This trip to Japan was an interesting one for me, largely because of the types of accommodations we tried, we stayed in a capsule hotel, a business hotel, a temple and a apartment outside of inner Tokyo. Far be it that these are all the lodging possibilities that Japan offers, but I think we managed to cover most of the interesting ones.
Capsule hotels, as its name suggests, consists of capsule-like living quarters. In the hotel that we stayed at in Osaka, the capsules were stacked in twos with a line of capsules along each wall. Definitely not for the claustrophobic, the “room” consists of a mattress, which takes up the entire capsule. But in that tiny space, you have a TV (which I couldn’t figure out how to operate), a radio, an alarm clock and even a small mirror. Each capsule comes with a blind that you can draw down for privacy, but as you can imagine, it doesn’t really block out noise. Outside of the capsules, they have shower stalls, lavatories and even a powder room, with hair dryers, for the ladies. It’s like staying in a hostel but with slightly more privacy.
Capsule hotels for ladies are hard to come by, after all it started out as a cheap place for drunk salary men to bunk in at when they’ve stayed out too late to catch the train home. We managed to find a few in Osaka and decided on B&S Eco-cube in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. B&S Eco-cube was really quite lovely, everything was very clean, they provided shower gels and shampoo and conditioner, the beds were comfortable, there were plenty of lockers to store our valuables, the staff were friendly and the main door to the ladies’ level was only accessible with a key card for the floor. The price is very affordable too, a one night stay in a capsule set us back about US$40. B&S is located in Amemura, American Town, and very close to the Namba area, so it’s very convenient. It is tucked away in a small street so GPS actually comes in very useful when you’re first looking for the hotel. After that though, it’s not difficult to find it again.
What I found a little inconvenient was that because we only have that little capsule, we were not be able to keep our luggage with you, so we had to to take out everything we needed for the night out, put it in a locker on ourfloor, then keep everything again the next morning. Also, even if you are staying more than one night, you’ll have to check out at 10am the next morning and check back in again at 5pm. All in all, I enjoyed the experience, had a really good night’s sleep, but am not likely to repeat the experience again, especially if I’m travelling with someone else, because staying in a proper hotel, in a twin-sharing room, does not cost that much more.
Business Hotels in Japan are not the most luxurious places but they are comfortable and provide you with everything you need for a short stay at an affordable price. We got a good deal with the Sheraton Miyako Hotel in Uehonmachi, Osaka for about US$110 per night per room, without breakfast (not much more as compared to the Capsule Hotel). Do note that many hotels also do provide a singles option for those travelling alone. The Sheraton Miyako is not the newest kid in the block, but still very comfortable and is very easy to find, being located just above the Uehonmachi Station. We were certainly relieved when we realised that we didn’t need to lug our luggage all over underground as we had to do, going from the capsule hotel to the train station!
At this point, I have to note that train stations in Japan are huge and it can take quite some time to get from one exit to another and it may seem like you’ve been stuck forever walking in tunnels, especially with lugging big bags along.
After Osaka, we headed up to Mount Koya, or Koyasan as it is known in Japan. It is the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism in Japan and is considered a sacred place by many Shingon Buddhists. So much so that many famous personages from Japanese history have grave markers or mausoleums in the cemetery at Koyasan. At Koyasan, there are many temples who provide accommodations (shukubo) for pilgrims who visit the final resting place of the founder of Shingon Buddhism and now they allow tourists who visit Koyasan to find a night’s rest under their roof.
A stay at a temple in Koyasan is not the cheapest, coming in at least US$100 per pax per night, but the temples provide a vegetarian dinner and breakfast as part of the package. Despite it being vegetarian, the food is certainly nothing to sneer at (more about it in a separate post on food). We stayed in a small temple called Hoon-in, largely because the more popular choices were all fully booked by the time we got round to booking accommodations. It is however, a hidden gem. If peace and quiet are what you are looking for, it is what you get. There are a few monks and two ladies (that we saw) looking after the temple but we were mostly looked after by a young monk who speaks English. He took pains to explain where things are located, what time we were to have dinner, how to get to places and what all the different dishes we were served for dinner.
The rooms are traditional tatami rooms and consist of a changing room and a main sitting/sleeping room. Before bedtime, the kotatsu (a covered low table with heating underneath) is the feature of the main room, but as we were having dinner, someone went into the room to set out the futon for us. As Koyasan is situated on a mountain, it gets very cold at night, even as it moves into summer, be prepared to freeze as you are walking from the room to the toilet and the bath. Oh, this place has communal showers by the way. But luckily, there were only two groups staying there that night we were there and we managed to arrange shower times such that we could shower individually. Hoon-in also has a hot bath that I soaked in that night and it really did wonders for my poor aching feet that had been tortured thoroughly the past few days. It also helped me keep warm on the long walk back to the room.
Temple stays are not for those who want to sleep in, because we had to attend a morning prayer session at 6.30am, which lasted for 20 minutes. During which time, they keep the futon and you can’t go back to sleep after that 😦 The delicious breakfast did make up for that though.
If I had a chance to go back to Koyasan again, I definitely will and will probably stay for a longer time because it really does allow you to slide into a calmer state of mind and I think everyone needs to recharge once in a while. The fact that it’s impossible to get wifi signal in Koyasan really helped me to disconnect.
I’ve been to Japan a couple of times and I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to actually live in a city like Tokyo. Since there is a very slim chance of me me packing up my life and moving to Japan, the next best thing would be to check out airbnb and rent an apartment for my stay in Tokyo. We ended up with a place called Kawaii House in Umejima, whose train station is not listed on the metro map of Tokyo. Despite that, it’s still a very convenient place to stay at and Umejima is a very nice to live in. There are plenty of eateries (we did discover a place that we both liked called Jonathan’s and if I lived there, would be a place I’d frequent) and is a lovely neighbourhood. Why is called Kawaii House? Because it is darn cute. The hosts decorated the place with lots of stuff toys and even had totoro rugs and other memorabilia. I saw totoro and had to stay there ^_~ The apartment is small, more like a studio apartment with one bedroom/living room, small kitchenette, and bathroom.
It is one thing to rent that place for a few days, but I cannot quite imagine living there on an extended basis, the place is that tiny. However, it was comfortable for a short stay and it was nice to get a feel for actually living in Tokyo; the train rides into Tokyo proper, the eateries that are open till late, shopping in the neighbourhood supermarket, it’s not difficult to picture Umejima as home.
So there you have it, the various accommodations that we tried while in Japan. Of course, there are other types of accommodations available, like ryokan, which definitely should be on anyone’s “to try” list. One thing that we didn’t get to do was to spend the night at a manga cafe (planned early morning trip to Tsukiji that alas, fell through). So that’s one thing to try the next time I’m in Tokyo.
Stay tuned for other posts of my Japan trip that will be coming up soon!