Japan offers an interesting form of accommodation, from cheap guesthouses to first class hotels, with almost everything in between. Although most options are more expensive than what you’d expect to pay in other Asian countries, you can still find some bargains. JNTO offices abroad and TIC offices in Tokyo and Kyoto stock some useful materials such as the Directory of Welcome Inns, a very extensive listing of foreigner-friendly accommodation, and the Japanese Inn Group’s booklet, which has a number of ryokan (Japanese-style inn) throughout Japan that are used to dealing with foreigners.
Youth hostels are one of the cheapest options. The typical cost is ¥2400 to ¥3000. But staying only at youth hostels, will cut you off from an essential part of the Japanese experience. Try to vary your accommodation with stays at a traditional ryokan, a shukubo (temple lodging) and a minshuku (Japanese B&B).
The best place to look for accommodation is around the main train station or bus terminal in any town. Here you’ll usually find a mix of regular hotels and business hotels, with perhaps a few budget ryokan thrown in for good measure. Cheap guesthouses and youth hostels are usually some distance away from the town centre, but are almost away accessible by public transport. If you do find yourself without a place to stay and it’s getting late, the best advice is to ask at the local koban (police box) – they’ll usually be able to point you in the right direction.
It is quite feasible to look for a room after arriving in a new town, although it’s always a good idea to make accommodation reservations a few days in advance if possible. During peak holiday seasons, you should book as far as ahead as possible, particularly if you have a special choice. Out of season, calling a day in advance is usually sufficient. Tourist information offices at main train stations can usually help with reservations, and are often open until about 6:30pm or later. Even if you are traveling by car, the train station is a good first stop in town for information, reservations and cheap car parking. The Japanese run their accommodation according to an established rhythm that favours check out at around 10am and check-ins between 5pm and 7pm; unannounced early – or late – comers disturb this pattern. Making phone reservation in English is usually possible in most major cities. Providing you speak clearly and simply, there will usually be someone around who can get the gist of what you want. There will also be occasions when hotel staff understand no English. If you really get stuck, try asking the desk staff at your current accommodation to phone your reservation through.
It is possible to make bookings at the Welcome Inn Reservation Center found in the TIC (Tourist Information Center) offices in Tokyo and Kyoto, and at Narita and Kansai airports. You can also make reservations online through its Website.
You’ll find a range of standard hotel in most Japanese cities and some resort areas. These range from typical mid-range hotels to first-class hotels that rank among best in the world. Rates at standard mid-range hotels average ¥9,000 for a single and ¥12,000 for a double or twin. Rates at first class hotels average ¥15,000 for a single and ¥20,000 for a double or twin. Like business hotels, You’ll often find standard hotels near the main train station in a city. You can expect someone to speak English at the front desk, so making reservations and checking in shouldn’t be the hassle it can be at other types of accommodation in Japan. If you plan to stay in standard hotels during your stay in Japan, you might save some money by getting a package deal on transport and accommodation. Check with your airline or travel agency before you arrive. Expect to pay 10% or more as a service charge plus a 5% consumer tax; add another 3% local tax if the bill exceeds 10,000. Asking for separate bills for meals can sometimes reduce the amount of tax charge.
These are economical and practical places geared to the single travelers, usually lesser-ranking business types who want to stay somewhere close to the station. Rooms are clean, Western style, just big enough for you to turn around in, and include a miniature bath/ WC unit. A standard fitting for the stressed businessman is a coin operated TV with a porn channel. Vending machines replace room service. Cheap single rooms can sometimes be found for as low as ¥4,500 though the average rate is around ¥8,000. Most business hotels also have twins and double rooms. They usually do not have a service charge.
As their name indicates, love hotels are used by Japanese couples for discreet trysts. You can use them for this purpose as well, but they’re also perfectly fine, if a little hokey, for overnight accommodation. To find a love hotel on the street, just look for flamboyant facade with rococo architecture, turrets, battlements and imitation statuary. Love hotels are designed for maximum privacy; entrances and exits are kept separate; keys are provided through a small opening without contact between desk clerk and guest; and photos of the rooms are displayed to make the choice easy for the customer. There’s often a discreetly curtained parking area so your car cannot be seen once inside. The rooms can fulfil most fantasies, with themes ranging from harem extravaganza to Tarzan and Jane jungle rooms. Choices can include vibrating beds, wall to wall mirrors, bondage equipment and video recorders to record the experience. During the day, you can stay for a two or three-hour ‘rest’ (kyuukei in Japanese) for about ¥4,000 (rates are for the whole room, not per person). Love hotels are of more interest to foreign visitors after 10pm, when it’s possible to stay the night for about ¥6,500, but you should check out early enough in the morning to avoid a return to peak-hours rates. There will usually be a sign in Japanese (occasionally in English) outside the hotel, announcing its rates. Eve if you can’t read Japanese, you should be able to figure out which rate applies to a ‘rest’ and which applies to an overnight stay. In theory, you can cram as many people as you like into a love hotel room; in practice you may be limited to two people and same sex couple may be asked to pay more and even be rejected.
