Japan is expensive, and one of your biggest expenses will be accommodation. Even a budget hostel room in Japan costs as much as a five star hotel in Thailand, but the country is such an interesting and rewarding place to travel that it’s worth the expense. If you are on a budget then finding the cheapest accommodation will be a priority, but we also recommend spending a bit extra if you can and staying in a traditional Japanese inn at least once. Sleeping on a futon in a tatami mat room is a quintessential Japanese experience and it’d be a shame to miss out.
After house sitting in Kyoto we travelled around the country and tried out a range of accommodation. Prices may be high but standards are too and we didn’t have a bad experience. Everywhere we stayed had A/C and all but the traditional inn and temple had WiFi. It’s a good idea to book accommodation in advance, because you could end up paying a fortune if budget places are booked up when you get there.
Here are various accommodation options that we tried and a few quirky options that we’d like to next time.
You might assume that hostels are the cheapest place to stay in Japan, but actually our cheapest accommodation was in a business hotel booked online (see below). There are some benefits to staying in hostels though. You usually get much better facilities including a kitchen (which can save you money eating out), common area to relax and socialise in, WiFi, computers, bike hire and laundry. The staff are also much more likely to speak English (which isn’t commonly spoken elsewhere) and be able to help you out with information on the local area.
We stayed at K’s House hostel in Hiroshima and although the room was small (most are in Japan) it was very clean, comfortable and had a private bathroom well equipped with towels, shampoo and soap. The kitchen was clean and well stocked, and the staff were welcoming. We loved the map they provided with details of restaurants in the area – we found a great little Okinomiyaki place this way.
Our friend raved about all the K’s House hostels she stayed in in Japan, and we also heard good things about the J Hopper hostel chain.
Cost: Beds in dorm rooms are about 2300 – 3000 yen (US$29.50-38.50). A private double room with shared bathroom is 5600-7000 yen (US$72-90) per room and a private double ensuite around 7800 yen (US$100).
Recommended For: Budget travellers, especially if you are travelling alone or want to self cater.
We found some great deals in the big cities by booking business hotels online through booking sites like agoda.com and booking.com. Rooms are small but clean, usually have WiFi and as they are aimed at business men who might have missed the last train home come equipped with everything you might need: towels, soap, shampoo, toothbrush, comb, robe. They always have a private bathroom and also come with a desk and fridge. There’s not much atmosphere and the staff may not speak English but they are a good budget option for a few nights.
Cost: Prices vary but we paid from 5600 – 8300 yen (US$72-106) per room by booking online.
Recommended For: Couples on a budget.
A ryokan is a traditional inn, and a minshuku is a more basic, family-run version. Ryokans are very expensive but are worth trying at least once for a real Japanese experience. You’ll sleep in a tatami mat room on a futon – a stack of thin mattresses that are put away during the day leaving a minimalist space. Usually the only furniture is a low table where you sit on cushions to drink green tea, and sometimes meals are served here. There are sliding doors and if you are lucky, in the more expensive places, views over an elegant garden.
Private bathrooms are rare, even in the most expensive places, so bathing takes place communally Japanese style. Rather than shower cubicles you’ll find separate male and female bathrooms where you shower in the open to clean off before getting into a hot, relaxing large bath. There are set bathing times in the evening. The idea of taking a bath naked with strangers did freak us out so we were rather glad when no one else was around when we took ours. Some ryokans can arrange for a private bathing time. After your bath you can relax in the provided yukata (cotton kimono).
Dinner and breakfast are usually provided and is part of the reason the room price is high. Meals are excellent and you’ll be served up a multi-course, kaiseki (Japanese traditional gourmet) feast. Even breakfast is an adventure – we stayed in a minshuku in Tsumago and ate rice, miso soup, an array of pickles and cold vegetables, seaweed and salad.
We didn’t have WiFi at our minshuku but some of the more expensive ryokan do. You are paying so much for the experience though that it’s a good chance to switch off for a day or two.
A helpful resource for finding ryokan or minshuku is Japan Guest Houses. Select a place you like from their detailed descriptions and they’ll book it for you without charging a booking fee, which is really helpful as English is often limited at these traditional places. They also have some good information about ryokan etiquette and what to expect from a stay. It’s important to book traditional inns in advance as meals need to be prepared for. You can also get tourist offices to help you book a place.
If you can’t afford a ryokan then many hostels offer tatami mat rooms for the same price as Western-style rooms so you can get a taste of the traditional experience on a budget.
