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Cheap accommodation options in Japan

Whether you’re a serious traveler or a penny-pinching backpacker, hotel/ accommodation expenses can eat up a huge chunk of your travel budget.  Thankfully, the hospitality industry revolution Japan has undergone over the last decade made it possible for both tourists and locals alike to find pocket-friendly accommodations. So to those looking to save a few yen without necessarily sacrificing their level of comfort, consider staying in the following on your next Japan trip:

CAPSULE HOTELS
With only 3 days before my scheduled flight to Osaka, finding a decent accommodation proved to be particularly disconcerting. It also didn’t help that I was travelling during koyo (autumn) and my arrival happened to coincide with one of Japan’s long weekends. So, with some degree of apprehension, I booked a capsule room in Hotel Shin-imamiya through Agoda. On a brighter side, location was the least of my concern as this hotel is literally just a few steps from JR Shin-imamiya Station, a station which has a direct link to Kansai International Airport. It is also within walking distance to Dobotsuen- mae Station with good connections to most of the touristy places in Osaka.

For its price (PhP 816.50/ ~USD 18 for a single capsule room), this is arguably one of the cheapest hotels in Shinsekai. There’s also a cluster of hotels (Hotel Sun Plaza, Hotel Zipang, etc.) in the area with room prices comparable to that of Hotel Shin-imamiya. Interestingly, the capsule beds in this hotel are arranged quite differently. Instead of assembling them together on a bunk-type configuration, I was surprised to see each bed in its own separate quarter. It is quite roomy, too!

Aside from the plain and relatively inexpensive capsules, Hotel Shin-imamiya also have private rooms with actual beds or mattresses on tatami mats, depending on your preference.

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Some minor issue to consider is the noise from passing trains (it dies down a few minutes after midnight) or from inconsiderate, next-door guests banging their doors in the dead of the night. Ugh! There are shared, but gender-segregated, toilets on each floor. An onsen/public bath is likewise available on the tenth floor along with two private shower rooms.

Understandably, capsule rooms in Tokyo (Capsule Value Kanda) are much more expensive than the ones in Osaka and are in their usual bunk-type configuration to maximize space. The accommodation is pretty basic. You will be provided with 2 keys (one for a shoe locker and another for a small locker where you can put your bag and other valuables). Toilets are available on each gender-segregated floor while shower/ public bath is on the basement with specific shower hours for both men and women. Sorry, no private showers here.

Pros:
Location (most are in the busy/ touristy areas), cheap, clean (fresh linens everyday), availability, size (it’s not that cramped at all. You can sit inside the capsule without the fear of banging your head on the ceiling).

Cons:
Privacy, security (each pod can be closed by a tatami roll-up blinds for privacy. No lock though!), you need to check-out everyday (this gives them at least 2 hours to change the linens and clean the toilets/onsens), noise


MANGA AND INTERNET CAFÉS
Only in Japan will you find internet cafés with functions that will give your usual hostel a run for its money. After arriving from a late afternoon flight from Tokyo in late March, I found myself wandering aimlessly in the streets of Osaka desperately looking for a place to stay. Luckily, I spotted a few people on queue on what appears to be a manga café in one of Shinsekai’s alleys.

Accommodations in manga cafés  vary from a very basic, but comfortable, recliner La-Z-Boy chair to a private room complete with a sofa/ single bed, your own PC with pre-installed (and for the uninitiated, quite shocking) applications/programs, flat screen TV, DVD player, and an AC/heater. Smoking and non-smoking rooms are available. These cafés also offer refillable self-serve coffee, tea, and soda free of charge! They are also equipped with shower facilities that you can use for a minimal fee (towels, toothbrush, and disposable razors are provided). My 15-hour stay cost me JPY 3,100 (~PhP 1,216).

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Pros:
Cheap, unlimited internet access (they allow downloads, too!), free drinks (coffee, tea, soda), entertainment (DVDs, manga)

Cons:
Shared toilet, pay per use shower, need to check out everyday

HOSTELS/ GUESTHOUSES
Hostels provide a perfect opportunity to meet and interact with fellow travelers. For others, they’re just another place to crash after a busy day. Some call them a second home and find instant family in the company of other travelers. And then there are also those few who sees these as an ideal place for a romantic conquest or a casual hook-up. LOL!

In Hakone, a last-minute booking brought me to Guest House Hakone Tent, a relatively new (opened in June 2014), hippie hostel near Gora Station. It is in the hostel’s bar where I had the pleasure of sharing a few drinks and stories with some awfully friendly, albeit inebriated, locals without having to shell out a single yen. Ha!

The best thing about this hotel, aside from the generous guests, is the fact that it has managed to maintain an ambience of a traditional Japanese dwelling (tatami mats, futons [with detailed instructions on how to set it up], and sliding paper doors) and at the same time provide modern-world level comforts (i.e. wifi, Mac PCs, and toilets with auxiliary functions). As usual, toilets are communal. Their natural onsens at the basement are open 24 hours, too. Luckily, not a single soul was there when I had an early morning dip the following day. I paid PhP 1,369.85 (~USD 30) for a night’s stay in the dorm room.

Pros:
Interaction with other travelers, cheap, left-luggage facility (unlike manga cafés and some capsule hotels, hostels in general provide a separate room where you can store your bags after check out. Some hostels offer a baggage delivery service for a fee [you can have your luggage delivered to a specific train station].)

Cons:
Privacy (if you’re staying in the dorm rooms); communal bath

APARTMENTS
If you’re travelling as a small group, consider renting out an apartment. In our recent travel to Japan, all our accommodations were booked via AirBnB. And since most apartments listed are equipped with a fully-functional kitchen, we managed to save a few yen by preparing our own breakfast. There were also a couple of times when we still had enough energy to cook for dinner!

When choosing an apartment, make sure that it is in a location near a train station or within walking distance to a particular tourist spot you wish to visit. The reviews left by previous guests will also give you an idea of the general conditions of the room/apartment you want to book.

Our family of 5 enjoyed the modern amenities of a 1-bedroom flat in Tokyo and had an awesome stay in a typical Japanese wooden house in Kyoto! We spent an average of PhP 975 (~USD 22)/person/night in three different apartments all over Japan.

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Pros:
Privacy, amenities (pick the ones not typically offered in hostels. The apartments we booked provided us with mobile wifi device with unlimited internet service – a huge help for navigation).

Cons:
Some listings don’t have any reviews yet (especially the ones who have just joined AirBnB), level of cleanliness (no daily room cleaning on most apartments), limited interaction with host

OTHER OPTIONS:

COUCHSURFING
– Membership is free. It’s like Facebook for travelers. The general idea is you’re to ask someone from a place you’ll be visiting for a place to sleep. Some offer their couch while others let you sleep on a mattress. If you’re extremely lucky, your host may even offer a separate room — or his heart. Win-win! Hahaha! He can also double as a tour guide… or an instant date. Ayiiiiiiiiiii!

AIRPORT – sleeping in airports has been a practical option among frugal backpackers. Both Narita and Kansai airports have comfortable upholstered benches and couches you can sleep on. Airport lounges with shower facilities are also available but most close a few hours before midnight. The cheapest fare to the airport via train costs JPY 920 (~PhP 350) for Kansai International and JPY 2,670 (~PhP 992) for Narita International.  This is advisable only for those catching an early morning flight.

24-HOUR McDONALD’S – Yes! I’ve read a few personal accounts from people who have used this fastfood joint as a temporary shelter. Whether you’re a student pulling an all-nighter or an extremely budget-conscious backpacker, spending a few hours in McD’s isn’t such a bad idea after all. Just make sure your valuables are secure.

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