When it comes to finding a place to stay, the Internet has you covered a bit too much. A google search will shower you with 5 million lodging options, all with 5 star ratings – likely the least helpful thing when you’re trying to plan a trip.
Since we moved around quite a bit during our trip (Tokyo -> Nagoya -> Kyoto -> Osaka -> Tokyo), we had the opportunity to stay a few days in different types of places, and honestly, each has its own charm.
I said this in the summary of tips about Japan, but I can’t stress this enough: where you stay is everything. Your future self will thank you if you book a place a few minutes from the closest train station. Extra points if it’s above or near a convenience store! In Tokyo, we stayed near the Yamanote Line (see maps below). Overwhelming, but if you look at the Yamanote line – it’s just a circle running through some of the more popular areas in Tokyo.
For the other cities, since we were only there for a few days, we stayed near the Shinkansen station, to make the biggest commute (ie: the one where we’re lugging our suitcases) less painful.
Staying at an AirBnB
TL;DR: Cheapest way to get a place near public transportation, best if you have a large group, useful amenities (pocket wifi, washer/dryer, kitchen), can be difficult to find / access.
This was the least convenient in terms of checking in, but definitely the cheapest.
Pros: Having a kitchen, washer/dryer, pocket WiFi and being able to get a larger place without breaking the bank (a friend stayed with us for the last week of our trip).
The first week in Tokyo, we were solo and stayed in a tiny shoebox apartment for around $80/night. During the last week, a friend met up and stayed with us, so we opted for a bigger space. This is where AirBnB shines – if you have a group of people, it’s easy to get a multiple bedroom/bed place on a budget.
Our tiny Shinagawa AirBnB:
Our Shinjuku AirBnB:
Cons: Coordinating the key pick up and checking in.
For the first place, it was easy enough to find the key in their apartment mailbox, which was locked with a combination code. The second place was a bit more tricky and involved finding a key attached to a long chain, locked to (I kid you not) the gate for a cafe down the street.
Always make sure you have the contact information of your AirBnB host (direct phone number because waiting for them on chat while you’re standing outside in winter is not the best) and double check that if there are exterior security doors, they provide you with a number to ring or an access code.
Staying at a Ryokan
TL;DR: If you want to experience traditional Japanese culture, stay at one of these.
Ryokans are traditional inns from back in the day. With classic shoji sliding doors, tatami mats, futons to sleep on and yukata to wear, it was a fun cultural experience. There are a lot to choose from in Kyoto, but we stayed at Matsubaya Ryokan since it was near the train and reasonably priced.
Pros: Comfortable futons, relaxing atmosphere, unique experience
Kyoto was beautiful and quiet, with temples and bamboo forests and mountains full of monkeys – the perfect way to recover from a week in Tokyo.
Cons: Curfew (usually around 10pm), reservations can be difficult (some don’t do online reservations)
Staying at a Hotel
TL;DR If you’re looking for convenience or are nervous about getting around, this is the way to go. You pay to play, but you get what you pay for!
Pros: Giant fluffy pillows, toiletries in individual packages, coffee and amazing service
Japan being a culture that doesn’t accept tips, the hotel we stayed at blew us away when it came to service. In Nagoya, we weren’t sure how to get to the Nabana no Sato winter illuminations, but the concierge desk gave us step by step instructions. Everything from how to get to the bus station, which bus number, platform and what to look for, how much it would cost, exactly what time the illuminations are turned on and what bus to look for to get back. Amazing.
Cons: Lack of useful amenities, tiny rooms
What can I say? When it comes to amenities, I like the idea of pools and gyms, but on vacay what I really need is a washing machine so I can wash my socks or that pair of jeans Ry thinks he can wear for a week. Hahhaa.
Hope this shed some light on finding a place! At the end of the day – do what’s within your budget, and what you feel comfortable with. I mean, if you’re flying in at 1130pm, you probably don’t want to deal with looking for a key hitched to a gate somewhere.
All this being said – we’re still on the hunt for a place to stay for our week in Seoul. Some have said Hongdae, others Myeong-dong and Itaewon. Anyone been recently and have tips? Thanks in advance!