Japan is enduring its worst recession in decades. So what can you rent in Tokyo for $640 a month during the downturn? Not an apartment, but a berth -- a tiny shelf in a "capsule hotel."
Built for "salarymen" who missed the last train home after staying out drinking, capsule hotels are now the homes of last resort for Japan's unemployed, according to the New York Times. Each 6 1/2-foot by 5-foot "room" contains a bed, a TV, and a pair of coat hooks. So what if the place looks like a microwave oven museum? For the hundred or so Japanese who rent the cubicles long term, it beats living on the streets.
Cubbyhole-living may sound rather drastic to most Americans, even those losing their homes. The American dream house isn't a capsule -- it's the whole hotel.
By contrast, the Japanese -- even those with jobs -- are often willing to live in surprisingly tight quarters. Apartments of just 108 square feet (the size of 6 tatami mats) are common. And even when Japanese families move up, they're often content with compact houses. That has given architects the chance to experiment with buildings that would seem perversely small by American standards.
Japan isn't the only place where architects are fascinated with the idea of tiny, modular "machines for living." One Russian firm has developed a "napping booth" designed for city streets. Called Sleepbox, it includes a mechanism that changes the linens automatically between uses. Meanwhile, a company called Minute Suites has unveiled its own version of a capsule hotel in Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport.
But permanent homes smaller than SUVs will never appeal to Americans. So when the Japanese bunk down in tiny capsules, here, in the land of doublewides and McMansions, it's news.