket-sized omamori or lucky charms being sold inside the temples. Red is a recurring color in the old capital of Japan, Kyoto. Most notably, though, is the fiery red of Kyoto temples’ torii gates.

What are these “torii gates” anyway? Torii gates are markers that set the boundary from the profane everyday world, to the sacred world of the “kami” or Shinto gods. They mark the entrance into a sanctified space. They are usually made out of either wood or concrete, and are painted orangey-red to jet black.

In Chinese culture, red is a symbol for luck. In Japanese religion though, there is no clear explanation on why most torii gates are painted a bright, flaming red hue. One school of thought, however, says that the color acts as a sort of shield against evil entities or spirits. It serves as a protection against any calamities or disasters. Red is painted not just on the torii gates, but on the temples and surrounding fences as well.

All shrines and temples have torii gates; however, the most famous ones would have to be in Fushimi-Inari Shrine. What makes Fushimi-Inari Shrine stand out is the sheer number of torii gates, more than 10,000 torii gates in the temple grounds. These torii gates were donated by either individuals or companies, their names inscribed in their prospective torii.

I’ve seen photos of these world-famous gates all over the internet even before we booked a flight to Japan, but seeing them in real life just takes your breath away. It also takes your breath away in a literal sense since you have to climb a mountain to fully appreciate the vast number of these torii gates.

There is a 4 kilometer walk/hike up Mount Inari that are lined with these brilliant red gates. In some areas, the gates are assembled so close together that only a little bit of sunlight can squeeze through. There are rest stops along the way where they sell refreshments and Inari temple delicacies like the Inari sushi, which is rice wrapped in fried tofu.

It takes around two to three hours to get to the top of the mountain. I would have very much wanted to climb to the peak of Mount Inari. Aside from being housed by the beautiful, red torii gates, the pathway to the top was also shrouded in trees and shrubs, making it a pleasant nature hike to the top. However, I was with my family during that trip to Fushimi-Inari Temple and they refused the extra exercise under the sweltering summer heat of Japan. Maybe next time then!

No trip to Kyoto would be complete without a visit to at least one of the many breathtaking temples around the area. You don’t have to be Shinto or Buddhist to appreciate the perfection of harmony between nature and architecture in these sacred spaces. Oh, and while you’re there, don’t forget to get yourself a little omamori to bring home some good luck!