Japan presents an interesting spectrum of stay options, from Capsule-Hotels, hostels, hotels, Air-Bnb in traditional Machchiya-style houses, stay with family-host in the countryside, and Ryokans on mountain springs.
As a solo-traveller I couldn’t resist a capsule-hotel in Tokyo, but so as to compare it with a hostel, so I chose one in Kyoto.
Capsule Hotel (First Cabin), Tokyo
First Cabin is a well-known chain of capsule hotels all around Japan. Here were 3 options for capsules – the basic/economy one – which is the smallest and simply holds the human-body on a bed.
While this is perfectly sufficient, I was personally worried about where to safe-keep my smaller luggage with documents and essentials. Hence, I chose the next option – the business one. The business one has a small space on the side and higher ceiling. The last option was premium/cabin with more space on the side, almost like a small full-room in a hotel.
I was impressed with the amenities the room had, from phone-chargers to cloth-hangars to a small cabinet. It was wider than the basic option and I could easily fit the smaller hand-suitcase on the side. It even had a television, with earphones for sound, on which I watched Doraemon until I dozed off to sleep.
First Cabin had a sparkling clean shared bathroom on one specific floor of their building. It was huge, luxurious with more than enough facilities for everyone, and I never had to wait or queue at all.
It may be because it primarily caters not to tourists but local business folks who worked overnight or enjoyed too much karaoke at pubs. Or may be because Japanese folks bathed at night, while I bathed in the morning, I always found the entire bathroom free.
The floors had tatami mattresses and the shower-rooms had green-tea flavored bodywash and shampoo. The room service provided free towels, flip-flops and pyjamas for every single day.
Outside the bathrooms with drinking water, there were coin-operated vending machines with tea, soda, milkshakes and other drinks.
Logistics & Safety
Japan is one of the safest countries in the world and there is no need to worry about physical harm or theft. For luggages, the hotel provided me with chain-locks to tie my suitcases outside in a foyer (although Japanese suitcase spaces are smaller than other parts of the world, so I had to make adjustments and apologize to other residents).
I had to carry a badge (even when moving between floors to go to the bathroom). Any form of noise is strictly banned, including speaking on the phone and eating food. I had to these outside in the lobby.
After resting the night, it was time to check out the neighborhood – my first day in Japan.When I walked outside, the beautiful Sumida river greeted me, with large skyscrapers, businessmen dressed in suits scurrying for a smoke and old nanas jogging in the park with their canes.
While selecting the location, the primary concern should be distance from the nearest train and bus station as well as presence of Combini stores (conveniance stores) which is useful for emergency food, grooming products and electronics if needed at odd hours.
It bought an Onigiri from the Combini, an Oolong tea from the Vending machines and watched the river flow by before I made plans for the day.
Hostel (Kaede Guesthouse), Kyoto
I found both the Capsule-Hotel and Hostels catering well to last-minute booking changes with money-back. I learned this because I had to unexpectedly rush to Kyoto to catch the last show of the live-action Kabuki theatre adaption of Naruto – the anime.
How could I miss it? I had to cut down my last few days in Tokyo and rush to Kyoto instead.
I messed up the location and ended up having to walk several blocks to reach the nearest bus or train station from my hostel (Kaede Guesthouse). But it was fun to walk around the neighborhood, watching the traffic police whistle, to make way for school-kids, high-schoolers bicycling to corners and exchanging baseball cards, and priests ringing the gongs of the neighborhood Buddhist temple.
I arrived in time for breakfast and had a cup of tea in the hostel’s living room, with a view of the Buddhist morning prayers outside.
Logistics & Safety
The Hostel obviously had more space for luggage and changing clothes in the room itself. While larger suitcases were left outside, there were smaller lockers for essentials like expensive items and documents. I had opted for a shared room with 12 others, and we had combinations to remember for our shared room.
While the amenities in the rooms were basic, with only a phone charge-point, the biggest positive of the hostel was the spacious living room. Since hostels are primarily tourism oriented, there were huge numbers of travel books in English for every region in Japan as well as detailed booklets of Kyoto’s attractions, restaurants and events with coupons. The manager and receptionists were foreigners and travelers themselves. They were always ready for a chat and recommended local attractions from their personal experience which the guidebooks missed.
The facilities also provided a free breakfast, with a choice of various Japanese teas and different types of breads in a giant basket.
Alternatively, you could easily buy food from outside, heat it in their microwave and have a space for sit-down meals, along with nice Sake or Beer (since Japan doesn’t have any outdoor alcohol restrictions). I could easily my lunch and drink from the Combini downstairs and get some travel planning done here in peace.
Both Capsule-Hotel and regular Hostels were unique experiences, and well-suited to solo-travelers. I would recommend Hostels to people who wish to make new friends and Capsule Hotels to folks who want complete silence, rest and television instead.
However, the one similarity in both cases was how shockingly affordable they were from USD $10-$25 per night, and yet provided well-managed security and amenities that were on par with or even better than $70-$100 hotels in the US. This was an excellent way to significantly reduce the overall travel budget.
Where did you stay in Japan? What other unusual accommodations have you seen in any part of the world?
Places I Stayed
Capsule-Hotel : First Cabin, Tokyo
Hostel : Kaede Guest House, Kyoto