Japan Guide - Accommodation

Accommodation

Accommodations available in Japan range from inexpensive Japanese-style inns to large Western-style hotels. Although it is possible to travel throughout Japan without making reservations beforehand, it’s essential if you are traveling during peak travel seasons. It’s generally a good idea to reserve a few nights accommodation for when you arrive in Japan. It’s also good to note that during peak times, many accommodations, especially in resort areas, raise their rates. Weekends might be slightly more expensive as well.

By far the cheapest accommodation in Japan is camping - though not sure you'd want to be doing much of that in winter! If you plan on camping you can find campsites from free to up to Y4000 yen, however most are around Y500. Next up the ladder is a youth hostel with an average cost of Y2500. Japan is not a backpacker's country, so backpackers and youth hostels are not abundant as other places, but you should be able to locate one in most areas. Some temples offer lodging for travelers, and they can be another cheap option.

If you do have a few yen to spend, you give yourself a lot more choices. There are far more traditional ryokan (Japanese-style inns), minshuku (Japanese B&B) and hotels to choose from and some can be reasonably affordable.

For a selection of Accommodation in snow resort towns, please refer to our Places to Stay section on SnowJapan.

Youth Hostel

As any respectable backpacker or budget traveler knows, youth hostels are a bargain. They are comfortable and inexpensive, and are a good place to get information and meet people. There are more than 420 youth hostels in Japan, most of them privately run, and operating in locations ranging from temples to concrete buildings. There is no limit, and although most of them require a youth hostel membership card from the Japan Youth Hostel association, they often let foreigners stay without one for about Y600 extra per night. Youth hostels generally cost about 3500 yen per day including two meals. However, there are usually a few restrictions, so it's a good idea to check what time the close (some have curfews), breakfast times, and if they have any scheduled closing times throughout the day. Rooms are usually dormitory style with bunk beds or futon although some may offer more privacy.

You can get a map from the Japan Youth Hostel Association (03-3288-1417) that shows where they can be found in Japan. If you wish, you can literally plan your trip around where they are located. You can also pick up an English copy of the Youth Hostels Map of Japan for free at the nearest JNTO or TIC. You can also buy a youth hostel card in Tokyo at the Youth Hostel information counters in the second basement of Sogo Department store in front of Yurakucho Station, and on the eighth floor of Seibu Department Store in Ikebukuro. Having a JYHA or IYHF card can save you some money at some of the hostels, while others don't require you to have one. Many require you to use a sleeping sheet, which can be rented there if you don't have your own.

Temple Lodgings

Shukobo (temple lodgings) can be an interesting way to experience a unique aspect of Japan. These lodgings in Buddhist temples are similar to inexpensive ryokan, except that they’re attached to temples and serve vegetarian food. Some temples allow you to participate in meditation and prayer, while others leave you more to yourself. There’s usually an early-morning service around 6am. The rooms are usually fairly basic but the atmosphere more than makes up for it. TIC's have leaflets on temple lodgings and where they are located.

One highly recommended place to experience this is at Mt. Koya (about 200 kilometers south of Osaka). Prices for an overnight stay in one of the temples, including two vegetarian meals range from 9000 yen to 15000 yen per person depending on the room. The rooms feature traditional Japanese tatami floors and have a nice garden view. Baths and toilets are communal and meals are at set times (breakfast is served at 7:30am). The morning service is at 6am and is highly recommended. Although Buddhist monks are vegetarians, that doesn’t mean they don’t drink beer or sake, which are readily available at an extra charge.

Minshuku

These family homes that take in visitors are the Japanese equivalent to bed and breakfasts. Typically what differentiates minshuku and ryokan is that ryokan are more expensive and provide more services, but the difference can often be slight. Minshuku are a good way to get a closer look at Japanese life and are an economical and pleasant alternative to staying in a hotel. Minshuku are often located in resort and tourist areas and generally include two meals in their rates. You must keep in mind that you are basically staying in someone's home, so that Japanese traditions and customs must be respected much more than at hotels. In minshuku, guests are expected to set out their own futon bedding, which can be found in a closet in the room. Breakfast and dinner are usually included and are either served in your room or in a communal dining area. Most minshuku also have a curfew at or around 11pm, so make sure you get in before then or risk waking the hosts.

