Are tiny dwellings a humane alternative for the near homeless?

The New York Times reported on Saturday on the economic crisis in Japan and how small hotel “capsules” are being repurposed as housing for the unemployed. These tiny dwellings are often all that is affordable for Tokyo’s near homeless:

Now, Hotel Shinjuku 510’s capsules, no larger than 6 1/2 feet long by 5 feet wide, and not tall enough to stand up in, have become an affordable option for some people with nowhere else to go as Japan endures its worst recession since World War II.

… continuing …

The rent is surprisingly high for such a small space: 59,000 yen a month, or about $640, for an upper bunk. But with no upfront deposit or extra utility charges, and basic amenities like fresh linens and free use of a communal bath and sauna, the cost is far less than renting an apartment in Tokyo, Mr. [Atsushi] Nakanishi says.

The article describes more of what is included in the $640 per month rent:

Each capsule is furnished only with a light, a small TV with earphones, coat hooks, a thin blanket and a hard pillow of rice husks.

Most possessions, from shirts to shaving cream, must be kept in lockers. There is a common room with old couches, a dining area and rows of sinks. Cigarette smoke is everywhere, as are security cameras. But the hotel staff does its best to put guests at ease: “Welcome home,” employees say at the entrance.

The article fascinated me because the tone of the reporter felt negative to me. However, in my opinion, these capsule hotels seem like a humane housing alternative for those truly in need. They are safe (the article mentions a strong security presence), warm, and provide a permanent address. (Not having an address is a huge disadvantage when seeking employment.) Obviously, they’re not the finest or largest dwellings in Tokyo, but they seem better than the streets or an unsafe, poorly maintained apartment building.

What do you think of these small capsules as semi-permanent dwellings for those in need? I’m interested in reading your reactions in the comments.

(Image from The New York Times. View the complete slideshow.)

64 Comments for “Are tiny dwellings a humane alternative for the near homeless?”

  1. posted by Mel on

    How would forcing people to go to a dingy shelter be any better? At least this is on their own terms. I think people are getting their priorities out of order. I totally agree with Ellen. More square footage does not equal more happiness.

  2. posted by Marie on

    Even looking at the picture of that guy rammed in there is giving me the sweats. Claustrophobics say no!

  3. posted by klutzgrrl on

    As others have said, it’s a reasonable option. I also remember seeing these in the press when they first came out.

    What amazes me is this guy with an economics degree, who is applying for law school, being unemployed and homeless! How lucky I am with my useless arts degree, with a home of my own and a decent job!

  4. posted by Jim DuBois on

    I always wanted to try staying in a pod hotel, since I first saw pictures from Japan many years ago. Would I want to live in one? Not when they are so expensive (at least compared to apartments near me), but if they were the cheapest thing around, maybe.

  5. posted by Kairisika on

    I think this is totally awesome. For a lot of people, they really do just need a roof over their head to sleep, somewhere to shower, and kill a few hours. This satisfies that. It’s not like anyone is being forced in – anyone who thinks it’s so dehumanizing as to prefer a park bench is still free to choose the park bench. I suspect few do.

  6. posted by mythokia on

    It certainly is a viable alternative to conventional housing if you don’t own much, since all we really need is a place to sleep at the end of the day. What really is a home but a place to store all our stuff?

    However, for $640, that price is exorbitant.

  7. posted by Samantha on

    I think it is fantastic! The price is the only thing that is unreasonable. If I was homeless I would be happy to have one of these pods. Far more private that shelters. I first became aware of these pods when looking into small houses.

  8. posted by E on

    re: price: Cost of living in Japan is approximately 4x what it is in the US. You are not comparing apples to apples when discussing the price.
    re: dog kennels: The difference is, dogs have to live in theirs. These are only for sleeping in; you can get up and out whenever you want.
    I think it’s genius.

  9. posted by Roy Berman on

    “Cost of living in Japan is approximately 4x what it is in the US.”

    You’re spouting complete nonsense. I’m from New Jersey and currently live in Kyoto, one of Japan’s major cities. It costs less to live here than back home. People still have an idea of Japanese prices based on the peak of the bubble around 1988, which has no relation to today’s situation.

  10. posted by Kaori in Tokyo on

    These hotels are exists since long time ago.
    People drinks after work,I mean,after work in Japan is not after 5PM.(I was so surprised while I went to one is in office 3 minites after 5PM)

    And,most of us go to office using train,so,at late night,people use these space just for sleep.Even cannot sleep well,We don’t care so much.

    This is very small country,so rent is high,but we all have national health insurance,and not so many homeless people like in US.
    You may surprised our small living space,but every country is different.
    I cannot believe why so many crimes are in US,no offend,again,every country is different.I hope New york times to learn about other country,as I did.(People who comments here knows better..)

    And,I have ever seen much less homeless people in Japan in my life,than I saw in US,for one month.

  11. posted by Kaori in Tokyo on


    Roy,rent in Kyoto(and other big and Non-metropolitan area city,like Nagoya)is much lesser Than in Tokyo area.
    I am living in Tokyo since 1984,and my rent didn’t reduce.

    Earn less,pay more..
    (sorry about my English)

  12. posted by Roy Berman on

    Yes I know, but people were saying “Japan” not “Tokyo.” If you compare Tokyo with NYC then Tokyo doesn’t seem so expensive, and it’s cheaper than London or many other European cities.

    “And,I have ever seen much less homeless people in Japan in my life,than I saw in US,for one month.”
    Have you been to Kamagasaki in Osaka?

  13. posted by Kaori in Tokyo on

    Roy,sorry for late reply.

    My father is born and brought up in Osaka,So I went there so many times,I know the city and district very well.There are much more homeless people than in Tokyo,Also,before their cardboard box house taken away,I saw and sometime talk with homeless people who was living Shinjuku(In Tokyo) station.
    I tried to visit Kamagasaki when I was a student(ever been to?)but friends stopped me.(I was majoring social welfare,not just a curiosity.but still I feel it’s impolite to visit,It’s like peek their life.)

    There are places people who lost job and home,if social welfare is not enough,You may know more than me about “good-place” and “no-good place.
    People who has job and house hardly meet not so many homeless people,cause (I’m not writing this with perpous to tell “divide them from us”. no way.)Like I have never visited Kamagasaki,Places people lives in Doya house,in our dairy life, We hardly meet or talk with homeless people.(Of course,we should know)

    What I felt in US. is “flood”.
    I told “better not walk 9th Ave.” or Don’t go around Tompkins Square”(It was 80’s)
    But at many places,little boy was begging in hotel,Mens are sleeping on Subway vent to get warmth,people who spend hard life are flooding.Actually,I saw more people on the street which is told(not so danger).It’s not for argument,

    Please don’t take it too personally or get emotional.(I tried to avoid,this time)
    We have problem,and you have problem.different way,different solution.I just don’t like misunderstood.

    Sorry for all I’ve been out of “unclutter”!(also,my bad English)”.

  14. posted by Kaori in Tokyo on

    I have to add “People talking about Japan”.is right,Sorry for my lack of attention.

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