If you’ve visiting Japan and you need a place to stay, you’ve got two options:
- l Stay with a friend in their shoebox-sized Tokyo apartment
- l Spend the cash and book a proper room in one of the country’s fine hotel facilities.
There are lots of lodging options in Japan and it can be confusing if you’re a first time visitor, so here’s a quick rundown.
Japan is full of western-style hotels and most of them are really nice. In fact, they’re too nice; you won’t find the cheapo-but-not-too-horrible hotels by the side of the highway. Most of these hotels are located in major cities and they cost an arm and a leg. However, the price is usually worth it. Service is guaranteed to be good and the amenities will rock.
The Japanese Ryokan
For a real cultural experience, there’s the ryokan (旅館 – Japanese-style inn). You’ll have a big tatami room furnished in classic Japanese style and a rolled-up futon in the closet to sleep on. Most ryokans are located in really nice areas and lots of them have their own onsens (温泉 – hot springs). Ryokans also tend to be expensive but well worth it.
Business hotels offer a nice, cheap alternative to western-style hotels and ryokans if you just want something convenient and simple. Rooms are small but clean and business hotels are usually located in central areas near major train stations. They have vending machines with snacks and drinks, but don’t expect much else in the way of amenities.
Youth hostels are the way to stay in Japan if you’re on a budget. You also get to meet other travelers (in fact, you may have to share a room). Most hostels charge around 4,000 yen a night and they offer discounts if you become a member. You can book online and expect the hostel to be similar to hostels back home.
Most guest houses let you stay on a nightly or monthly basis. They’re basically furnished apartments where you share bathrooms, kitchens and other facilities. They’re used by foreign travelers and residents, as well as Japanese people who work in the city but don’t want to settle or pay the outrageous rent.
The Infamous Capsule Hotels
You’ve probably seen them on TV – the capsule hotels of Japan. Capsule hotels are extremely stripped down version of business hotels. Actually, ‘stripped down’ is a bit of an understatement. You sleep in a capsule that’s around six-and-a-half feet long (if you’re lucky). You get a locker for storing your luggage and there’s a shower. Some of the nicer capsules have massage service, bars and tiny restaurants.
Love hotels can be lots of fun (especially if you’ve got someone to enjoy them with) but not if you mistakenly book your parents in one. These are hotels that are for lovers’ trysts and they’re decked out accordingly. Many of them are themed, most are gaudy and tacky, and they have vending machines full of snacks, booze, and toys to enliven your stay. How do you know if you’ve accidentally wandered into a love hotel? Here are a few ways:
- l The check-in desk has a screen or shade so nobody sees each other.
- l They offer a cheaper rate for a ‘rest’ of 2 hours.
- l You select your room from a vending machine-like display.
- l The hotel is shaped like a giant UFO or Roman castle.
The Internet Café
Although not recommended, there are also Internet cafes. Stories abound of homeless people who take up residence in them for weeks at a time, but the Internet café is usually an option for people who miss their last train home. They have reclining chairs, computers you can use, and food and drink service. As someone who has slept in his fair share, they’re not bad for a couple of hours of shut-eye.