Welcome back to another instalment in my Tokyo 2019! Series of blogs about how I plan my trips. A lot of these blogs are based on information I think time travellers may want to know. That, or it is in response to direct questions I have had from people curious about travelling to Japan. Today I want to focus on the accommodation options that are available to travellers – especially those wishing to travel on somewhat of a budget.
In the Past
On my first two trips to Japan, I engaged the services of a travel agent to book my entire trip – flights, accommodation, events, etc. While this was a convenient way to go about it, I had no control of where I stayed. Also, the agent’s services increased the overall cost of the trip. And while travel agents can be worldly and knowledgeable, they are not an entirely complete master of what each area of every city of every country has to offer.
For example, when I made my travels to Japan in 2016, I travelled to Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima. You can check out those travel experiences in my past blogs. But my travel agent had booked me into a nice hotel in a fairly central part of Osaka. Granted it was a short walk to central Osaka and the large shopping district there. But, at night, it was evident that I was in the middle of a red-light district. There were men bars everywhere with flashing lights and giant pictures of pretty Japanese girls. Lots of drunken men walking the streets. Not that it mattered, but I probably would have booked somewhere different myself. It was a tad seedy.
You may have heard of capsule hotels being a weird accommodation option in Japan. But when you understand their history and how they function today, it will make more sense. The original capsule hotels sprung up in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka. They usually catered to Japanese businessmen who had stayed too long at a bar and missed the last train home. They could get a clean, neat and relatively cheap capsule to sleep in before venturing off the next day. Capsules were tiny, but they did the job.
Today capsule hotels appeal to a younger demographic of traveller. And are ideal for people travelling solo. They are seeing a resurgence and have taken on the backpacker hostel market. Good capsule hotels will have floors of capsules just for women and levels for men. Each will have a large bathroom area, private shower and toilet cubicles and a locker room for storing your cases. Some will have a communal kitchen away from the sleeping floors, and others with have communal dining and lounge areas with or without a restaurant.
The capsules themselves are not as tiny as they sound. They are for a single person and have a mattress and bedding. Most will have a television, wifi and a shelf with charging ports for your devices. Finally, they will have a pull-down curtain to grant you privacy. Some hotels have larger capsules that are floor to ceiling. Others will have a row of 20 capsules stacked two or three high.
Personally, I have never stayed in a capsule hotel. But, I have been tempted. They are incredibly safe (as is all of Japan), clean and affordable. Something about being in a tube to sleep that I just cannot get past.
Hotels are hotels. However, I have found the hotels in Japan to be quite tiny compared to here in Australia. You can pay top dollar for a 5-star hotel and get loads of room. For me, as a solo traveller who will be out day and night taking photos, I don’t need a big fancy room. Just somewhere to store my things safely and to sleep really.
I have found booking my own hotels quite easy. I use sites like hotels.com and bookings.com to do a search and compare prices. When searching for a hotel, I will usually look for something that is in a suburb that I intend to spend a lot of time exploring. From there, I look for something that is close to a train station or at the least a subway entrance — keeping in mind that some of those subway entrances can still be up to a kilometre from the actual station. I also look for a hotel that is relatively close to a convenience store. A lot of hotels in Japan have some form of convenience stores located inside them.
I break my search down by star rating and usually aim for 3-star hotels. I have always found these to be clean, neat, safe and perfect for what I need. Japan is a very proud country so a 3-star hotel will work to treat you like a 5-star guest. In the past, I booked a room that included breakfast – usually in a restaurant located in the building. But now I find that I am out and about much earlier and tend to pick up some food from a Kombini or convenience store.
So what is in store for Tokyo 2019!
I am arriving on a Friday night and will be taking the Narita Express train from the airport directly to Shibuya Station. My hotel is only 120 meters from the South Exit of Shibuya Station. Or about 150 meters from the Scramble Crossing. Super close. From my hotel, there is a 7 Eleven 50 meters away in one direction and a Family Mart 50 meters away in the other direction. I will explain the importance of Kombini stores in a future blog. I will be staying in Shibuya for four nights. From Shibuya, I can explore the Southwest part of Tokyo including Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ebisu, Roppongi, Harajuku and Shimbashi.
Then I will be travelling 2 hours North from Tokyo by train to Nikko. A country village nestled into hills and mountains and close to the World Heritage temple and shrine site. The train hits the end of the line at Nikko Station. My hotel is across the road from the station so I can instantly drop off my luggage and head out to the sites with my camera gear. It has a restaurant and cafe. There is a tourist bus included in my train ticket to Nikko that regularly leaves from the station up to the sites in the hills. There is a family mart 100 meters away.
After my night in Nikko, I will return to Tokyo later in the day. For the remainder of my trip, I will be staying in Asakusa. Again I am staying in a hotel with a small but neat and safe room. My hotel is only 100 meters from the grounds of the fantastic Sensoji temple — around 150 meters from the Asakusa Station – which is where my train from Nikko stops. There are many convenience stores within 50 meters – not to mention all the yummy street food stalls. From here I can explore Asakusa, Akihabara, Ueno, Sumida River area and Yanaka.
I hope that this blog has given you some insight into what I have experienced with my travels to Japan in terms of accommodation. And also give you an insight into my plans for when I return to Tokyo in late May this year. Less than a hundred days to go now! Happy travels.