A comfortable place to stay can become the second biggest cost on your trip if you are not careful. The great news is that there are plenty of affordable options in Japan, whether you want to sleep in a traditional ryokan like a samurai or surrounded by flashing lights in Shibuya or Akihabara.
Let’s start with the super-cheap option—Hostels. There are many hostels in Tokyo, with some that charge as little as $15-20 US Dollars per night! But be aware that you get what you pay for, and it really isn’t much.
For those that aren’t familiar with hostels, the bedrooms usually consist of dormitory-style rooms with bunk beds, and are furnished with twin-sized mattresses, pillows, and sheets. You don’t get much storage space in the small rooms, since you will be sharing it with six to eight other people.
Bathrooms aren’t much better, as they are also shared and typically only provide toilet paper—and maybe a towel. Expect to bring your own shampoo, soap, and towels, and I would still bring toilet paper as a precaution.
Most hostels do have free Wi-fi, so you will be able to connect with everyone back home without much trouble. If you are in a nicer hostel, then you may also find shared living rooms, kitchens, and even laundry rooms. Some hostels also provide breakfast, but vending machines are more of the norm.
The shared bedrooms and common areas are great if you are looking to meet other travelers. You can have fun talking about your adventures, or plan new adventures with your hostel mates. This is really one of the best things about hostels.
The big downside is the lack of privacy. Everything will be shared—unless you pay extra to have a private room or bath. This means that you have to deal with other people, and all of their bad habits. Including snoring, staying up late, and some people that are not very clean. Most hostels also maintain a curfew, so don’t expect to be able to come back whenever you want.
Also, there is an increased danger of theft. You cannot leave expensive items in your room, as they do not have locks and anyone can come in while you are out in the city. You may find that some hostels provide lockers, but they tend to be built for small amounts of luggage.
A great website for finding a hostel is www.hostelworld.com. You can search almost all hostels in Tokyo, and other areas of Japan, and can limit it by price, room type, and date ranges.
RECOMMENDATION: Hostels are great of you really want to meet new people. However, I think they should be lowest on your list, since there are better options out there.
The next step above hostels are capsule hotels, which range about $25 US Dollares and up, per night.
The standard capsule contains a bed that is about the size of a small twin-bed, and comes with a standard pillow and sheets. Expect the capsules to be stacked several units high, as they idea is to maximize the number of capsules in one space. But you do have a curtain that “closes” your capsule from others outside.
You also have your own mini-TV, mini-shelf to place your things on, mini-clock, and radio (everything is small). And most capsule hotels also have Wi-fi available, so you can Skype while inside your capsule!
Some also have common areas where you can meet other people visiting Japan, and you can also interact with locals—as businessmen tend to stay at capsule hotels too.
Also, you get your own little locker to place your luggage, and if you need more space, you can use slightly larger paid coin lockers. There are also laundry rooms and some even have kitchen areas.
Unfortunately, you don’t get much space at all. They are basically a hole in a wall with a bed, so I hope you are not claustrophobic. Many capsule hotels are also restricted to men only, though this trend has changed a lot in recent times.
Similar to hostels, you share bathrooms and other amenities, and there is not a lot of privacy.
Be aware that most capsule hotels also require you to check-out each day, as they require people to leave during certain periods of the day (from about 10 am to 4 pm).
RECOMMENDATION: Stay here if you don’t have very much money, and are curious about staying in this uniquely Japanese hotel.
Next are the business hotels, which can range from $45-50 US Dollars and up, per night.
Here you get your own bathroom, TV, and air conditioning. They usually have either a bed or a futon, and most have free Wi-fi too. You get more privacy than hostels or capsule hotels, and they are located almost everywhere in Japan—so they are convenient.
Again, the bed is a small twin-size bed, which comes with a standard pillow, blanket, and sheets. The bathrooms are also tiny, and generally have a small shower, toilet, and sink—think of an airplane bathroom, only slightly bigger. Toiletries, such as towels, soap, shampoo, and toilet paper, are included.
You can typically find vending machines and coin-operated washing machines and dryers somewhere in these hotels. If you are lucky, you might also find a business hotel that serves breakfast.