Cost: Our minshuku in Tsumago (a small traditional village) cost 17,430 yen (US$223) for us both with meals, and it was quite basic. The more luxurious ryokans will cost a lot more. The Japanese Guest House site lists ryokan from 14,000 yen ($179) per couple all the way up to an astonishing 220,000 yen (US$2820). Their average price is 30,000 ($384.50) yen per couple.
Recommended For: Everyone who would like to experience traditional Japan and can afford it. We wouldn’t have wanted to stay in a ryokan every night but we are definitely glad we did it once.
For a really interesting accommodation experience you can stay in a Japanese Buddhist temple. The room style is similar to ryokan – you’ll sleep on futons in tatami mat rooms, share communal baths and eat multi-course feasts for dinner and breakfast. The difference is you’ll be served shojin ryori vegan meals and you’ll be encouraged to participate in the early morning chanting and meditation ceremony with the monks.
The most popular places for temple lodgings are Kyoto and Koya-san, a pretty temple village up in the mountains a few hours outside of Osaka. You can book temple stays at Japanese Guest Houses.
Cost: We stayed in the cheapest temple in Koya-san, Haryo-in which cost 13,650 yen (US$175) for us both with meals. It was quite basic and the temple more modern than attractive, so if you can I would recommend splurging on one of the other temples which cost about 23,000 yen (US$295) per couple. That said, if you can only afford Haryo-in we did enjoy our experience.
Recommended For: Anyone looking for an interesting Japanese experience.
There aren’t a huge amount of holiday rentals in Japan, but they can be a good option in Kyoto and Tokyo where hotel prices are high. We stayed in a one bedroom apartment in Tokyo which wasn’t much more expensive than a tiny private room in a hostel with a shared bathroom. Our HomeAway apartment was very comfortable, well equipped and we enjoyed staying in a local area a 15 minute train ride from the craziness of downtown Tokyo. Having our own kitchen enabled us to save money on eating in restaurants.
Cost: Our Tokyo apartment was 9167 yen (US$120) a night.
Recommended For: Families and couples.
Yep, you’ve guessed it from the name – Love Hotels are aimed at Japanese couples looking for some privacy. They are common in big cities and aren’t as sleazy as you’d expect. Often the quality of the rooms is great for the price and you can enjoy the fun room themes! You can recognise Love Hotels by their garish décor and signs outside giving prices for Rest (a few hours) or Stay (overnight, usually from 9 or 10pm).
We didn’t have the chance to stay in one ourselves but I’ve heard they are a good option, especially if you are arriving late in a city and don’t have pre-booked accommodation.
Cost: An overnight stay costs around 8000 yen (US$102.50).
Recommended For: Couples on a budget, especially if arriving late at night.
Capsule hotels are aimed at business men who have missed the last train home. Rooms or sleeping pods are tiny, not much bigger than a coffin, providing just enough space to sleep but are equipped with TV, light and alarm. Bathrooms are shared and luggage is stored in lockers. Most capsule hotels only allow men so we didn’t try one, but it would be a quirky place to spend a night and meet some Japanese salarymen.
Cost: 3000 to 4500 yen (US$38.50- 58) per night.
Recommended For: Single guys on a budget.
Manga Kissa Internet Cafes
A Manga Kissa is a manga café where young Japanese hang out to read comics and use the internet. There are usually video games, cheap food and showers too. Private cubicles can be rented with a computer and comfortable, reclinable chair, so many people stay in them overnight, especially if they’ve missed the train home.
Cost: 1500 – 2500 yen (US$19 -32) for an overnight stay.
Recommended For: Solo travellers who need a cheap place to stay late at night.
House sits don’t come up in Japan very often but we got lucky. Being able to stay in a house in Kyoto for free for over three weeks in exchange for looking after the cats was a great deal for us and enabled us to save a lot of money. Free accommodation is just one of the benefits of house sitting though and we also loved living in a quiet residential area and having our own kitchen.
Recommended For: Everyone, especially couples and families.
If you can’t find a house sit in Japan another way of finding free accommodation is couchsurfing.org. Not only do you get a free place to stay on someone’s couch or in their spare room, but it’s a great way to meet local people and get tips about their city.
We’ve had wonderful experiences with couchsurfing in the past but found it difficult to find places in the Japanese cities we were visiting that had space for a couple. The couchsurfing community isn’t as huge in Japan as in other countries which may be because of language issues and a lack of space. If you are travelling alone you might have more luck, especially in the bigger cities.
Recommended For: Solo travellers on a budget.
Japan has some really interesting accommodation options and it’s a good idea to try a few of them for a varied trip.
Where are your favourite places to stay in Japan? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.