Accommodation in Japan

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Japan really can be a traveller’s paradise. There’s just so much to see and do that, despite being such a relatively small country, it’s all but impossible to experience all that Japan has to offer. Finding a place to stay that suits your needs is definitely a step in the right direction however, and so for this week’s post, I thought I’d take a break from writing about anime and instead tackle a different aspect of Japanese culture – accommodation.

Note that this is not a how-to post, and that I have no intention of listing off every single type of accommodation available to visitors in Japan. I trust that most readers are quite capable of working out for themselves the differences between a regular hotel and a business hotel, or of researching the best way in which to go about booking a place to stay on their own. What I’m more interested in writing about are some of the traits that usually characterise certain types of accommodation – particularly those unique to Japan – and discussing a few of the pros and cons that go along with them.


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These are traditional Japanese inns that first sprung up along Japan’s highways in the Edo period, but which are now much more commonly found in rural areas of the country. They tend to be especially popular with those tourists looking to experience ‘real’ Japan, since ryokan are known for their tatami mat rooms, sliding shoji doors, futon bedding, and communal bathing areas. Meals usually come with the room and are traditional Japanese fare, with many ryokan priding themselves on the quality, subtlety, and local specialty of their food. Though they come in a huge variety of styles and sizes, from tiny family-run establishments to large-scale resorts, the typical cost of staying there makes the ryokan more of a luxury option. For a middle-of-the-range choice, guests can probably expect to pay roughly $200 per person, per night. A few other things to keep in mind is that many ryokan, if not most, are unable to accept reservations on short notice, don’t cater to single travellers, and can’t operate in English.


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This is an ideal option for travellers who want to experience the same kind of atmosphere as they would at a ryokan but are otherwise unable to afford it. Essentially the ryokan budget-version, minshuku offer many of the same features that ryokan do but with less of the frills. Rooms are smaller and less impressive, dining is usually optional, and guests generally take care of themselves a lot more. Typically family-operated and seen in towns or villages that are too small to warrant its own larger hotel, minshuku offer a lot of local charm at a reasonable price – half (or less) of what most people might pay at a ryokan. Since they tend to operate a bit more casually as well, minshuku can be a lot less intimidating to first-timers than ryokan, but on the downside, those that have English-speaking staff are just as few, if not fewer.

Temple Lodging (Shukubo)

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It doesn’t get any more ‘real’ than this. If you’re a visitor wanting to experience a glimpse of the Japanese Buddhist monk lifestyle, then temple lodging is the way to go. Not all Buddhist temples offer such lodging to strangers – usually only those that are connected with popular pilgrimages – but some places in Japan, such as the cluster of mountains that make up Mount Koya, are especially known for their tourist-friendly shukubo. In these particular temples, the cost for one person per night is about $100, and in exchange, you’ll be provided with a simple traditional Japanese room, communal bathing facilities, dinner, and breakfast. Guests are also usually free to wander the parts of the temple open to the public during their stay, and to participate in morning prayers. There are a few restrictions, of course – dinner and breakfast are served at set times, and the food, commonly involving tofu, is strictly vegetarian – but so long as you’re prepared to adhere to etiquette (this is a religious establishment, so mind your manners!), few other guest accommodations in Japan can match the beauty, tranquility, and culture that temple lodgings provide.

Love Hotel

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Going right to the other end of the scale, love hotels can make for pretty interesting accommodation for those exploring the urban side of Japan. Reasonably cheap and often gaudy as all hell, love hotels are used by all manner of people – from prostitutes and cheating spouses to curious and/or budget-conscious travellers alike. While the hotel entrances themselves may be discreet, many exteriors are anything but – and neither are interiors, for that matter. Look for buildings that are decorated ridiculously, with sparkling hearts and seizure-inducing neon. Rooms can be obtained during the day for only a couple of hours “rest” at a time, and also for overnight “stays” at a higher price, although even then, a not-too-luxurious hotel shouldn’t set you back any more than around $100. Some love hotels are themed and feature specialised… equipment, but all of them are incredibly discreet (you order your room by pressing a button and will probably never meet the receptionist), extremely clean, and at times hilarious. On the downside, you usually can’t make prior reservations or even select your overnight room until 10pm. On the other hand, love hotels can make for a rather interesting travel story.

Capsule Hotel

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On a strict budget, or accidentally missed your last train back somewhere after a night out? The capsule hotel is probably for you, and can be quite the experience in itself regardless. Guest ‘rooms’ are more like hollow blocks than anything else; efficiently tiny and furnished with nothing but a bed and television. Each capsule is stacked side-by-side and two units high, with only a curtain or fiberglass door for privacy. Elsewhere, lockers are provided for luggage storage and communal washrooms for bathing. While some capsule hotels have their own restaurants and various entertainment facilities, most are intentionally very basic in order to help serve the (now slightly scary) numbers of people who are either incredibly drunk, or else who can’t afford to rent actual houses in which to live; at around $40 per night, you probably won’t find a cheaper option. Although female-only floors are available in some capsule hotels, many of them still only cater to males, and needless to say, they don’t tend to make for the best of vacation accommodations anyway – although they are undeniably convenient.

