Overnight accommodations in Japan run from ultramodern luxury hotels to ryokan (traditional inns). Western-style rooms with private 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. 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 only open a few hours a day. Large chain and business hotels usually quote prices based on rooms and occupancy. Traditional minshuku (Japanese bed-and-breakfasts) 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.
A travel agent based in Japan can help you make reservations and other travel arrangements, and this is a particularly useful service since some hotels and ryokan do not have English-language websites.
Japan Hotel.net, J-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.
IACE Travel (1–16–11 Shibadamon, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 105-0013. 03/5282–1522 in Japan; 866/735–4223 in North America. www.iace-asia.com.)
JTB Sunrise Tours (2–3–11 Higashi-Shinagawa, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo, 140-0002. 03/5796–5454 in Japan; 800/700–1540 in North America. www.jtbusa.com.)
Nippon Travel Agency (Shinbashi Eki-mae Bldg. 1, 2–20–15 Shinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 105-0004. 310/768–0017 in the U.S.; 03/3572–8161 in Japan. www.ntainbound.com.)
Rakuten Travel (www.travel.rakuten.com.)
English-language newspapers and magazines such as the Hiragana Times, Metropolis, Kansai Scene, or Tokyo Weekender 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.
Arc Corporate Housing (03/5414–7070 or 03/5575–3232. www.arc-corporate-housing.com.)
Flexstay Hotel Management (www.flexstayhm.jp/e.)
Sakura House—Apartments (03/5330–5250. www.sakura-house.com.)
Kansai Scene (www.kansaiscene.com.)
Metropolis (03/3423–6932. www.metropolis.co.jp.)
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. The system is active in many cities throughout the country, including Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Sapporo. 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.
JNTO publishes a listing of some 700 accommodations that are reasonably priced. To be listed, properties must meet Japanese fire codes and charge less than ¥8,000 per person without meals. For the most part, the properties charge ¥5,000 to ¥6,000. These properties welcome foreigners (many Japanese hotels and ryokan prefer not to have foreign guests because they might not be familiar with traditional-inn etiquette). Properties include business hotels, simple ryokan and minshuku, and pensions. It's the luck of the draw whether you choose a good or less-than-good property. In most cases rooms are clean but very small. Except in business hotels, shared baths are the norm, and you are expected to have your room lights out by 10 pm.
Many reasonably priced accommodations can be reserved through the nonprofit organization Welcome Inn Reservation Center. Reservation forms are available from your nearest JNTO office. The Japanese Inn Group, which provides reasonable accommodations for foreign visitors, can be reserved through this same service. The center must receive reservation requests at least one week before your departure to allow processing time. If you are already in Japan, the Tourist Information Centers (TICs) at Narita Airport and Kansai International Airport and in downtown Tokyo and Kyoto can make immediate reservations for you at these Welcome Inns. Telephone reservations are not accepted.
Japan Hotels and Ryokans Search (www.jnto.go.jp/ja-search/eng/index.php.)
Japanese Inn Group (06/6225–3611. www.japaneseinngroup.com.)
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 to ¥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 accommodations 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 Cooperative.
Shukubo Temple Lodging Cooperative (0736/56–2616. www.shukubo.net.)