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Enclosed: A Claustrophobic Photo Series of the Tiny Rooms in a Japanese Hotel

By Hanssie on June 25th 2015

I remember my first claustrophobia-induced panic attack. I was 12 or 13 years old and my younger brother and I had made a cave under the pull out bed in the back of our family van (back when no one cared about seat belts or safety). We made our beds, surrounded the area with various stuffed animals and snacks, and crawled in with our flashlights and books. On this particular road trip, we had a 6-hour drive ahead of us and so I took a little nap. I remember waking up and seeing darkness. I had tangled myself in the blankets; stuffed animals surrounded me and I couldn’t breathe. I started freaking out and after what seemed like a lifetime, untangled myself, pushed my brother aside and have never, ever liked small spaces again.




When I saw photographer Won Kim’s series, Enclosed: Living Small, I had the same feelings of panic bubble up in my belly. In Tokyo, there is a tiny hotel that takes up one floor of an office building. Designed for backpackers, Kim stumbled upon it a few years ago while backpacking himself. He returned to photograph the tiny spaces for this project and learned that, though some people stay for only a short amount of time, there were others there that had made the cubby holes their permanent homes. Each room had no windows and no doors (like the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland); only a curtain, which served as a door, offered some semblance of privacy between your unfinished plywood walled room and your neighbor’s room.

Kim spent several months living in the hotel to capture the following images for this series. In order to convince the residents to allow him a peek into their private lives, Kim offered each participant a 15-minute shoulder massage. From makeshift shelves to little, personalized touches, each cramped space reflects the unique personality of its occupant and how they made use of their areas. That is the real charm of this series, a peek into the lives of the passerby, so vastly different than what most of us are used to. Kim states,

For me, the real interest of the resulting portraits is in how each resident has made use of a such a small, confining space. In each case, the sharply-defined space and its contents tell something about its occupant’s personality, and his or her ability to function in such a strange, enclosed environment.

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See more of Won Kim’s work on his website here and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

CREDITS: Photographs by Won Kim are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Dave Haynie

    My wife would be very disturbed by these, she gets claustrophobia pretty easily. Reminds me a little of a music festival I went to a couple of weeks ago. I have a fairly small tent, but my buddy brought a monster, which caused the whole campsite outside of the huge tent to be kind of like these shots. Lots of creativity needed to fit things, and at one point, to stay dry.

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  2. Tanya Goodall Smith

    Oh I would just die in there.

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  3. Jay Trotter

    Very interesting photo essay. I’ve seen shipping containers converted to office and living quarters as well. They are 8′ x 8′ x 20′ long. Some are also 40′ long. These can be stacked as well. It’s the epitome of affordable “tiny” living. Never the less I hope the photographer expands on this study as, I’m sure, there is much more of a story to tell.

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  4. David Blanchard

    Not pretty, but beats sleeping out on the street with the winos.

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  5. Jeff Landenberger

    Great shots and story but these people have more room and privacy than I did when I was on a US Navy ship.

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    • Hanssie

      Wow! I can’t even image. Add to the fact that I get motion sickness and it’s my very own nightmare!

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  6. Graham Curran

    I recently had a CAT scan which involves being slid into a small tube for 15 minutes The guy before me came out very ill because of claustrophobia – vomiting and barely able to walk. The nurses gave me a button to press if I needed to be taken out. I actually fell asleep.

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    • Hanssie

      Ha. Yes, I’ve heard horror stories about those. I can barely watch them being done on a TV show. Thankfully, for numerous reasons, I haven’t had to experience one.

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    • Dustin Baugh

      I had the same experience. Just close your eyes and pretend you’re in a sleeping bag camping. Pretty soon I was out.

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  7. Jesper Ek

    a bit creepy…

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  8. Brandon Dewey

    Wow, I have a tent bigger then some of those rooms.

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