Capsule House K was the mountain retreat of architect Kisho Kurosawa, but now it can be yours for the night.

Back in October, 50 years of architectural history came to an end when Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower was dismantled. Designed by famous Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, the Nakagin Capsule Tower was the world’s best-known example of the metabolism architectural style, with its capsule rooms envisioned like living cells.

▼ Nakagin Capsule Tower

Such unique living spaces naturally attracted some unique individuals to live in them, and Nakagin’s final group of residents called themselves the “Daughter of the Lunar Space Ark.” Among them was our Japanese-language reporter Chie Nomura, and though she and the other daughters have since found new places to live, they often find themselves feeling waves of nostalgia for their capsule homes. So Chie was extremely happy to learn that there’s still a way to spend a night in Kurosawa-designed capsule architecture, as the architect’s former vacation villa is now available to rent as an Airbnb property.

Built in 1973, Capsule House K is located in the town of Saku, in eastern Nagano Prefecture. About an hour and a half on the Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train line will take you from Tokyo to Sakudaira Station, the closest stop to the house, and from there it’s about another 30 minutes by car through forested mountains to get to the front door.

However, you won’t see the door right away when you pull up to the place. That’s because Capsule House K is built on a slope, with the structure itself below where you come in from the road.

At the very top there’s a gate, and passing through it takes you to a flight of stairs that leads down to the entrance.

▼ Chie and her friends were visiting in mid-November, so fallen leaves blanketed the steps.

Stepping inside, you’re greeted immediately by a spiral staircase to your left and a pathway to the living room on your right.

Chie started by checking out the living room, a rustic yet fashionable relaxation space. Though Capsule House K was renovated in 2019, the current owner, Kurosawa’s son, has kept the same furniture and interior decorations that were in the room when it was his father’s private retreat.

Since this is a Kurosawa-designed house, there are four capsule-style rooms attached to the living room, one of which is the kitchen capsule.

The modest dimensions of the Nakagin apartments prevented them from having kitchens, so Chie and her friends looked forward to being able to cook together for the first time.

Next, there’s a sleeping capsule (i.e. bedroom).

This room is the closest to what you’d have found at Nakagin, with two big exceptions. First, the ledge around the circular window is invitingly wide, perfect for lounging in with a good book or simply a desire to gaze out the window at the sylvan view.

As for the other thing that makes it special, we’ll get to that a little later on. Before that, though, let’s check out the second sleeping capsule.

This one is also brimming with Kurosawa’s distinctive style. Set into the walls are multiple pieces of entertainment electronics. Some of them no longer work, like the analog-receiver TV and audio cassette deck, but that gap between the future as imagined 50 years ago and the reality of today is part of what makes Kurosawa’s architecture so fascinating.

The fourth capsule, though, is something you’d never have found at Nakagin: a Japanese-style tea room capsule!

The tatami reed floors and alcove with hanging calligraphy scroll give the place a classic, traditional feel, and the contrast between Kurosawa’s signature circular window and the rectangular sliding shoji paper screen covers is an intriguing mix of old and new.

There’s even a mizuya, as tea room basins are called, in case you’ve brought supplies for a tea ceremony.

The tea room also doubles as a bedroom, with enough space for two to sleep comfortably in futon laid out on the tatami.

▼ If Chie had known there was a Japanese-style room, she’d have brought her kimono.

Heading down the spiral staircase near the entrance takes you to the main bedroom.

Here you’ll find a king-size bed, a luxuriously large size in Japan, and, of course, another dome-shaped window.

This is the room that Chie was going to be sleeping in, but before that, it was time to cook dinner.

After some prep-work, Chie and her friends dined on hot pot, made with ingredients they’d bought at a supermarket near Sakudaira Station, and tofu with locusts, which are eaten in some rural parts of Nagano.

Chie had also stopped by a home center on her way to Capsule House K to pick up some firewood, since the building has a fireplace, once again something you’ll rarely find in Japanese houses.

The group giddily roasted marshmallows, then turned on their sophistication switches and sipped wine by the warmth of the flames.

After that it was time for a shower, which is the second special thing about the first sleeping capsule. The capsule is equipped with the same bathroom and shower/tub that the apartments at Nakagin had, but with one important difference: there’s hot water!

The hot water for individual Nakagin apartments was shut off in 2010 due to damage to the pipes, so for the last decade-plus residents had to share an on-site shower room. Here, though, the hot water was plentiful, and though there’s just one shared bathroom/bathing room for the whole house, Chie was happy to finally be able to take a proper capsule bath.

After a few rounds of surprisingly intense Jenga (using a special set modeled after the Nakagin Capsule Tower), it was time to get some sleep, though not without a few moments spent admiring the almost mystical-looking view out the windows.

Check-out time isn’t until noon, so the early risers in Chie’s group had time for a morning nature stroll, and the late-risers (like Chie herself) could get all the sleep they wanted.

▼ She did at least get up early enough for a few final selfies and group shots.

Since Nagano gets a lot of snow in its mountains, Capsule House K doesn’t take guests during the winter, but it’ll be welcoming travelers again starting in mid-April. At 200,000 yen (US$1,515) a night, these aren’t exactly budget accommodations, but there was plenty of space for Chie’s party of seven people, and splitting up the bill with a few friends makes Capsule House K a rare opportunity to spend the night sleeping in such memorable architecture.

Related: Capsule House K on Airbnb
Photos ©SoraNews24
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