Very crowded subway platform with too many people

When the Crowd is Too Much

Yes, people are herd animals, but at times we must escape from the scrum. It is noisy, stressful and exhausting to stay in that crowd too long. We need to fly on that plane, ride that train or get in that concert hall, but we are not cattle so we need privacy sooner or later, and it is not always available.

Decades ago, hotel owners in Osaka noticed that office workers often stayed out too late and missed their train home. They needed a place to sleep, but didn’t want or need a hotel room; the Capsule Hotel wasCapsule hotel with small numbered compartments one above another with steps to top units born! This offered an escape from the crowd, with just enough isolation to support the rest needed to be ready for work the next day.

This compact isolation space for sleep offered enough privacy, quiet and comfort close to the city center, while the cost was reasonable. It was a hit in Osaka, then Tokyo and other cities. Today Capsule Hotels can be found in many airports outside Japan. Years ago I stayed in a spa resort Capsule Hotel in Kobe, Japan, and it was a great experience that provided a very restful night’s sleep.

When to Seek Isolation

Too much privacy is bad for people, which is why many consider solitary confinement a form of torture. But isolation from aggressive crowds, unhealthy populations or dangerous materials can be a life-saver.

Our stress levels, immune systems and sanity demand privacy at regular intervals, but isolation can be important for business as well. If you are in food service, agriculture, pharma, health care and many other lines of work, isolation is a critical part of your job.

When the consistency, quality or viability of our work demands that our process have some “privacy” it is Inside view of glove box worktime to find it some appropriate isolation. That could be a refrigerator, an incubator, a well secured room or a designated workstation. In some cases a barrier isolation glove box may be needed to provide a work-space away from “the crowd” of microbes and dust that populate the air we breathe.

Just as bedspreads and curtains in a hotel can share microbes with hundreds of guests, the floors and furniture in any room can provide “crowds” that are unhelpful. Some hoods and clean rooms deliver enough isolation to support clean, sterile work, but when really sensitive work requires more, an isolation glove box may be the best solution.


Just Enough Isolation

When people, drug preparation or scientific experiments require “escape from the crowd” it is important to have the right amount of isolation. Part of that right-sizing is the selection of an isolated space that is big enough to work, but small enough to be manageable. A hotel capsule is adequate for a sleepy person without luggage, and it is easy to fully clean and sanitize. A normal hotel room can support sleep as well as other activities, but even after it is fully cleaned, it retains microbes and dust from several past guests.

Like a hotel room, a large work room or fume hood can retain contaminants, even after thorough cleaning. If the process will fit in it, a compact glove box may provide a practical work space that can be fully cleaned and disinfected for true sterile use. This is generally a much better choice than a ‘go big’ approach, which often leads to operational and quality problems.

I hope you will share this post with others that may find it helpful, and please share your ideas and questions with us in the comment section below.

Photo credit: Dick Thomas Johnson via / CC BY

By kallerna – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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10 thoughts on “A Break from the Herd can be a Life-Saver!

  • By Melanie Hernandez - Reply

    Very interesting post here. I never even imagined anything remotely close to a capsule hotel. Wow! I think that is pretty interesting. I do wonder, however, if by having such facilities, society is kind of reiterating the importance of working long hours. Whatever the case, I think it is pretty neat idea that I am sure many people use. Do these capsules fit only small people? Just curious of the size.

    • By SteveT - Reply

      I’ve been fascinated by capsule hotels for years before I stayed in one. They are actually pretty roomy, short of not being able to stand up. I’m a 6 footer, taller than most Japanese guys, but the capsule I stayed in was plenty long enough for comfort and high enough to comfortably sit up. It is clear to me that capsules are a reaction to tightly packed people, and the Japanese cultural requirement for drinking with coworkers after work. They also have been applied in other situations where people need a break and real estate is pricey, like airports and relief for the homeless. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them as options for youth hostels as well. Thanks for visiting with us.

  • By Cindy - Reply

    Hi, Steve. I don’t mind having a little “me” time every now and then away from all the “noise”. Helps me to destress and recharge myself. These capsules are a great idea but I reckon folks that are claustrophobic may not appreciate being enclosed in a small place like that? Still, a pretty awesome idea they have there in Japan.

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Hi, Cindy… They do work well for “me” time, complete with quiet and your own small TV with ear buds. I can’t really relate with claustrophobia, personally, but a capsule is smaller than an elevator, so probably scary for such folks. Good for me, though. Thanks for your comment.

