A daunting task for planning any trip, whether it be in Japan or elsewhere in the world, is deciding on your accommodation. While many people have their own criteria which they used to select accommodation, there many be other things as well which you might not have considered. This post looks to highlight factors which may influence your decision.
The first criteria for many would be the cost of accommodation. If you are likely to be spending most of the day out and about, there is no need to spend tens of thousands of yen on an expensive ryokan. Hostels are likely to be the cheapest option available. If you do not want to be in shared dormitories, private rooms are usually reasonably priced (between 2,000 to 3,500 yen per person). If all you need is a bed and bathroom facilities, hostels are more than sufficient. Other reasonably priced options are capsule hotels and minshukus.
(Cost for a hostel is approximately 3,000 yen per night per person in a triple room, which is significantly cheaper than a lot of hotels)
2) PROXIMITY TO TRANSPORT/EASE OF ACCESS
The criteria which I personally used the most is accessibility to the accommodation, and how close it was to any nearby transport hubs. Generally, we tried to stay in places within 10-15 minutes walk of transport. Any further than that and we would eliminate it as an option, as we did not want to spend too much time travelling between the transport hub back to our accommodation. In addition, some accommodation might require long trips to reach, such as an extra bus or train ride which might end up wasting 30 minutes of your time per trip. The additional travel cost of these trips might make it more pricey overall compared to a more expensive accommodation option that does not require any special transport.
List down the critical facilities which you want in all your accommodation, then ensure that your accommodation has these facilities before you book. Essentials like toilets and showers are generally a must. I personally would prefer if it has free WIFI so that I can plan transport routes the night before, but it is not a ground-breaker if it doesn’t. Another essential is whether it has laundry facilities (or is in close proximity to an area that does).
Sometimes we selected our accommodation based on novelties rather than any other criteria. For example, there were cheaper alternatives in Kurokawa, but we ended up going with the more pricey Yamamizuki. Even though the cost is almost 5-6 times more than what we would have paid for a hostel, the experience of staying at this lovely ryokan, the extravagant meals they provided and the extremely efficient and friendly service made it worth it. Of course if you aren’t actually going to be staying at the ryokan much to enjoy it, then I would definitely recommend a cheaper option.
(Yamamizuki Ryokan in Kurokawa cost almost 17,000 yen a night per person, which cost 5.5 times that of hostels. But man was it worth it! The cost also includes 2 meals in addition to free use of the onsen facilities.)
5) ACCOMMODATION HOMEPAGES AND ONLINE REVIEWS
Most accommodation options will have their own webpage. It is always good to have a quick look to gauge your general impression of the place. Of course, in the era of photoshop and enhanced photography, there is a chance that what you see is not what you get. But would you rather stay at a place that at least tries to look good, or one that doesn’t even put in the effort and looks like a complete dump? I would usually do this to select a handful of potential places, but this would not be the critical criteria I would use in selecting accommodation. I would usually back up my preliminary research by looking at some online reviews. There were several well known hostel chains operating at a cheap price, but a quick search on Tripadvisor or Hostelworld will tell of the many horror stories that is associated with these places (e.g. BED BUGS). It is always good to check out these websites to see other people’s opinion (read a mix of good and bad reviews). It is no point saving a few hundred yen if you are going to end up with bed bug problems for the rest of the trip!
6) MAKING YOUR TRIP EASIER
Sometimes you may need to get that early morning flight, or might only be arriving in town very late at night. In these cases, it might be best to pick the most convenient accommodation option. This was what we did when we wanted to get from Itami Airport to New Chitose Airport. Rather than wake up early in the morning, and rushing to Itami Airport from Kyoto before luggage check-in time, we went the night before and stayed at Osaka Airterminal Airport which was located at Itami Airport itself. This reduced the stress of having to rush to the airport early in the morning.
(If I could turn back time, I would still choose to pay 2,100 yen more to stay at a hotel next to Itami Airport, rather than be completely stressed out making sure all of us were ready at 6:30am to get to the airport and hope that none of the transport options had any technical issues!)
7) MAKE MORE DAY TRIPS AND LESS BOOKINGS
Moving between accommodation frequently can be very annoying and time consuming (checking in and out, settling in, transport between accommodations). Consider making day trips from one place rather than moving around each day. For example, if you stay in Osaka, it is a reasonably priced train ride to Kyoto, Nara and Kobe, which makes it suitable to have plenty of daytrips from. This can also allow you to stay at cheaper accommodations (e.g. Osaka’s hostels are usually cheaper than Nara and Kobe’s). We took another extreme and travelled to Nikko for a daytrip from Tokyo (we were using a JR train pass so train trips were no additional expense)!
8) STAY AT THE SAME CHAIN OF HOSTELS
Many hostels offer discounts to those who stay at any hostel owned by the same chain for a certain number of nights. K’s House for example offers up to 2,000 yen discount depending on the number of bookings you had made with the chain. This would be extremely beneficial for those who are hopping between cities on a daily basis.
9) BE AWARE OF RESTRICTIONS/CURFEWS
If you are the party-goer type, make darn sure that your accommodation does not have a curfew! Many youth hostels and private accommodation have curfews so that guests do not disturb others’ (and their own) sleep. Western hotels and big hostel chains usually do not have curfews, and provide after hours access for entering after reception has closed.
Overall, everyone has their own preference on which accommodation to select. While most would probably base their decision on cost, it should not be the only factor considered. Ask yourself, is it really that worth it saving 2,000 yen (USD20) on accommodation if it meant having to waste an hour each day going back and forth between your accommodation? What if it is more convenient to stay at somewhere slightly more pricey? Remember, you had likely spent thousands of dollars to reach Japan. What is a few additional hundred to ensure that you enjoy your trip more? You are on holiday – ENJOY YOURSELF!