Overnight accommodations in Japan run from luxury hotels to ryokan (traditional inns) to youth hostels and even capsules. Western-style rooms with Western-style bathrooms are widely available in large cities, but in smaller, out-of-the-way towns it may be necessary to stay in a Japanese-style room—an experience that can only enhance your stay.
Large chain and business hotels usually quote prices based on rooms and occupancy. Traditional minshuku and ryokan prices are generally per person and include dinner and breakfast. If you do not want dinner at your hotel, it is usually possible to renegotiate the price. Stipulate, too, whether you wish to have Japanese or Western breakfasts, if any. Japanese-style rooms generally have tatami flooring and a futon instead of a bed. Rarely do they have a private bath or shower; guests bathe in communal baths, following a particular etiquette, and baths are frequently open only a few hours a day. When you make reservations at a hotel outside a city, you are usually expected to take breakfast and dinner at the hotel—this is the rate quoted to you unless you specify otherwise. In this guide, properties are assigned price categories based on the price of a double room at high season (excluding holidays).
A top-notch agent planning your trip to Japan will make sure you have all the necessary domestic travel arrangements reserved in advance and check ahead for reservations for sumo tournaments, geisha shows, or the one-day-a-month temple opening. And when things don't work out the way you'd hoped, it's nice to have an agent to put things right.
Japan Hotel.net, Japan-Hotel-Reserve, Rakuten Travel, and Tabiplaza, an offshoot of Nippon Travel Agency, offer a wide range of accommodations from big city luxury to out-of-the-way family guesthouses. Budget Japan Hotels offers big discounts on cheaper rooms at major hotels.
Japan Hotel.net (www.japanhotel.net.)
Rakuten Travel (www.travel.rakuten.co.jp/en.)
Japan Travel Agents
JTB Sunrise Tours (2-3-11 Higashi Shinagawa, Tokyo, Kanagawa-ken, 140-0002. 03/5796–5454. www.jtb-sunrisetours.jp.)
Apartment and House Rentals
In addition to the agents listed here, English-language newspapers, magazines, and online sites such as the Japan Times, Metropolis, The Japan News, orGaijinpot.com may be helpful in locating a rental property. Note that renting apartments or houses in Japan is not a common way to spend a vacation, and weekly studio-apartment rentals may be fully booked by local business travelers.
The range of online booking services for Japan is expanding, although most of the accommodation booked this way is large and impersonal and staff in the hotel may not speak any English. Also check the location carefully to avoid incurring unforeseen extra costs and hassles in trying to reach the sights from a suburban hotel.
Fontana (03/3382–0151. www.tokyocityapartments.net.)
Ichii (03/5437–5233. www.japt.co.jp.)
The Mansions (03/5414–7070 or 03/5575–3232.)
Sakura House (03/5330–5250. www.sakura-house.com.)
Weekly Mansion Tokyo (www.wmt-tokyo.com.)
Metropolis (03/3423–6932. www.metropolis.co.jp.)
Home For Exchange. $64.50 for a 1-year online listing. www.homeforexchange.com.
Customs of the Country
In the United States being direct, efficient, and succinct are highly valued traits. In Japan this style is often frowned upon. Most Japanese do not use first names casually, so use last names with the honorific –san after the name in social situations. Make sure you don't express anger or aggression. These traits are equated with losing face in Japan, something you do not want to happen. Also stick to neutral subjects in conversations; private lives are kept private. There is no "fashionably late" in Japan, so be on time. Eating in public and overt physical affection is also frowned on by older Japanese. Eating on city trains is also considered unacceptable.
Japanese of all ages and backgrounds bow in greeting each other (even on the telephone), and foreign visitors who at least bob the head will get a smile of recognition. However, when dealing with foreigners many Japanese switch to handshaking, and the visitor's head may crash with an outstretched hand.
There's no strict dress code for visiting temples and shrines, but you will feel out of place in shorts or outfits without much skin coverage. Casual clothes, including jeans, are fine for sightseeing. Remember to remove your shoes when entering temples. There are usually slippers by the entrance for you to change into.
Out on the Town
Men are expected to wear a jacket and tie at more expensive restaurants and nightclubs. Women should wear a dress or skirt. If you've been invited out to dinner, either in a private home or restaurant, it's customary to bring a small token for your host. If you are in a home, remember to remove your shoes and put on the slippers that are usually waiting for you. When eating, it's okay to ask for a fork if you're not comfortable with chopsticks. If you do use chopsticks, do not use the end of the chopstick that has been in your mouth to pick up food from communal dishes. And never leave your chopsticks sticking straight up in your food. This is a big no-no. Rest them on the edge of your bowl or plate instead.
Drinking is something of a national pastime in Japan. If you're not up to the task, never refuse a drink (it's considered very rude). Instead, sip away, making sure your glass is half full. Whatever you do, do not pour your own glass. Companions traditionally pour drinks for each other and pouring your own is pointing out that your companions are not attentive. In the same vein, if you see an empty glass, fill it.
Make sure you allow adequate time for travel—being late for a business function is not appreciated. Wear conservative-color clothing and bring along meishi (business cards). Meishi are mandatory in Japan, and it is expected that when you bow upon meeting people you will also hand them a card, presented using both hands; presenting a card written in English is okay, but if you have one side in Japanese and one in English, your business associates will be very impressed. Remember to use last names with the honorific –san when addressing people. Also, hierarchy matters to the Japanese, so make sure your job title and/or rank is indicated on your card. You may see your associates putting the cards on the table in front of them, this is so they can remember your name easily. Follow suit; never shove the cards you have just received in your pocket or bag.
It's not customary for Japanese businesspeople to bring their spouses along to dinners, so never assume it's okay to bring yours. If you want to bring your spouse along, ask in a way that doesn’t require a direct refusal.
Through the home-visit system, travelers can get a sense of domestic life in Japan by visiting a local family in their home. The program is voluntary on the homeowner's part, and there's no charge for a visit. To make a reservation, apply in writing for a home visit at least a day in advance to the local tourist information office of the place you are visiting. Contact the Japan National Tourism Organization before leaving for Japan for more information on the program.
You can also arrange accommodations in Buddhist temples, known as shukubo. JNTO has lists of temples that accept guests and you can arrange for your stay here as well. A stay at a temple generally costs ¥3,000–¥9,000 per night, including two meals. Some temples offer instruction in meditation or allow you to observe their religious practices, while others simply offer rooms. The Japanese-style rooms are very simple, and range from beautiful, quiet havens to not-so-comfortable, basic cubicles. For specific information on temple lodging in the Kii Mountain range in southern Japan, try contacting the Shukubo Temple Lodging Association.
Shukubo Temple Lodging Association (www.shukubo.net.)