Comfort-Free Zone

by afatpurplefig


We caught the shinkansen from Osaka to Kyoto and, to be honest, I was a little bummed that it only took 15 minutes, not only because it is impressively fast and smooth, but because you can’t really do anything but sit still, in the same spot, when you’re on a train. We haven’t been doing a lot of that.

I felt like a kid when ours pulled up.


After arriving in Kyoto in record time, we caught a taxi to our capsule hotel, ‘Book and Bed’, chosen for the obvious book-lover connection, and also because of the fabulous description on their website, which more or less says, ‘you will not be comfortable here, but you can read’. Here’s an excerpt (and this is the English version, so it doesn’t benefit from the added humour of poor Google translation):

‘The perfect setting for a good nights sleep is something you will not find here. There are no comfortable mattresses, fluffy pillows nor lightweight and warm down duvets. What we do offer is an experience while reading a book (or comic book). An experience shared by everyone at least once: the blissful ‘instant of falling asleep’. It is already 2am but you think just a little more…with heavy drooping eye lids you continue reading only to realize you have fallen asleep.’

How great is that?! Sounds like every night of my childhood (which had comfortable bed, I hasten to add).

We were handed our two sheets and pillow case (to be returned to the front counter the next morning), given the rundown of the rules, via swipe after swipe on an iPad (no eating or drinking in our cubicle, no hairdryers between 12 and 7am, no cash for snacks), then let into the large rectangular space to locate our beds.


Mary was on the level above me, which necessitated climbing a small ladder, but either way, it meant crawling in with your back scraping the top and your bum sticking out, as you tried to determine the best moment to lie down and wriggle instead. At one stage, I remember thinking ‘I’m too old for this shit’, before another voice reminded me that I’m too old not to do this shit. Here is my little box behind the books:

I loved this place, despite being conspicuously double the age of every other guest I saw. It was devoid of privacy in some ways – walking to the showers (two, set in the row of toilet cubicles), brushing your teeth in the communal basins, and reading (or typing) on the bench seats set around the room – but incredibly private in one other. After you’ve pulled your curtain across, it really doesn’t get any more private than this:


I was pretty happy. I’ve discovered I only really need deodorant and my computer and charger, and I’m pretty much set. I loved their signs:

We didn’t have long to settle in before heading off for one of our long-held bookings (six weeks, to the day!), at Kichi Kichi Omurice, the tiny Kyoto restaurant where chef Yukimura Motokichi entertains scores of diners (the ones who manage to get a highly-coveted booking anyway), after a video of his theatrics went viral.

There were some hopefuls waiting at the entrance when we arrived, who looked a little crestfallen to see us.

The space is tiny. Eight seats at the bar, and a table that may seat 6, at a stretch, squeezed into a little space at the end. Chef Motokichi is the star of the show, chanting and flipping and cheering as he cooks everything himself in front of six hotplates, which are occasionally all in use at once.


Given it was the subject of said viral video, the omurice (which is pronounced om-moo-rice – for some reason I thought it would end in a reechie) is likely ordered by every visiting diner, and this is where Motokichi really hits his stride. I had seen him do it in a video, but it didn’t detract whatsoever from the fun of having him cook it for us. He’s just terrific:


At one stage, the group of young, American guys at the table at the end (drunk, obnoxious) started demanding hugs from the chef and ‘wahn more ahhm-moo-rahce’, and Motokichi obliged, hugging perfect strangers and smiling graciously for endless photos. I guess that’s why he only has to open for four hours a night, to serve people who have had reservations for weeks. Mary and I liked him enormously, so we tried our best to be excellent diners, and were chuffed when he shook our hands and farewelled us at the door.

We took a risky detour on the way back to our coffins, into the dark, wood-panelled ‘Hello, Dolly’, a whiskey and jazz bar, where I had a plum sake (with a giant, round ice cube!), and Mary, a very adult gin and lime.

Then we walked home, down the narrow, dining alley of Pontocho, which runs parallel to the Kamogawa River. It’s moments like these that I have to pinch myself, it feels so unbelievable that I am here.