But these hotels are very small. In some hotels, you can reach each wall by extending your arms. Also, they are mostly occupied by business men traveling for work, so they tend to be very quiet.
I recommend using Trivago for your business hotel search, since this site compile various other websites hotel search databases.
RECOMMENDATION: If you have a bit more money to spend, then opt for a business hotel. You get so much more privacy than a hostel or capsule hotel, and the price difference is manageable.
Next we have AirBNB, where you can find rooms as low as $25-30 US Dollars, per night.
I’ve actually found that this is a really great option. Some prices can be as cheap as a capsule hotel or business hotel, and you get your very own Japanese “Mansion”—mansion means apartment in Japan, haha. The great part is you live in the same area as other Japanese people, so you feel like a local and get immersed in the Japanese lifestyle.
AirBNB hosts are generally great, and sometimes provide cool amenities—I’ve stayed at AirBNBs with manga libraries, Wii, and small gardens. I also find them to be more convenient than the other options, since you have everything you need in one place—kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and Wi-fi.
Most AirBNBs also come stocked with all of the usual items that you find in your own home, such as kitchen utensils, stove, microwave, refrigerator, cleaning supplies, towels, toiletries, and detergent. It makes you feel at home.
However, AirBNBs do have some downsides.
They can be more expensive than other options—but only if you want them to be. There are plenty of real cheap Airbnb locations, but the prices fluctuate depending on demand—which can happen on a daily basis.
You should also expect to find rules for staying at these locations, as the owners generally live in these locations for part of the year. This includes cleaning the kitchen, washing dishes, and throwing-out the trash. In short, don’t leave a mess, or you will be charged for the clean-up.
Also, some hosts are not the best, and there are plenty of horror stories out there—such as hosts that don’t speak English or were not very responsive. But don’t let this stop you. I’ve had amazing experiences in Airbnb’s, and I always look here first. Remember, the key is to check rating scores for each location.
You can find an AirBNB in Tokyo here: AirBNB Tokyo
RECOMMENDATION: Definitely my top choice. There are so many options in Tokyo, and you are sure to find a location that meets your needs and your budget.
Ryokan are a great way to get a more authentic feeling of living in Japan. They are Japanese-style inns, and can be found almost everywhere in Japan. Typical cost of a Ryokan is about $130-220 US Dollars, per night. Definitely, a pricier option.
You pay a higher price tag for the experience of staying at a ryokan. You walk on tatami mats, sleep on futon, wear yukata, take Japanese baths, and usually enjoy delicious food cooked by the owners of the location. It feels like you are thrown into an old samurai movie, or you are living in old-Tokyo.
It is also common for ryokans to be located near Japanese onsen, which are the relaxing bathhouses found throughout Japan.
Everyone should try and stay at a ryokan once in their life, but be prepared to use some of your sushi money.
RECOMMENDATION: Great places to stay, if you have the extra money. But I wouldn’t recommend staying here more than one night.
Internet/manga cafes should only be seen as a last resort, as they are not really meant to be used as places to sleep. Of course, with a price tag of about $13 US Dollars, per night, I can see why they have become an option for some.
If you missed the last train of the night and are stuck in the downtown area, head for an internet/manga cafe. It may sound crazy, but you can get a room to use the internet and fall asleep there.
Some locations will provide you with a pillow and a blanket, but not much else. You almost always have to sleep on the floor, and don’t always have enough room to fully lay down. Also, the bathrooms are your typical “customer” bathrooms, so you don’t get any free toiletries other than soap and toilet paper.
There is almost no real privacy, as most “rooms” don’t have actual doors. They typically have a curtain that doesn’t go all the way to the ground. Also, it is not safe to leave your belongings in these rooms, as anyone can access your room when you are gone–increasing the risk for theft.
Also, there has recently been a growing number of people who have made these cafes their homes. So be aware that you need to be considerate of those that may have to live there.
RECOMMENDATION: I don’t recommend staying at an internet cafe, unless you missed the last train and need somewhere to take a nap until the trains start running again.