This new series of blog posts will help you with every step of planning your own Japan trip. This time: where to stay.
After flights, your biggest expense is likely to be accommodation. Luckily, Japan is well set up for tourists so it should be easy to find somewhere to stay that fits your needs and budget. Below are some of the types of accommodation you’ll find in Japan, all of which can be booked online. Any of the major hotel booking sites are great for browsing and reviews, though it can often be better to book directly on the hotel’s website.
Some people like to return to the same hotel every trip but I prefer to mix things up so I can get to know different areas. In Tokyo, I look for hotels in my favourite areas that are close to stations on the JR Yamanote Line – these trains go in a loop around all the main tourist areas. If you’re doing a lot of travelling around Japan, you might want to stay close to the Shinkansen stations.
On my last trip I stayed near a subway station and found that very tiring – I think I counted it was 10 flights of stairs to get from the train to the surface, plus a long walkway! If you’ve already had a long day of walking, it can be too much.
Hotels in Japan work the same way as everywhere else – and include many familiar chains. Japanese business hotel chains are generally the best option for your first trip as they’re affordable and situated close to transport hubs.
The only negatives are that rooms are a lot smaller than you might be used to and they lack much personality so you could be anywhere. I don’t have many photos of our hotel rooms – the one above is of our very standard-issue twin room in Osaka, which is one of the bigger rooms we’ve stayed in. If you need more space or a bigger bed, you’ll need to research higher end hotels and western chains. We loved the Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyu but it’s been out of our budget on recent trips.
You can’t really go wrong booking a hotel in Japan – just check reviews and locations before making a decision. Popular Japanese hotel chains include Sunroute (many regular Japan-visitors I know stay in the Shinjuku branch every trip), Toyoko Inn (which lets you earn free stays) and Comfort Inn.
Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns, most popular out in the mountains and countryside, but you’ll find them everywhere. You’ll stay in a tatami mat room, sleep on a futon, enjoy a multiple-course kaiseki meal and can relax in the onsen bath – sometimes outside! If you want a different, very Japanese, experience, a ryokan is something for your wishlist.
They’re much more expensive than hotels – and more restricting: there will be set times for meals and the staff will be in and out of your room to serve meals, make your beds etc.
I discovered apart-hotels when planning my solo trip. As the name suggests, they’re something between a hotel and an apartment. Rooms are still small but some have a tiny kitchen and dining area. The chain I like (Dormy Inn) has an onsen spa, laundry machines, shuttle bus and free ramen after 10pm!
Apart-hotels are great for solo travellers and couples on a budget as you get the same amount of space as a hotel double but they’re much cheaper. Also handy for people travelling together who don’t want to share a room, or who need their own space.
The downsides are that they can be quite basic and old-fashioned (mine was still using actual keys), the staff may be less fluent in English and many are situated in business areas, rather than tourist areas.
Apartments are a great option for families (especially with small children) and large groups who want to be able to hang out together and cook meals. There are a few different varieties: a serviced apartment will usually include services like cleaning, while others are more independent, and Airbnbs can be someone’s actual home. You’ll find them in all locations, but it’s one way to live a bit more like a local in a residential area you might usually have no reason to visit. They often come with a pocket wifi unit too.
On the negative side, there’s the usual risks with Airbnb – always go through the site for communication and payment, and ask questions if there’s anything you’re unsure about. Remember that these are generally apartments designed for Japanese residents so there may be no heating or aircon, appliances may have no English instructions – and you could have to deal with their famously complex waste disposal rules!
If you’re on a tight budget, there are some really cool hostels in Japan with private rooms, cool decor and hangout spaces. The photo above is the Bunka Hostel. Many are in tourist areas so it’s good for groups or couples on a budget. It can be a fun way to meet new people, especially if you’re planning to explore other parts of Asia before heading home.
Capsule Hotels & Other Unique Accommodation Ideas
If you want to try something different, you’ll find lots of fun, quirky accommodation in Japan.
- Live your dream of sleeping in a bookshop at Book and Bed Tokyo
- Capsule hotels are more tourist-friendly now, with women-only areas.
- Kawaii hotel rooms are themed around a character with free gifts to take home – check out these Hello Kitty rooms and search for character room or themed room for more.
- Hotels I stayed in on my last trip
- Tips for Booking Hotels in Japan video at Cakes With Faces
- The 10 Best Hostels in Tokyo at Booking.com
- My Japan Trips master page has tons of links and resources
- My Planning For Japan series tracked preparations for my 2016 trip