With a unique culture blending traditional and contemporary aspects, exciting food offerings, and fast and convenient transportation systems, Japan is one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world. Japan has experienced a rapid growth of tourism in the past decade, and as the number of foreign visitors to Japan increases, the country’s hotel business evolves. Today there are a variety of lodging options that can accommodate every need depending on the style of travel, budget, and purpose. Here we introduce different types of lodging options so you can choose one for your next trip to Japan.
If you want to experience traditional Japanese omotenashi (hospitality) while staying at a hotel, choose a ryokan for your lodging. Defined as a traditional Japanese-style inn, ryokan are usually equipped with tatami mat rooms, communal baths, and public areas that visitors can share for entertainment. There are several types of ryokan that are different in size, price range, location, and atmosphere.
Luxurious, resort hotel ryokans tend to be located either ocean or mountain side and offer great views. They are designed to feature locally sourced materials and decorated with local crafts. Breakfast and dinner are usually included and served in one’s room, and are prepared by using local delicacies and fresh, seasonal harvests from the region. Ryokans in Kyoto are not always surrounded by nature, but have historical settings. They are often equipped with Japanese-style zen gardens, giving you a place to connect with nature, and serve elegant Kyoto-style kaiseki dishes. Wherever a luxurious ryokan is located, guests are treated with sincere hospitality and feel at home in a completely different environment from their home. In a sense, this type of ryokan is not a simple lodging but a destination hotel in which guests can enjoy amenities and entertainment without leaving the premises.
Onsen (hot spring) towns commonly have ryokans, although they are not necessarily always luxurious or upscale. However, the onsen town itself is like a theme park for tourists. When shopping, sightseeing and even public bath hopping, guests at ryokans can stroll around town in the yukata (casual cotton kimono) provided as a bathrobe. Some of the ryokans in onsen towns might not have traditional Japanese rooms, but again it is the onsen town itself that offers a unique atmosphere allowing visitors to immerse themselves in Japan’s good old days.
Another variation of ryokans is the minshuku. Much smaller in scale and often family-operated, minshuku offer family-style omotenashi and service. Meals are not always gorgeous kaiseki-style, but are full of seasonal and local delicacies. Guests can experience a more everyday Japanese way of life at minshukus, and they are less expensive than ryokans.
Some ryokans boast magnificent views, some are famous for kaiseki-style food, and some offer amenities such as century-old architecture, intricate interior designs, upscale gardens, and a friendly atmosphere in communal spaces that allows guests to mingle with each other. Finally, it is important to know that there is no specific rule for naming ryokans, meaning there is no clear distinction between ryokans and hotels. Some of the ryokan-style lodges put “hotel” in the name to make it sound more contemporary; on the other hand, some boutique hotels put “ryokan” even though they are only partially ryokan-style accommodations. So don’t be fooled by ryokan names and make sure to look into the services and facilities of the accommodation to find what you are looking for.
While ryokans showcase Japan’s traditional sides, city hotels offer its contemporary side. Luxurious city hotels, usually multiple floors high, are equipped with museum-like modern decors, panoramic city views from the top floors, upscale restaurants and bars, and multi-language services that allow you to experience a Western-style stay with Japanese twists. These hotels are accessible from hub stations and shopping malls, and are often connected to them by under- ground pathways. Like with luxurious ryokans, you can enjoy your stay without going outside (but of course it is a completely different experience from that of a ryokan). You can easily immerse yourself in the unique atmosphere, and probably get lost just like Scarlett Johansson did in the film Lost in Translation.
Luxurious city hotels might not be affordable for everyone, so there are more wallet-friendly city hotels. They are not as fancy as luxurious hotels, but they are located in places accessible to subways and train stations and have convenient amenities and multi-language services. They might not be destination hotels, but are comfortable enough if the purpose of your visit is sightseeing.
Perhaps the most popular type of lodging among foreign travelers right now is business hotels, because of their price range and convenience. Business hotels were originally created to accommodate busy Japanese business people who travel nationwide and only need a place to sleep and ease the day’s fatigue. Business hotels have minimal service with no luxurious amenities, but are accessible from stations, affordably priced and usually equipped with business services like fax, copy, LAN, and wi-fi services. They also serve buffet style Japanese breakfast starting early in the morning.
Although they are not fancy, business hotels are perfect for overseas budget travelers who want to spend the majority of their time going out to explore the places they visit. Business hotels do not provide 24-hour room service, but they are usually close to convenience stores which operate 24/7. The cheapest rooms do not have bathing facilities, but in that case they might allow use of a sento (public bath) located inside the hotel. As the number of non-Japanese travelers who use business hotels grows, many business hotels are preparing by employing multilinguals as staff and providing tourist maps and guidebooks.
For those with super tight budgets, there are still some options. Japan also has the youth hostel system popular among backpackers in Europe. Here you will need to share a room, but one of the fun parts of staying at youth hos-tels is the chance to mingle with strangers. Youth hostels and dormitory-style hotels are currently growing in popularity. They are a type of conceptual hotel, meaning each one has an individual concept such as art, organic or traditions. This new style of hotels is particularly popular among foreign tourists. Since they are smaller-scale hotels, they do not always have multi-language services, but adventurous guests can meet people from other cultures and communicate in English or another common language. Some hotels are more like a shared house, having kitchens where guests can cook together.
Another option for adventurous, budget travelers are capsule hotels. Here guests stay in small, pod-like spaces the size of a king-size bed. It looks like a beehive and is futuristic. Guests share bath and shower rooms and the pantry. Since it’s unique and budget-friendly, this type of hotel is increasingly popular among millenials. If you need to stay somewhere for weeks or months, a weekly mansion might be your best option. This is an apartment-style lodging option where you can book rooms by the week. There is no hotel-like service but you can stay there as if you lived there, and it is much cheaper.
Ryokan in onsen towns are equipped with indoor and outdoor onsen with great views. Unwind in milky spring water and beautiful air from the forest in Nyuto Onsen in Akita Prefecture.
Tamachi Buke Yashiki Hotel, located in the old samurai town in Kakunodate, Akita Prefecture, features retro-modern designs and decor that blends well in the old town atmosphere.
Hida wagyu beef, wild vegetable tempura, grilled fish—Local, sea- sonal delicacies are featured in dinner at mins- huku in Hida.
Futuristic-look sleeping pods in a capsule hotel in Tokyo.