The dates are chosen, the plane tickets are bought, and now comes the next big question mark on your Japan itinerary … where should I stay?
japan has a range of accommodation options, and it’s absolutely crucial you know your own travel style before you book a particular place. Here are just some of the options available to you:
1. Guest Houses and Hostels – Unlike in Europe, Japan does not have a strong Hostelling International presence, But there are a few HI places to stay, as well as a fairly strong independent hostel network. From my experience, any guesthouse I’ve stayed in has been spic and span, even in the shared showers and bathroom. In many places, expect that you’ll have to make your own bed (or futon). Towels and toiletries are usually available to rent, and the capsule ryokan in Kyoto even has a shelf of free toiletries for guests. Staff at guesthouses are usually young, bilingual and incredibly helpful. Expect to pay about $20-$30 for a dorm bed. Try the Kyoto-based Tour Club chain or the Japan-wide K’s House.
2. Business Hotels – Ah, the best kept secret of Japanese travel. If you’re traveling as a couple (or even as a trio), you might find your cheapest lodging to be in a business hotel. Unlike dumpy chain hotels located in seedier parts of town in other countries, business hotels in Japan are usually situated right outside major train stations or in the downtown area and provide a clean, compact room with absolutely everything you could need (though beds are hard). Expect a full bath, toilet, tv, free internet, free breakfast and even a robe and slippers. Space is limited and single/twin beds only are the standard configuration but these rooms come fairly cheap (for Japan) at $70 to $80 for a double. Some major business hotel chains are the Toyoko Inn, Tokyu Inn, Hotel Villa Fontaine and Hotel MyStays.
3. Luxury Hotels – If comfort and style are key for you, you’ll find a plethora of options both international and home-grown. There are obvious pluses to a luxury hotel – English speaking staff, a soft bed with more than one pillow, access to room service (and western breakfasts – but you’ll pay dearly for the price. Rooms at a luxury property range between $200 and $500 per night, though you can often find deals on hotel websites if you book in advance or for longer stays. Some of the top luxury chains in Japan include Hyatt, Westin, ANA Intercontinental, Mandarin Oriental, Nikko Hotel Group and the new Hoshinoya Resorts.
4. Temple stay (shokubo) – If you’ve ever wondered about the inner workings of a Japanese Buddhist community, considering overnighting in one of the country’s many temples. The most notable is the famed complex of Koya-san (a few hours south of Kyoto), and guests can (and are often expected to) take part in the daily prayers and activities of the temple. Other temples, however, have opened their doors as hostels with no obligation of participation, including temples in Nagano and Takayama. A good place to start is the Temple Lodging in Japan website.
5. Ryokan – For a uniquely Japanese experience, book a night (or several) at a ryokan. A ryokan is technically a traditional inn, though many modern ryokan can be housed in boxy concrete buildings. For the most part, expect traditional Japanese-style bedding (a futon, which will be prepared for you every evening and put away for you every morning), public (but gender separated) bathing facilities, and one to two included meals. Most likely you’ll be charged per person, rather than per room, as the meal cost is factored into the price. If you have back problems, be aware that a futon is little more than a mattress on the floor and often the pillows are quite small. If the public baths are a little off-putting, consider a ryokan that has private facilities or “family baths” that can be rented for a certain amount of time. Ryokan can range in price from $70-$500 per person per night. Some great resources for booking a ryokan include Japanese Guest Houses, Takamakura and Selected Luxury Ryokan.