Once you organised your trip itinerary, it is time to book accommodation in Japan. The more remote the place, the more difficult and expensive it gets booking a nice hotel. For that reason, it is important to start your search early. There is always time to re-book a hotel at a later stage of your planning.
By now, booking accommodation in Japan is pretty straightforward. Many international hotel booking sites offer vast variety of hotels, hostels, ryokans or temples all over Japan. Thanks to that, you are able to book a hotel in English or any other language for almost anywhere in the country. However, the prices vary substantially from one site to another. Many locals would suggest you to book a hotel in Japanese language instead of English. The reason for that is obviously better prices for the locals versus international tourists. Although, that could be a complicated process to undertake if you are not familiar with the Japanese booking sites or the language. Therefore, instead of navigating the Japanese Rakuten, I’d suggest opting for the English alternatives such as Booking.com, Agoda.com, Japanican.com or else.
What is particularly convenient when booking accommodation in Japan is the fact that most of them give you the possibility to cancel your reservation up to few days before your stay. This gives you tremendous flexibility when checking for better prices through out the months before your departure. I myself went through quite a few hotel re-bookings as I was finding better deals at a later stage of my planning spree.
Planning your accommodation in Japan
It might comes as a surprise to most of you but accommodation in Tokyo is rather affordable. This city is among the most visited in Japan, therefore the choices are plentiful and the prices are competitive. Before starting your search, keep in mind that Tokyo is a big city! If you are a first time visitor, choose a convenient location for your accommodation, ideally close to a Metro stop of the Yamanote line. This line is free for unlimited use once you purchase your Japan Rail Pass.
** Learn more about whether to purchase a Japan Rail Pass HERE
The Best Tokyo Neighbourhoods
The most suggested locations are usually Shinjuku & Ginza. While I agree to a certain degree, I would also suggest the districts of Ueno or Tokyo Station. They tend to be a bit cheaper while they stay very well connected to the other touristy parts of Tokyo. On top of that, Tokyo Station is a great dinner or breakfast location. It offers a big variety of food items thanks to it’s enormous food courts and some European pastry shops! Once you get tired of eating rice or noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner, visit the Danish bakery Andersen in Tokyo Station to get your sugar and gluten fix!
Searching for an affordable roof above your heads gets more complicated in Kyoto. Being the most popular and culturally rich Japanese city, the prices for an overnight stay at a hotel climb to above 100 EURO easily. You might be luckier if you start booking your stay in Kyoto more than 6 months ahead. Due to the masses of Chinese tourists who come here regularly, the hotel rooms get booked out quickly!
The Best Kyoto Neighbourhoods
The central area of Kyoto is relatively walkable however most of the major temples and touristy spots lay in all the far away corners of the city. If you have only few days to explore Kyoto, stay centrally located, ideally between the Kyoto station and the Kyoto imperial palace. Quick access to the Kyoto station or local bus stops might be useful if you plan to visit popular spots such as Kikaku-ji or the monkey park Iwatayama, located on the outer edges of the city. Gion is another very popular neighbourhood filled with restaurants and geisha entertainment houses. The prices however escalate quickly in this fancier and very touristy part of Kyoto.
Osaka is rarely on a map of the first time visitors to Japan, but it should be! It has very vibrant city centre and it is often referred to as the mecca of Japanese street food. It certainly is! Situated right next to the famous Kobe region, known for its excellent marble beef, Osaka is also the perfect destination for steak gourmands. On top of the excellent food and night life, a stay at Osaka’s hotel is much more affordable compared to its neighbouring city, Kyoto. Being only 30 minutes train ride away from Kyoto, it can be the ideal cheaper alternative for the budget travellers.
The Best Osaka Neighbourhoods
With the price of accommodation being very affordable, aim for a hotel in the very centre of the city. Since Osaka is known for its culinary extravaganza, get close to the neighbourhoods of Dotonbori, famous for it’s Tokyo like Neon lights and herds of tourist, or Shinsekai, area close to the Osaka tower and street food stalls.