One of Japans most famous form of accommodation is the “capseru hoteru”. As the name implies, the rooms in a capsule hotel consist of banks of neat white capsule stacked in rows two or three high. The capsules themselves are about 2m by 1m by 1m – about the size of a spacious coffin. Inside is a bed, a TV, a reading light, a radio and an alarm clock. Personal belongings are kept in a locker room.
This type of hotel is common in major cities and often caters to workers who have partied too hard to make it home or have missed the last train. The majority are only for men but some also accept women; the womens quarter are usually in a separate part of a building. Most capsule hotels have the added attraction of a sauna and a large communal bath.
An average price is ¥3,800 per night. You could try one as a novelty, but its not an experience recommended to those who suffer from claustrophobia.
For a taste of traditional Japanese life, a stay at ryokan is mandatory. Ryokan range from ultra-exclusive establishments to reasonably priced places with a homey atmosphere. Prices start at around ¥4,000 (per person, per night) for a no-frills ryokan without meals (sudomari is the Japanese term for no meals). For a classier ryokan, expect prices to start ¥8,000. Exclusive establishments – Kyoto is a prime center for these – charge ¥ 25,000 and often much more. Ryokan owners prefer to charge on a room and board (breakfast and dinner) basis per person. If, like many foreigners, you find yourself overwhelmed by the unusual offering of a Japanese breakfast, it should be possible to have dinner only but, in many ryokan, opting out of both meals is unacceptable. The bill is reduced by about 10% if you decline breakfast. A service charge or consumption tax may be added to your bill in some establishments. Because this is not always the case and the amount may vary, its best to ask when making reservations or checking in.
A minshuku is usually a family- run private lodging, rather like a Western style B&B. Minshuku can be found throughout Japan and offer an experience of daily Japanese life. The average price per person , per night is around ¥6,000 with two meals. You are expected to lay out and put away your bedding and provide your own towel.
Guesthouses are often old Japanese houses that have been converted into cheap inns, many expressly aimed at foreign travelers. Some also double as gaijin houses. Guesthouses are particularly common in Kyoto but you’ll also find a few scattered about Tokyo. The advantage of guesthouses is that they offer youth hostel prices without the regimented routine. Of course, some guesthouses can be pretty run down, and it’s well worth taking a look around before paying your money. The best way to find guesthouses is by looking in magazines like Kansai Time Out or by word of mouth.
Pensions are usually run by young couples offering Western-style accommodation based on the European pension concept and may offer sports and leisure facilities. They are common in resort areas and around ski fields. Prices average ¥6,000 per person per night or ¥8,500 including two meals. Food is often excellent, typically a French dinner and an American breakfast.
For budget travellers, youth hostels are the best option, and it is quite feasible to plan an entire itinerary using them. The best source of information on youth hostels is the Japan Youth Hostel Handbook, which is available for ¥580 from the Japan Youth Hostel Association. Another good way to find it is using the Youth Hostel Map of Japan, which has one line entries on each hostel. It’s available for free from JNTO and TIC in Japan. Youth hostel in Japan are usually comfortable, inexpensive by Japanese standards, and often good sources of information when use as a base for touring. They are also a good way to meet Japanese travellers and other foreigners. By carefully studying the JYHA handbook, you can select interesting places and weed out possible duds. Many hostels have superb sites: some are farms, remote temples, outstanding private homes or elegant inns. However, some hostels have a routine strongly reminiscent of school, or perhaps even prison. In the high reason, you are likely to encounter waves of school children and students. Finally, if you are reliant on public transport, access to some youth hostels is complicated and time consuming. Hostels charges currently average ¥2,800 per night, some also add the 5% consumption tax. Private rooms are available in some hostels from ¥3,500 per night. As a friendly gesture, some hostels have introduced a special reduction. – sometimes as much as ¥500 per night – for foreign hostellers. Average prices for meals are ¥500 for breakfast and ¥900 for dinner. Almost all hostels require that you use a regulation sleeping sheet, which you can rent for ¥100 if you do not have your own. Although official regulations state that you can only stay at one hostel for three consecutive nights, this is sometimes waived outside the high season. Hostellers are expected to check in between 3pm and 8pm to 9pm. There is usually a curfew of 10pm per 11pm. Checkout is usually before 10am and dormitories are closed between 10am and 3pm. Bath time is usually between 5pm and 9pm, dinner is between 6pm and 7:30pm and breakfast is between 7am and 8am.