As with most places you may want to travel to, Japan has its share of options of where you can stay. Maybe even more so.
Choices, Choices, Choices…
There are, of course, hotels (of the fancier and business variety). And then there are hostels, minshukus, ryokans, capsules and probably even more that I’m missing.
The last three are pretty unique to Japan while the others are basically the same with a few differences. Selecting the best place to stay will depend on your budget, where you’ll be traveling, the location you’d prefer, the amenities you’re seeking and more.
To hopefully make your decision-making process a bit easier, I’ve put together a brief rundown of your primary options.
A Ritz or Intercontinental in Japan is probably pretty darn similar to a Ritz or Intercontinental elsewhere. Bells, whistles, high prices & spacious rooms are probably fairly standard. I’ve never stayed in a fancier hotel in Japan myself, but from what I’ve read you can probably expect it to be a similar experience.
An option that seems to be growing in popularity in Japan is business hotels. Most business hotels can be compared to something like a Hampton Inn or a Comfort Inn, if you’re familiar with those. Kind of middle of the road. Actually, I thought the business hotels were nicer than your run-of-the-mill hotels in other countries as they just seemed cleaner and nicer overall.
The one thing is that in Japan, like many things, everything’s a bit smaller – and that goes for the room sizes, as well, especially in big cities like Tokyo where space is at a premium.
Business hotels do tend to have the same amenities you’d expect to find in a western hotel, though, which is a plus. Some of the better perks:
- En-suite bathrooms. Much as you may not mind schlepping down the hall to brush your teeth or use a shared toilet if you have to pee in the middle of the night, you’ll find it much handier having a sink, shower & toilet in your room.
- Wired and/or wireless Internet connection. It’s not essential for the casual traveler, especially since many lodging places offer a computer for guests to use. But if you do have your own laptop or smartphone, it is super handy having the ability to connect, often for free (though some hotels have a surcharge – Internet was included in all of our hotels).
- Hair dryer. Very, very handy for the ladies (and some high-maintenance men, too, I suspect). When you need to pack light – and you should in Japan – you won’t have to lug around a hair dryer. Awesome.
- Television. Normally I don’t care if there’s a tv, but the Japanese have the oddest, most strangely entertaining shows that I’ve seen in a foreign country. Consider watching tv an introduction to Japanese culture. :)
- On-site laundry facilities. If you only have a small handful of clothes to wash (and when I say small, I mean small. If you fill the machine to what seems like its proper capacity, your clothes may not get very clean and they definitely won’t dry), this might be beneficial to you. But be warned – if all the hotel has are machines that supposedly wash & dry all in one machine, you might be better off hand washing.
Not all business hotels will have all of the above, but as a general rule they do.
The Benefits of Business Hotels
While it would’ve been nice to stay in a ryokan here and there because it is very Japanese-y, it didn’t end up making as much sense for us this time.
My hubby needed to do some work online every day, so staying in ryokans and hostels weren’t as good of an option, 1) because wifi was less likely to be available, especially in ryokans and 2) we’d have his laptop with us and in some hostels it may not have been quite as safe leaving it in the room.
It was also super convenient having your own bathroom. Simple things like taking a shower can become a huge pain, especially when you have to go down the hall with all of your stuff only to discover the shower’s already in use.
Another benefit is the ease of booking. We made all of our reservations ahead of time and did all of our bookings through hotels.com. It worked flawlessly. We didn’t want to chance showing up and hoping a room was available. And good thing, too, because on more than once occasion, the hotel was fully booked. Again, it will vary depending on if you’re visiting in peak season, but it’s something to keep in mind.
I’ve stayed in a lot of hostels during my travels and some are downright awful. Think tiny jumping critters, mini scorpions, disgustingly dirty sheets, 15 people shoved into one room… All true first-hand experiences, by the way. I’ve been there, but sure wish I hadn’t.
And then there are spotless, comfortable and even private rooms with your very own bathroom attached. Yes, they do exist! And sometimes they’re quite lovely.
The hostel we stayed at in Japan (Spa Khaosan in Beppu) was definitely showing its age and unfortunately some of the bedding wasn’t the cleanest (though the same could be said for many – or most – hotel bedspreads, no?), but it did the job.
We had 3 people and managed to secure a private room with an en-suite bathroom. The price was not very competitive compared to most business hotels, but the fact is that some towns and cities have really limited lodging so you gotta pick from the few available.
Something that hostels don’t often include in the price is some of your basic amenities. Like soap. And towels. And sometimes even sheets. You have to buy or “rent” these items if you don’t have them yourself. So take a look at what is and isn’t included and add up the extra amounts. You may be surprised – it could end up being more cost-effective staying in a business hotel, after all.
Minshukus & Ryokans
These two types of accommodations are pretty similar to each other, with ryokans usually being a more high-end option than minshukus.
They’re both traditional Japanese inns and staying in a minshuku or ryokan is a much more authentic Japanese experience all around. The closest comparison to this type of lodging would be western-style bed & breakfasts.
The prices seem to vary considerably, but are typically more expensive than a western hotel. You generally share bathroom facilities & breakfast and/or dinner is included in the stay.
Your room is just that – a room. You’ll probably need to make your own bed (which is usually a futon sans frame) as it’s typically folded up and put away until you’re ready to sleep. The futon is placed directly on the floor, which is covered with tatami mats. Be sure not to walk on the tatami with your shoes, but you probably won’t make that mistake since you’ll have to leave your shoes at the front door, anyway.
Ryokans and minshukus are definitely a great option if you’re seeking a more cultural experience from your stay. I’ve stayed in ryokans before and quite liked them. But it all depends on what you’re looking for and what your budget is.
Something that I think is pretty unique to Japan are capsule hotels. Instead of a room, you basically rent a tiny sliver of space not much bigger than a one-person tent. It’s kinda like bunk beds since you may need to climb up above another capsule to access your area, but you do get your own private space. Some even have their own tvs.
It’s one of the cheapest – if not the cheapest – options and sure to be a memorable one. Traditionally they were geared towards businessmen and men in general, though I’ve heard of a few budget travelers (including women) trying it out, too.
To Sum Up
We ended up staying in business hotels in all cities but one and it worked out really well.
The prices for a 2-person room averaged about $100/night, so roughly $50 per person/night. Not bad, though a little bit steeper than we were hoping. Part of the problem is that the exchange rate wasn’t in our favor (about 80JPY to $1USD). We were also traveling during cherry blossom season, so from what I read, the prices were inflated from their normal rates.
I’d love to hear your experiences – what types of accommodations did you stay in while visiting Japan? What were your favorites? What do you recommend?