Even though Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world, they also have budget places for backpackers. So here I have prepared an article with the best places to stay in Tokyo, for every taste! A decision on where to stay very much depends on where you want to go and your budget.
Reasonably priced but not always inspiring. As they are often geared towards the lower-ranking business traveller, the rooms are generally small singles with attached unit bathrooms. Doubles are sometimes available, but again, the emphasis is very much on the compact. Don’t expect a restaurant or a cafeteria, just vending machines and proximity to the railway station. But no services means no service charges. A business hotel can often be your cheapest option in an urban area.
Prepare to return to the womb for a night. Capsule hotels are the epitome of Japanese space management. Usually situated near railway stations, capsule hotels cost around 4,000 yen a night. Check-out is early, usually between 9.00 and 10.00 am. You’ll have enough room to lie down and perhaps sit up but not enough to do much more than watching the built-in TV, reading a book and sleeping in your fibre-glass interior. Washing facilities are provided; some have luxurious baths and even massage parlours.
Generally confined to the countryside, a pension is like a Westernised version of a minshuku or the Japanese version of the French lodgings from which they get their name. That means a small number of rooms, each with a bed (a real one), a communal dining room downstairs and showers rather than Japanese baths. It also means you get a Western-style breakfast and sometimes dinner—comfortable and homely bases from which to explore the surrounding area.
Ryokan & Minshuku
What they lack in modern facilities, ryokan makes up for in enchanting locations and traditional Japanese hospitality. Often you will be the guest of a family that has run their ryokan for hundreds of years. You’ll feel the years of tradition at these establishments as soon as you pass through the old wooden threshold. Inside, your room will be floored with tatami, the woven reed mats for bare feet and socks only, and paper screens will open onto a manicured garden.
Ryokan is the height of Japanese elegance and luxury though it should be noted that this might not live up to some Western standards. Sitting on the floor, for instance, is not easy for everyone and rice, raw egg and fish may not be your ideal breakfast. Older and quainter ryokan may even lack modern heating. However, what is inconvenient for one will add to the charm for another. Larger, more modern ryokan are appearing, and though they lack a little intimacy and atmosphere, they offer modern facilities and come at a slightly lower price.
Prices are generally per person, though the more people you have sharing a room, the lower that price becomes. You might find the rates a little hard to stomach but remember you will be getting two great meals thrown in, making them competitive with most good hotels.
Minshuku are similar but more modest affairs, usually lower in price and without attentive service. However, the distinction between a high-class minshuku and a cheaper ryokan is blurred. You might find that you’re left to your devices in a ryokan but doted on at a more attentive minshuku. Generally, you will have to put out your bedding and tidy it away in the morning. Some minshuku are no more than a family home run as a guesthouse on the side; you should respect relatively early curfews and make specific common-sense allowances. But in return, you will be rewarded with the personal kindness of your hosts.
There might not be as many as in other countries, but you should be able to find youth hostels in big cities and scenic spots, sometimes even at Buddhist temples. Expect shared dormitories, basic facilities and strictly enforced curfews. If meals are included, you might have to help tidy up afterwards. But, like youth hostels everywhere, they are the best way to meet fellow travellers and the cheapest accommodation. So it’s always worth getting a tip and picking up any leaflets and maps they provide.
Sometimes referred to as “people’s lodges,” these are publicly run hotels established to boost tourism in less visited areas. With that kind of government clout behind them, they pick up the scenic locations in rural Japan, often commanding incredible views on hilltops in national parks. But this can be a drawback too as often the only way to get to where they are is by car. Backpackers beware. Rooms and facilities will be in the Japanese style as it’s mainly domestic tourists they aim to attract. Two meals are usually included in the price and families, and large groups are well catered for. They are a popular choice and reservations are recommended.
Limited space and thin walls can make Japanese homes unsuitable for that private rendezvous, and “love hotels” are the answer. Very much geared up towards nocturnal activities, you certainly can’t miss their gaudy exteriors. They charge “rest” rates until around 10 pm when they start to take staying guests. You may well find them the best value (heart-shaped) double bed you’ll find for the night. Longer-term stays are out of the question.
If the peace and tranquillity of simple living are what you are searching for in Japan, then perhaps shukubo is your best bet. The tradition of temples opening their doors to lodgers began when worshippers who had made a pilgrimage were allowed to stay on site. Many still have their doors open, and everybody is welcome – Buddhist or not. You don’t need to be a believer to appreciate the unique setting or enjoy the local vegetables and tofu cooked by monks who put their souls into their work. If you can adjust to the monks’ definition of “morning” and get yourself up for the 6 am services, you can join in with meditation and have monks on hand to help you achieve your peace.
Called kyampu-jo in Japan, most campsites are fundamental affairs where hot water is a matter of boiling your own from the river. But these campsites are often in the most rewarding locations, such as those in Japan’s many national parks. Renting a car or touring by motorcycle may be your best bet for a camping holiday. However, a number take the “rough” out of roughing it and have excellent facilities. In areas where camping is popular such as Hokkaido, coin laundries, kitchens and space to park the RV are common and sometimes there are even sports facilities and hot springs. But when camping is popular, early reservations are advisable, especially in the summer when schools are on holiday.