Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Are Capsule Hotels coming to your neighborhood?

Not long ago, I posted a partially tongue-in-cheek comment about converting airliner seats to sleeping tubes and I used the "tube motels" in Japan as an example. Just a few days ago, there was a New York Times article about these, actually called "Capsule Hotels." They have these not only at the airports, but around other transportation centers in large Japanese cities. Originally, they were designed for travelling businessmen who might've missed their last train home and needed a convenient and inexpensive place to stay.

If you are old enough, you may remember in the late 1970's and most of the '80's, when we thought we were in danger of Japan buying out the entire USA. Well, they got into some financial trouble of their own and have been mostly in recession for some time. The capsule motels tell some of that story. Homeless people, who were unheard of in Japanese society in the 1970's and '80's, are some major customers for the capsule motels now. The capsules measure a bit over two yards by two yards and are not high enough to stand up in. The rent is about $30 a night but lately owners of these motels have granted reduced long-term rates to the homeless occupants.

People of influence in government and finance in the US had a chance to learn from the lessons of the "price asset bubble" in Japan that burst in 1989 but of course they didn't. At the peak in Japan, prime real estate in the Ginza district of Tokyo was selling for $93,000 per square foot and today some of this sells for one percent of its peak price. In fact, a good deal of the excess liquidity that was created in Japan and needed an investment outlet came to the US and was lent out as easy money, contributing greatly to our own bubble economy. We can hope that the long, lingering non-recovery of Japan's bubble economy will not be repeated here but at this time we can only wait and see.

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