The Accommodation Options
Hostels are easily the cheapest accommodation option around Japan. It is ideal for a group of people comfortable with bunk beds or capsules. They tend to be fairly well located, very clean and they provide you with all basic cosmetic items such as shampoo, shower gels, razors, etc. Hostelworld as well as Booking.com have a great selection of hostels in the major Japanese cities.
The price range:
Tokyo: €15-40 a person / night
Kyoto: €20-50 a person / night
Osaka: €10-20 a person / night
2. Capsule Hotels
A hotel style which is very popular among the local business men. They have been originally invented to provide convenient and cheap accommodation for an energising nap but turned quickly into an affordable overnight stay for tourist and locals alike. Each customer is assigned an individual pot furnished with no more than a bad, light and a small TV screen. The capsule hotels also provide cosmetics items and towels, together with a Wifi connection. They often require you to walk about barefoot (or slippers) and there is limited bag storage facility. It might be convenient for a short stay rather than a week-long trip of exploring Tokyo as the neighbouring capsules may contain “noisy” sleepers. I personally did not get much sleep during my one night stay at a Shinjuku capsule hotel.
The price range:
Tokyo: €20-40 a person / night
Kyoto: €30-60 a person / night
Osaka: €20-40 a person / night
We’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about Airbnb in Japan before we experienced it ourselves. As we later found out, many were unjustified. Airbnb in Japan can be tricky, mainly due to the language barrier. However, after experiencing a 4-night stay in Airbnb in Tokyo (the first 4 nights out of our 16-day trip in Japan), I did not regret a thing. We had an amazing host with broken but understandable English. He provided us with pocket Wifi (extremely helpful for walking the city) and we had a washing machine available in the apartment (not needed but great for visitors who are ending their 2 week Japan trip in Tokyo and had dirty clothes piling up).
You might want to check Airbnb first as since the time we checked, many new Japanese Airbnb hosts popped up on the website. Go by the number of positive international reviews as that serves as a great indicator of the host. There is a lot of Chinese tourists coming to Japan these days so I would avoid Airbnbs showing only Chinese reviews.
The price range:
Tokyo: €40-70 / night
Kyoto: €100 / night
Osaka: €50 – 60 / night
Hotels are a perfect accommodation option for traveller who prefer more comfort. It become more expensive staying in a hotel (mainly in Tokyo) but you do get the additional services and most of all, privacy. When browsing hotel sites, be aware of Love Hotels or “Adults only”. They might not be the ideal choice as the name already suggests. Another details to be taken into consideration are the size of bed, aka suspiciously sounding semi-double beds, and smoking preferences. Cities where considering hotels becomes more convenient if you are traveling as a couple are Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima. Our stay in Hiroshima’s Washington Hotel with an excellent buffet breakfast was particularly enjoyable! When booking a hotel, test various hotel-booking website. Often, Agoda seems to have better prices compared to Booking.com. Especially for Kyoto, which can become rather expensive if you want to stay in good neighbourhoods.
Tokyo: €40-100 / night
Kyoto: €80-120 / night
Osaka: €40 – 80 / night
Hiroshima: €60-120 / night
By far the best Japanese experience! Ryokans, also called Japanese Ins, provide a real connection to the Japanese culture. You get to sleep on the futon beds, drink litres of green tea and soak your body in a hot onsen, traditional Japanese hot spring. Even better than that, you get to be served the best meal of your journey! At least I certainly was. It, of course, comes at a premium price, but it’s worth every penny! I’d suggest to book a ryokan accommodation in a more remote places like Hakone, Kanazawa or Takayama. Being surrounded by forest adds an extra coziness to the ryoknan experience.
A proper double bedroom including “half-board” (breakfast and dinner) can easily set you back €400. Some ryokans even offer a private onsen as part of your suite, however even €400 won’t get you there. During our stay in one of these beautiful ryokans in Hakone, we enjoyed a selection of public onsens and we easily reached satisfaction. The trick is to come either early enough or very late, to avoid the crowds. Ryokan Fukuzumiro in Hakone even offers a small private onsen which you can enjoy with your partner – very rare as onsens are usually separated by gender!
Tokyo: €80-200 / night – usually on the outskirts the city center
Kyoto: €150-300 / night
Hakone: €200-500 / night
Takayama: €100-350 / night