  • By Gregory - Reply

    I too have stayed in a capsule hotel once and I found the experience very memorable. This was due to the fact that I was approaching it all as a tourist and the stay at the capsule hotel was more of a novelty than anything. What I found interesting, though, is that while a capsule is all you get to sleep, the hotel I was in had so many other activities and services built around that capsule. There was a food bar, massages and even a bathouse attached. The capsule had a TV and a radio in it. So, while there was a certain degree of isolation involved, it wasn’t as much as I anticipated. Perhaps it was just due to the hotel I chose. It was straight in the centre of Tokyo.

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Sounds like your hotel in Tokyo was similar to mine in Kobe, Gregory. The original capsule hotels didn’t have those spa facilities, but they have become more popular. I was staying as a curious tourist as well, though I’d been looking forward to trying it for years. I found it all very clean, secure and comfortable, except the need to check my luggage away from where I sleep. I’m a bit territorial for that part. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • By Nick Hoyt - Reply

    I totally agree that we all need some time alone. I am a introvert through and through, which means that I really NEED to have some time each day all to myself where I don’t interact with anyone and I just let my batteries recharge.

    I’ve got some friends that are the opposite – they love to have people over every day of the week! I lived with one of them for a year while I was in college and it nearly drove me insane, lol! I am the kind of person who could see his friends once a week or even once a month and be totally fine.

    I’ve never had the opportunity to try out one of the well known capsule hotels in Japan, but I have always thought that it would be super cool! I am actually planning a trip to fly overseas and spend a week or so in Japan, so I will have to make sure that I get to spend at least one night in one!

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Nick. I’m a bit more flexible, but I too would be overloaded with visitors every day, and I’d be in need of a time out. In busy places like Boston or Osaka just getting around in public leaves me a bit frayed and looking for an escape. The capsule is one great option for that – cheap, convenient and totally designed for personal time out with the security, privacy and comfort you need to recharge.

      It’s been a few years, but the capsule hotel spa in Kobe near Sannomiya station is a good choice if you visit that part of Japan. It has great facilities for the traditional bath, relaxation and the capsule rooms are great. I think this is the one I stayed in.

      An even more relaxing option, if you have the time, (and a JR Pass for the shinkansen & the ferry) is to stay in a traditional inn on Miyajima in Hiroshima-ken. Very few foreigners go there, but I still felt welcome. The island is quiet, as laid back as you can imagine, and it is utterly beautiful. The shrine island is isolated from the busy fast-paced business life of the mainland, but so relaxed that the tourists don’t seem to retain the personal isolation there that they need back in the city on the train platform. They may even speak to each other on occasion! I do offer one warning, though; watch out for the tame deer. If you offer them food they can get pushy.

      Thanks again for stopping by

  • By Dustin - Reply

    Hi Steve,

    I’ve never stayed in a capsule hotel, but I have stayed in something similar. On my first vacation to Europe we had a really long day of traveling back home. When you use credit card points to book your flight, sometimes you don’t get the best itinerary, but that’s a small price to pay. Anyway, we ended up having to go to the airport for our first flight in Croatia about 7 or 8 hours prior to our boarding time. We final boarded around 5 in the evening and flew to Helsinki, where we had an overnight layover. My wife had a bad cold and wasn’t feeling well, and we weren’t looking forward to sitting around in an airport all night before we board our next short flight to Belgium to fly over the pond.

    Luckily the Helsinki airport had an area with sleep pods. They looked like little time machines or something. As soon as I saw them, I knew I was going to get one for me and my wife regardless of the cost. Turns out it was actually pretty affordable and did a lot to help us on that long travel day.

    I had always thought about that experience as just a place for needed sleep. Until I read your article, I hadn’t ever really thought about the human need for isolation, and how that sleep pod provided it for a few hours. It’s a pretty interesting concept, so I’m excited to read more about it on your site.

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Thanks for your perspective on sleep pods, Dustin. I’ve heard of them in a few airports, mostly in Europe; they seem to serve the same purpose as hotel capsules, but with a different shape and process. I’ve yet to encounter one, but now I’m motivated to look for them and give one a try.

      I have high hopes for the future of sleep pods, capsules and other modular isolation devices for rest, relaxation or escape from over-stimulation. With more development and broader application I believe they can make life better for travelers, transient contract workers, the homeless, and many who just want a simpler life.

      I’m glad you find it interesting, and I expect to explore other aspects of sleep pods and capsules in future posts.

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