Lodging and Accommodation Like in Japan?
If your friends are rolling into town and you don't feel like letting them stay in your humble abode because you have no soul, they'll need to figure out accommodation. Or maybe you've finally squirrelled away some vacation days and money for a vacation in Japan. Whether you're coming in from abroad or you've lived here for a few years now, you may have noticed that Japan has a lot of different lodging options. From the infamous capsule hotel to the pensions, your average hotel or a luxury ryokan, there are finite ways to blow your money on a place to shower, sleep, and possibly even eat.
We've made your life a little easier and described six practical options for accommodation in Japan. If you're new around here or are just stopping by, you'll want to spend at least one night at a place unique to Japan - experience something different and live a little 🙂
Airbnb offers a huge variety of accommodations around the world. You can stay overnight in someone's spare room, rent a villa for a month, or book an apartment for a few days. Listings can be easily parsed to match your parameters, including location, price point, and type of accommodation. No matter where you go, there's bound to be a place for you - Airbnb claims to be in more than 65,000 cities and 191 countries.
In Japan, Airbnb lodging is not yet quite legal under most circumstances; however, that's changing next year partly as preparation for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympics. Oftentimes, the amenities and appliances offered at many Airbnb tend to rival or surpass hotels - it's likely you'll have a washing machine, wifi, and the use of a kitchen. While accommodation comes at a wide range of price points, take note that cleaning fees can quickly add to the total bill.
We have opinions, even about Airbnb in Japan - read about it here.
Ryokan are basically Japanese-style hotels. They combine the comforts you expect of a hotel, and deliver it in a uniquely Japan-esque way. You can expect to experience the Japanese traditions of service and hospitality at a ryokan. It's telling that most ryokan charge by person, rather than by room. Many ryokan staff will have a difficult time communicating in English and you'd be hard-pressed to find a standard bed at a ryokan. Don't stress out but there are definitely some basic manners and points of etiquette to keep in mind for those staying at a ryokan - when in Rome...
Ryokan are rare in large cities (including Tokyo) but you'll find them clustered in tourist areas, particularly in the mountains or by the sea. Price-wise, accommodation at ryokan ranges broadly from reasonable to luxury; compared to Western-style chain hotels, you're likely to fork out a little more. Depending on the ryokan, you can also indulge in an elaborate dinner (sometimes served in your room) and wake up to a Japanese breakfast.
Comfort Inn. The Hilton. The Westin. You'll find familiar hotel chains represented all around Japan, especially in the larger cities. Chances are high that someone on staff will speak English. The majority of the hotels will have the same amenities as any Western namesake establishment - with a touch more service and courtesy. It's important to note though, that facilities and room sizes may not be nearly as comparable to what we're accustomed to "back home".
There are Japan-specific hotel chains that are definitely worth considering, including APA Hotels, Hotel MyStays, and Sotetsu Fresa Inn. Prices will vary wildly depending on a number of factors, including proximity to train stations, time of year, and quality. Booking at least one month in advance is strongly recommended (two months during peak seasons).
If you've ever stayed in a bed and breakfast, that's what a minshuku is - Japan-style. They're a family-run business with guest rooms being a part of the owner's home. They're a good way to meet local families and experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle. Meals are not always included and you're likely sharing the bathroom with other guests.
Amenities are basic and you are often expected to sort out the bedding before and after their stay, as well as fold up the futon and put it away in the closet. Minshuku usually feature moderate rates and are most common nearby hot springs, ski resorts, and vacation spots, particularly in the country, by the sea, and around the mountains.
Pension lodging mixes elements of bed and breakfasts (though usually a little less homey) and a Western-style hotel (without the full service and amenities). More simply, they are akin to the family-run minshuku, but offer Western-style accommodation. Rather than tatami mats and futons, you'll have laminate and beds. Most pensions offer varying meal plans and have communal toilets and bathrooms.
Pensions are typically found in areas popular for sports, particularly ski resorts in the mountains, as well as locales by the sea and in the smaller cities or the countryside popular among tourists. Though prices vary, the general consensus is that pensions tend to be slightly more economical than hotels.
Okay, to be fair this is not really a great accommodation option for a vacation. It's more of a temporary solution, especially if you're drunk and you missed the last train. If you're hauling around a lot of luggage, you'll need to put your stuff in a locker. Some capsule hotels cater only to men, others are coed, and some have separate floors by gender. These establishments are pretty bare bones and if anything, resemble a morgue, or a lot of coffins. Pods are stacked side by side, two units high and might offer a TV and wifi. The open end of the capsule can be closed for privacy with a curtain or door; bathrooms are communal and bathroom amenities are usually available upon request.
Their primary benefit is convenience, as they provide an alternative for those who are too drunk to go home (hell hath no fury like a neglected spouse) or missed the last train and live incredibly far away. Hence, most capsule hotels are nearby train stations. They're relatively affordable (more expensive options abound) but if you're claustrophobic, staying overnight in a pod is probably not going to be your cup of tea.
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