Live it Up! Accommodation in Japan on a Shoestring Budget

  • HOW TO
  • The 2000s have seen Japan rise from the ashes of the homogeneous shackles that once bound it in relative isolation and welcome droves of backpackers, students, and expats from the world over. Japan has a veritable treasure trove of wonders to offer the aspiring traveler. However, in a country where 10,000 yen bills are the norm, expenses can quickly add up and many a wanderer may end up dismayed about their financial situation.

    Having traveled throughout Kyushu and through Tokyo on a (mostly) shoestring budget, I’m here to enlighten you to the numerous budget lodging options available to those who seek them.

    A few things must be noted beforehand

    • In order to secure most of these accommodation options, you will have to plan your trip in advance (a minimum of 1-2 weeks is advised, allowing for an additional concession of about 2-3 weeks during peak seasons).
    • A working knowledge (or, at the very least a basic knowledge and Google Translate) of Japanese will make your journey a whole lot easier.
    • Or, just skip step two and find yourself a “shinsetsu na” (親切な, “kind”) Japanese buddy.
    Capsule Hotels

    hotel1

    Pros:

    • Relatively cheap
    • Extremely sanitary
    • Most offer really great baths and other sanitary facilities
    • Divided into male/ female levels or floors
    • A majority of receptionists will probably speak some level of English
    • Quite comfy

    Cons:

    • Patrons can only stay from around 7:00pm to 9:00pm
    • Individual ‘capsules’ are ridiculously compact (unless you reserve a slightly more expensive business capsule).
    • Divided into male/ female levels or floors (if you’re with a significant other, please note that these hotels are exclusively for sleeping and not any “extracurriculars”.)
    • No talking or chatting after a certain time
    • No hanging out in friends’ capsules
    • Multiple people in each row (think, high-end bunk-beds surrounded by capsules)
    • No meals available

    Review:
    I have stayed twice in these hotels (the first time being in Well-Cabin Fukuoka). Being someone who prefers slightly more spacious accommodations, it did feel a bit claustrophobic to me. I barely had enough room to keep my suitcase inside. On the other hand, they had given a nice little locker in the “capsule” to store your valuables. The bath and washroom facilities were pretty impressive and comfortable, though. The whole experience is designed to (quite successfully, in my opinion) mimic a first-class airplane cabin.

    The staff were courteous and friendly, with a decent enough knowledge of English to make any foreigner’s stay pleasant.

    My Rating:
    3/5 (The rooms were too small and cramped, but otherwise it’s a brilliant place to spend the night)

    International Hostels

    hotel2

    Pros:

    • Extremely conductive environment to make new acquaintances and friends
    • Fun parties and dinners held free of change on certain days (eg: Falafel parties)
    • Generally clean and sanitary
    • Normally have shared kitchens to make a quick snack in the night
    • Check-in and check-out times are quite flexible
    • Will store your baggage for you at the counter prior to checking-in
    • Staff are generally international, English speaking and friendly

    Cons:

    • Bunk beds (this equals uninhibited snoring throughout the night if you end up with the wrong roomies)
    • Difficult to get reservations on short notice (especially during peak season)
    • Experience depends on the crowd present during your stay
    • Normally doesn’t include breakfast or other meals (save for the occasional free dinner party)

    Review:
    These places are truly brilliant. I’ve personally stayed at the Khaosan International Hostel (Original) in Fukuoka and a hostel in Ueno, Tokyo. You get an opportunity to make friends from all over the world and you can also practice your Japanese. So far, I’ve met everyone from a flight steward to a reclusive professor to backpacking couples from down under at these places. The facilities were pretty awesome and I truly loved the hotel sponsored interactions (like dinner parties etc). On the downside, the Ueno hostel’s rooms were a bit claustrophobic.

    My Rating:
    4/5 (A bit unpredictable due to the experience being based on the crowd present)

    Budget Hotels and Japanese Ryokan (Traditional Hotels)

    hotel3

    Pros:

    • You truly get a Japanese experience (Japanese Ryokan ONLY)
    • The food (if included) is heavenly (Japanese Ryokan ONLY)
    • The hosts are very polite (Especially in Japanese Ryokans)
    • The rooms are very clean (although you WILL end up sleeping in a Futon even in a budget hotel)
    • Sometimes include ofuros (or, if you’re lucky they might even have a hot spring)
    • Good if you are sharing rooms
    • Spacious rooms (most of the time)

    Cons:

    • Slightly more expensive than hostels or capsule hotels (depending on the rooms)
    • Hosts sometimes speak only Japanese (except for a few foreigner-friendly Japanese ryokans)
    • Limited number of rooms
    • Heating isn’t always the best (the insulation can be a bit lacking sometimes)
    • There aren’t many vegetarian options for food

    Review:
    These places are definitely the go-to venues for any first-time traveler traversing Japan. I enjoyed every moment of my stay in these ryokans. The management was always welcoming, however, they did not always speak English (although my daily conversation level Japanese was good enough to manage).

    I have put Japanese Ryokans and Budget hotels together, because when searching for them, I have often found the term “ryokan” to be interchangeable, sometimes referring to budget hotels as well.

    My Rating
    4/5 (the price and availability factor kind of puts this a bit down on the list)

    Personal Recommendations

    Here are a few recommendations of hotels I have stayed in.

    Well Cabin Nakasu
    Location: Fukuoka
    Type: Capsule Hotel (male only)
    Check out more information on rooms, rates, and facilities here!
    Access

    Khaosan World Namba
    Location: Osaka
    Type: Hostel
    Check out more information on rooms, rates, and facilities here!
    Access

    Hotel Maruchu
    Location: Tokyo
    Type: Budget Hotel/Ryokan
    Check out more information on rooms, rates, and facilities here!
    Access

    Tips on Finding the Best Deals

    First of all, Google is your best friend. Couple this with a bit of basic Japanese and you’re golden! See, some hotels over here often cannot be justified in translating their special deals (called ‘campaigns’ or キャンペーン)to English.

    For example, if you are searching for a ryokan, paste into your search engine 安い旅館 meaning cheap ryokan. Add the name of the city in Japanese afterward. Use Google Translate’s page translation feature to get the gist of it. Alternatively, ask a Japanese person to help you out.

    Finally, do book early. The later you are, the harder it gets.

    With these tips, you’ll be able to stay at great Japanese hotels without breaking the bank. Have a safe journey!

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