Where to stay in Japan
Hotels are 'Japanese' or 'Western' in style, or a mix of both. Western-style accommodation is much like any modern US or European hotel, often with an excellent level of service. No-frills business hotel chains such as Toyoko Inn have become very popular; you'll find them in convenient locations in most cities and towns.
At ryokan (traditional Japanese-style hotels), guests receive yukata (cotton kimono) and slippers, which are perfectly acceptable to wear both within your room and around the ryokan. Rooms have Japanese tatami (straw mat flooring), fold-away futon beds, and shoji (paper) sliding doors. Prices for ryokan range from reasonable for basic inns with shared baths to expensive for the most exclusive ones where rates will invariably include lavish breakfast and dinner meals, a private garden view and extremely attentive service.
Most top-end hotels levy a service charge of 10 to 15% on the bill. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government also enforces a small accommodation tax of ¥100 per night on hotels and ryokan around the city that charge over ¥10,000 per room (¥200 per night if the room costs over ¥15,000).
Grading: No accommodation grading system operates in Japan.
Bed and breakfast
Minshuku, often found in vacation spots, are the Japanese equivalent of home-style lodging or pensions. Rates are moderate, and visitors receive fewer amenities than ryokan or Western-style hotels. Visitors are expected to fold up their bedding and stow it away in a closet, and towels are usually not provided. Slippers are worn in the house. The price usually includes two meals per day.
Campsites with cooking and bathing facilities can be found all over Japan. Many are located near spectacularly scenic areas, making reservations in advance essential. The National Camping Association of Japan (www.camping.or.jp/eng/index.html) has information on campsite locations and facilities.
There are over 300 youth hostels throughout Japan in both urban and rural areas. Many require visitors to be a member of Hostelling International (www.hihostels.com), although a guest card can be bought in advance at the Tokyo National Headquarters. Reservations well in advance are advisable, particularly during spring and summer. Facilities vary between hostels and it’s best to check in advance about sleeping and bathing arrangements, and curfews. Privately-operated backpacker hostels which cater to international visitors are also becoming more common in major cities. Their rates are competitive and they usually provide a lot of free information on local attractions.
Some temples offer the unique experience of shukubo (temple lodging). Guests may have to join in the routines of the monks (getting up early, chanting, doing chores etc) and facilities may be basic. The Japan National Tourism Organisation - JNTO (tel: (03) 3201 3331;www.jnto.go.jp) can provide a list.
Capsule hotels are a fun and economical option, and becoming more popular with budget travellers. Each capsule is basically just a compact sleeping space, on sex-segregated floors, but many have hi-tech consoles with television, internet and mobile phone recharging facilities. Luggage is stored in a locker and bathing facilities are usually shared.