Things to remember when staying at a minshuku: take your shoes off in the genkan (entrance way) and put on the slippers provided for you. Where the slippers when walking around unless you enter a tatami mat floor, or the toilet, where another pair of slippers will be provided as well (never go into the bathroom barefoot!). Most minshuku have a bathing area for guests and some (not all) provide a small towel (for washing and/or covering yourself), and a yukata (cotton robe worn before and after entering the bath). Bathing protocol requires you to thoroughly wash yourself before entering the tub. There are small stools to sit on (and usually soap and shampoo) outside the bath for this. Do NOT use soap in the bath. After washing, slowly get into the bath and relax. Most tourist information centers at or near train stations have a list of minshuku in the area. A more detailed list can be found at the Japan Minshuku Association or from JNTO.

Pensions

A pension is basically like a minshuku except the accommodation is Western-style with beds instead of futon, and the meals are usually western dishes as well. These accommodations are often located in outdoor or ski resort areas in the countryside, which can make access a problem if you are visiting Japan with a rail pass. Nonetheless, some pensions can arrange to pick you up at the nearest rail station and prices usually start at about 8000 yen. If you are interested in seeing some of Japan’s beautiful natural areas, pensions are a good option.

Ryokan

The most traditional Japanese accommodation is the ryokan. These traditional Japanese inns are often found in scenic areas and offer excellent service. Most ryokan have beautifully landscaped Japanese gardens and simple yet tasteful décor. Most ryokan even in cities offer excellent unobtrusive service and strive to create a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere for their guests. Ryokan are more expensive than minshuku, and top end places can be more expensive than even the nicest hotel. Rates can vary greatly from place to place, so it's definitely worth inquiring first before you make reservations. Prices can literally go as high as you want, but there are also some great family run Japanese inns that you can stay at for as little as 4000 yen a night.

Nonetheless, if you're visiting Japan the experience is definitely worth it, if only for one night. The price includes a kaiseki ryori (traditional Japanese cooking) and breakfast in your room, as well as the services of a personal maid who serves the food. Most meals include about 10 small courses and feature local specialties. Like the minshuku, the simple but elegant tatami rooms serve as both the dining room and bedroom. When dinner is over the food is cleared and the maid will lie out the futon bedding. In the ryokan, everything is taken care of for you.

Hotels

Japan has wide range of western hotels. The service at luxury hotels is excellent and expensive. They offer a wide range of services, extras and dining choices. Large hotels are accustomed to foreigners and have some English-speaking staff that can help with any questions or problems you might have. First class and mid-ranged hotels are knows for excellent service and cleanliness. Luxury hotels in Japan can compete with the best hotels in the world and offer a wide range of services including health clubs, massage, business services, and dining and shopping choices. Most places also offer English-language newspapers, although you may have to inquire at the front desk. Any tourist information center can provide you with a large list of hotels in the area.

Business hotels

Business hotels are cheaper and more basic places to stay. The rooms are usually small but centrally located to cater to Japanese businessmen. Although the rooms are small, they are very functional and provide everything you need, albeit in miniature form. If you are a large person, you may find these hotels slightly cramped. The advantage of staying at a business hotel is of course the price. In metropolitan areas you should be able to find places starting as low as 6000 yen a night for a single. Business hotels are especially convenient for business travelers as they are often located near train stations and you can leave your bags at the front desk.

Love hotels

Another kind of hotel that you will see all over Japan is the notorious love hotel. As the name infers they are a place for people to go for private (and often) secret rendezvous. Most Japanese people live in small houses or apartments with their families, and it is hard for young single and married people to find a discreet place to meet. The love hotel is the Japanese solution. Many places feature exotic themes and facilities that allow guests to indulge in their wildest fantasies. Love hotels can often be identified by their gaudy exteriors and many are located near entertainment areas or along major highways. Nonetheless, for budget travelers, or those needing a quick place to stop, they can offer a cheap alternative for a night's stay. Love hotels have nightly or hourly rates, which you will see posted near the front door.

Capsule hotels

Capsule hotels got their name for their coffin-style units that guests sleep in. Japanese businessmen who have spent an evening out drinking and missed the last train home usually visit these accommodations. Although they are very small, consisting of nothing more than a bed, a private color TV, an alarm clock, and a radio – they are usually cheaper than a taxi ride home. Many capsule hotels do not accept women, as there usually is very little privacy and the only thing separating you from Mr. Sato next door is a curtain. It would not be recommended to stay in a capsule hotel for more than a night, but if you want an interesting experience that you will only get in Japan, it’s worth giving it a try.

Don't expect to find any of these in ski resort regions.

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Japan General Information

Part 1 Information on Japan
Part 2 Getting to Japan
Part 3 Tourist information
Part 4 Passport and visas
Part 5 Costs and money issues
Part 6 Post and telephone
Part 7 Internet and newspapers
Part 8 Measurements
Part 9 Health and safety
Part 10 Accommodation
Part 11 Food
Part 12 More food!

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