Internet/Manga/Karaoke Café

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If even the humble capsule hotel is too expensive for you, or you’re trying to find a place to crash at the last minute but can’t locate any available capsule hotels nearby, this is probably going to be your last-ditch option. These types of places are often open 24/7, where small cubicles can be rented out by the hour for 500 yen or so, or even less for places that provide specials for slightly longer stays. Karaoke boxes typically have couches on which to crash if absolutely necessary, while manga or internet café stalls usually come with a thin rubber mattress and/or reclining chair and a pillow or two. The latter also commonly features a place to shower, as well as self-serve, all-you-can-drink coffee and soft drink machines. Obviously these are not the quietest of places, or the most family friendly, but if you’ve got no other place to go and don’t want to pull an all-nighter at the nearest McDonald’s or family restaurant, at least you can still catch a few hours’ sleep somewhere safe. They’re also a dime a dozen in the larger urban areas of Japan, so they can be a real life saver.

Question of the post: What’s the strangest or most unique place you’ve stayed overnight in Japan? If you had the opportunity to stay in any of these places listed above, where would you pick?

13 thoughts on “Accommodation in Japan

    1. I’ve stayed at most of them and had good experiences there too – but I guess my favourite out of those on the list would have been minshuku, which I’ve done a couple of times now. And not just because I don’t really have the money to afford a ryokan either; the minshuku isn’t only cheaper, but it also feels less intimidating to me. Really grand and pricey stuff often make me feel uncomfortable, and if I’m on holiday I want to relax!


  1. Ohhhh? You’ve stayed at most of these? I would love to hear your stories of some of the cheaper options listed here.

    I’ve done ryokan a couple of times (one was a very fancy large one in Miyajima on my first trip to Japan, the other was a smaller, older one in a historic onsen area in western Shimane). I suppose a couple of places I’ve stayed in Kyoto are technically ryokan, but they were more like hostels. Haven’t done a true minshuku yet, though I’d like to. Generally, in the countryside, I’ve been visiting people I know and just stay at their place. I would really love to do a temple stay someday, too!

    I have, however, done three overnight stays in different karaoke places in Ikebukuro. What I’ve learned from “free time” is that at more expensive places you can expect nice, big, long couches and pillows, so if you really want to close your eyes and crash, you can do so if you can stand the sound of your friend still singing. However, these places will typically kick you out around 4am, and you’re left to wander in a state of drowsiness until the first trains start up (or you could go crash face down on a table at a family restaurant). Alternatively, cheaper places will let you stay until a more comfortable 10am, but you can’t expect to get any real rest here–tiny couches that only toddlers could lay down on without falling off, and much less of a sound barrier between you and the people squawking next door. And in my experience, for some odd reason I’ll never know, they really were squawking like chickens.


    1. I’ve never stayed overnight at an internet/manga cafe or karaoke place, although I’ve spent plenty of time in the day at all of them. I have to say, I’d rather find another place to bunk down while travelling if possible, but it’s still nice to know that there are other options if necessary. But if we ever have the… erm, unique opportunity to sleep in a karaoke place together, I promise to keep my chicken squawking to a minimum. XD


  2. One time I was out after midnight and missed the last train, so rather than walking all the way from Akihabara to Kichijoji, I just stuck around in a McDonald’s until morning. If I didn’t have a smartphone, I probably would have walked back.


    1. Yeah, I’ve seen/heard of quite a few people doing something similar. I’ve been stuck out in Japan at night in the past as well – though unfortunately, my little town doesn’t have a McDonald’s and I was pretty far out from the nearest family restaurant as well, so I actually did just end up walking.


  3. I’m thinking of backpacking to Japan some time soon and heard that the internet cafe is the best choice for someone on a tight budget. But is it true that some internet cafes only accept local IDs exclusively, not foreigners?


    1. Yup, it probably doesn’t get any cheaper than that. It may be that a few internet cafes may not accept foreigners, but I’ve personally never had any trouble.


      1. Ah, I see. Thanks.
        Also, any tips for the first-time traveler to Japan? Specifically the Kyoto and Osaka area. I’m trying to fit in Tokyo into my itinerary (and budget), but my primary objective is to see more of Japan’s traditional side.


        1. I don’t live in either of those cities, but having visited them a few times now, my main advice would probably be to have specific places in mind to visit. Japanese big cities are just so vast and so sprawling that you can travel around all day and still not really see what it is you want if you’re just kinda wandering aimlessly. Kyoto is where a lot of the more traditional sights are, but every place has them – you just have to know where to look. But if you don’t want or are not able to narrow your search down to particular sights just yet, why not do a bit of research based around specific areas of the cities you’re visiting instead? Tokyo, for example, is made up of a great many different wards and cities, and you’ll have a totally different experience in, say, Harajuku, than you will in Shinjuku.



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