Accommodation on a shoestring budget. The unconventional options!

  • In the previous article I covered all the conventional options for the budget traveler. This time, in the second and final installment of this series, I will be covering a few unconventional options for the more adventurous individuals (or those who blaze into town at the last moment without any reservations, especially during peak-seasons).

    Do note, however, that these options are not long term lodgings. As such, it might be wiser to leave your main bags/ baggage at a ‘locker’ in a major station in the city. Most stations will have some form of baggage storage lockers.

    MANGA CAFES (AKA- Manga Kissa)!


    Author’s photo

    These cozy little hideaways are truly a uniquely Japanese creation. There may be similar venues elsewhere in the world (I’m looking at you, PCBangs in Korea), but none come close to matching the atmosphere and ambience of these cozy little places. These places are often home to businessmen who have missed the last train home, otaku, the occasional budget traveler and of course, ‘nomads’ who don’t have a permanent place to stay etc.
    The concept is fairly simple:
    Go to the cafe, purchase ‘time’ blocks (they’ve mostly got cubicles, sometimes with reclining chairs or sofas depending on which options you choose) or a night (sleepu) package and get yourself a place to stay for the night (and maybe surf the net or read manga).
    They truly deserve to be experienced at least once.

    • Pros:
      -Availability of ‘cubicles’ without reservation
      -The more well-known chains (such as Media Cafe Popeye) are quite comfy
      -Unique experience
      -Some of them have shower (and you can even rent towels!)
      -Some may have vending machine snacks etc. for sale
    • Cons:
      -No loud noises/ talking
      -Unless you get there around 7, there may be a shortage of available cubicles
      -Not as comfortable as an actual hotel
      -Some cafes have a ‘lights out’ time when the power to the floor will be cut leaving you without internet/ computer access until around 5-6 a.m.
      -Lack of English speaking staff (most of the time)

    While Manga Cafes have gradually evolved to accommodate the wandering souls who come through its doors overnight, Karaoke parlors generally make no concessions in this regard. Generally open from around 9p.m. to 5a.m., these places are good to catch a few hours of shuteye before heading off. Also, you can do karaoke and stuff.
    These may cost around 3500JPY (slightly more expensive than Manga Cafes), however, if there are no other options… they will do. I’ve never personally been to one solo, but you could always try your luck. However, if you have two or more people, it will be a lot more fun. You can sing together, kick back a few (admittedly, terrible) free drinks and nap on the ‘sofa-esque’ seating in the cubicle. Please do note that the price that they originally quote is PER PERSON, no matter how many people go in (I made this mistake the first and only time I slept in a Karaoke place in Asakusa, ending up with a bill of around 14,000JPY for four people).
    Also, it is not really wise to tell the management that you intend on using their establishment as sleeping quarters. Just pay for the night, go in, shut the door and do whatever you want.
    Some places may have security cameras in the cubicle, so do try and behave if you go with your friends.

    • Pros:
      -Comfortable (although hotels are better)
      -Relatively cheap
      -Free drinks (which, for the most part are not very good) depending on the place
      -Can also do Karaoke
    • Cons:
      -Closes by around 5a.m. after which you have to leave
      -You might have to put up with the faint noises of others’ merriment
      -Staff may not be the friendliest of them all
      -Do not speak English most of the time (although basic Japanese and body language will not pose a problem)
    • RATING: 2.5/5 (this is only for extreme occasions)


    Author’s photo

    Finally, should all else fail, Love Hotels make an awesome short term option for catching a few winks of sleep. These little hideaways were originally devised as a solution for frisky couples to get some alone time away from the overtly thin, noise conducting walls of Japanese homes filled with relatives.
    However, they can provide the wayward traveler without any accommodations with a suite type room to shower, freshen up and have a nap. The ‘suites’ here often rival those found in decent business hotels costing twice as much.
    A room can go for anywhere from 3000JPY-5000JPY for a 4 hour or overnight stay (depending on the location and the competition).
    The only downside here is that most love hotels are meant for an explicit purpose. Therefore, they are pay as you leave. Hence, once you select a room and enter the room, you cannot leave the room until a)you pay up and terminate the contract b) your time runs out and you pay up to leave.


    -Go to the lobby. They normally won’t have a receptionist. Instead there will be an electronic board with a listing of all available rooms. The available rooms will normally be lit up.
    -Press the button next to your chosen room.
    -The light will start blinking signaling that your room is now unlocked.
    -Once you go in and shut the door, your time begins and you can no longer leave the room until you pay up and terminate the stay.
    -If you do not go in and shut the door within a time limit (approx. 2-5 minutes) the room becomes vacant again and someone else can reserve it.
    -Dial either 0 or 9 in the in-room telephone for assistance. Just learn a few basic Japanese phrases asking for help as the receptionists won’t speak English. Most love hotels will have very helpful staff (as long as you are polite and nice to them).
    -Once you are done, there will be a machine at on the wall near the door. Just put your cash in (remember the price from downstairs) and the door will open (this is similar to the normal vending machine system found all over Japan).
    -Note that some hotels will have time selections when you choose the room. Others will opt for the short-term stay by default. A quick call to the reception and asking them to change the time to long term or three hours will fix it (especially since you cannot read the Kanji on the machine in the room).

    • Pros:
      -Cheap price for a great suite-type room (often including amneties such as a private ofuro, private shower, karaoke set, free pay-per-view, personal pachinko machine, sofa, massage chair and a twin size bed). The amenities vary depending on the hotel.
      -No reservation needed (so it’s pretty easy to get a room, unless you happen to go really late on a couples friendly night)
    • Cons:
      -Some may consider the ‘stigma’ of going into a love hotel, which do have a dubious reputation in some parts of the country (however, they are mostly cozy little hideaways easy to slip into)
      -Unable to leave the room and come back in midway through the stay
    • RATING: 4/5 (if you’re on a quick stopover without a desire to go out shopping and order room-service, it’s a great place to go)

    And that marks the end of my experience with low-cost accommodation for the planning-weary traveler. For finding places, always use the Japanese sites (whenever possible) in conjunction with Google Translate or a helpful Japanese person. The first part of this article offers more help with regards to that.

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