What to Expect from your Japanese Accommodation
Japanese accommodation is different from what you’re used to. Traditional Japanese hotels are called ryokans – an inn or lodge that offers the opportunity to experience traditional Japanese hospitality. Typically they include tatami mat floors, sliding doors, communal baths, local cuisine and futon bedding. While ryokans exist in many of the mountain areas of Japan and more traditional cities like Kyoto, they are hard to find in Tokyo and Western resorts like Niseko. If you’re looking for Western comforts – think large rooms, king beds and goose feather pillows, then you need to choose your resort wisely and expect to pay big bucks.
Japanese resorts are all unique, as is the accommodation you will find at each resort. With Western influences, recent years have seen an increase in large upscale hotels and luxury self contained apartments. However, most resorts will still have more traditional style lodges and hotels if you are looking for a more authentic experience.
If you are lucky enough to stay in a traditional ryokan then there are a few things you should know. Firstly a Japanese room consists of tatami (straw) matting with futon mattresses, often with paper thin sliding doors, minimalist design and neutral colours. There is often a small table in the room, with the mattresses kept in the cupboard until evening, when the staff will set up your bed. It can be a bit of a shock when you first enter – wondering where you will sleep. Remember it is all about the experience, so soak it all in before you make judgement.
Make the most of the experience by embracing all that’s on offer. Put on the complimentary slippers and yukata (dressing gown style kimono) and visit the onsen. An onsen is a gender separated communal bath with special healing properties in the water. Most ryokans offer an authentic onsen experience, with geothermal heated water coming from the ground at a temperature of 25 degrees or more.
Another part of the ryokan experience is dinner, often included in the room rate. Dinner is typically an elaborate selection of local and seasonal dishes served in a unique way, called kaiseki ryori.
Tokyo accommodation consists mainly of Western style rooms, however rooms are considerably smaller than what you are used to, due to the high density population. It is not unusual to see a twin share room of only 15 – 20sqm. Of course most hotels have a range of room types and the deluxe rooms offer more space at around 25 – 35sqm. While the rooms can be small, they are generally well laid out with luggage storage under beds and more often than not include a desk with kettle and tea/coffee facilities.
Most Tokyo hotels will have a private ensuite bathroom with Japanese toilet, unit bath and washbasin. Japanese toilets are an experience in themselves with features such as posterior and front wash, soap spray, water temperature adjustment, adjustable water pressure, air deodoriser, heated seat, automatic closing lid, seat timer to warm as required, turbo wash, remote control, self washing systems and a variety of noises for those that are a little toilet shy. Westerners are often hesitant to test out the toilet’s many features, but once they do it’s hard to go back to the standard flushing toilet.
Japanese bathrooms are unusual as they appear to be placed in the room, rather than being built into the room. They are generally made from a plastic material and are more a wet room, the idea is you wash and rinse yourself before hopping into the bath to soak. Unfortunately for most Westerners the baths are so small, so the idea of a soak is not overly appealing. Please remember that unless you are staying in a flashy 5 star hotel, the bathroom is likely to be small and not very stylish.
Breakfast is generally not included in Tokyo room rates and while it can be added for an additional cost it is often expensive and uninspiring. Most Tokyo hotels will offer a buffet style breakfast with a mix of Japanese and Western options, however some traditional hotels will only have Japanese on offer. Typically a Japanese breakfast consists of a selection of grilled fish, rice, miso, fruit, pickled vegetables and natto (fermented soybeans). If you are looking for a quick and convenient option you can pre-book breakfast through your travel agent or arrange through the front desk when you arrive.
If you are looking for a budget friendly option or you just want to experience something unique, then a night or two in a capsule hotel is a must. A capsule hotel may also be referred to as a pod hotel and is basically a private ‘pod’ in a communal room. Capsule’s range from a basic bunk style bed with curtain to a fancy room within a room offering full privacy. They generally have shared bathroom facilities, communal areas and lockable storage for your belongings.
If you are feeling even more adventurous, then a stay in one of Japan’s many love hotels might be an option. Love hotels come in all varieties, from a basic room with TV and double bed to a extravagant themed room with toys, costumes, mirrored ceiling and Jacuzzi’s. You can stay overnight or for a few hours and it can all be booked very discreetly.