1st need after the arrival? Just to sleep. Flight has been long, change of climate huge (arriving from Africa, I mean), jet-lag a revelation - damn, it exists!
Info about accommodation in Japan is the question that many people is asking me, since I'm back. Well, the topic is also quite pleasant, to be honest! Because ryokan hotels are definetly one of the things I appreciated more :-)
One note: I'm not mentioning directly names of the hotels where I stayed - I don't want to do free advertising to anybody. So, if you're interested, just drop me a mail and I'll give you precise references. But. At the bottom of this post, I'm dropping links about "very special" places that are worthing a visit... because they are kinda unique!
If you go to Japan, don't miss to book a ryokan - these rooms with tatami on the floor and futon bed, so elegantly essential, are absolutely a good place to recover after a day around. Better if there is also a Japanese bath available - I'll talk about this in another post.
For my first night in Japan, I found a very special ryokan near Narita Airport: strictly traditional, old style... to recover from the flight before diving in Tokyo. Then I stayed in a modern ryokan in Tokyo, almost at the end of my journey. It has been fine also with luggages "expanded" because of shopping.
I tried a kind of "variation" around traditional Japanese guest houses: the overnight in a temple, called shukubo. The most popular location where shukubo is available is the Koya Mount, not far from Osaka: in this small town located on a mountain rope, there are several Buddhist temples where tourists can book the overnight. A bit expensive, in general... but what an experience!
Well, I didn't sleep just in ryokan during my trip to Japan. I tried several options, changing accommodation almost every day. I dared a couple of nights in a capsule hotel, for instance - and about this, a brief explanation is due.
Technically, capsule hotels are places built as "emergency" accommodation for white collars loosing the last train to home. Capsule hotels are not "girl friendly" places, it means that women are not admitted, in general.
I found a concept hotel in Kyoto, inspired to capsule hotels but quite more welcoming: caring about privacy, comfort, design, safety... having different floors for men and women, and most of all hyper-futuristic capsules where to sleep.
What to say? I found that accommodation convenient and comfortable. Of course, my luggage was very small that time, and I was traveling 100% alone - so... why not? I don't advice to book a capsule if your luggage is too big to be stored in a standard coin locker. And I don't advice to stay in a capsule if you're on a romantic holiday with your partner - no way!!
To go cheap, at the beginning of my journey I stayed in a hostel. Which is a very good choice, if you're traveling on budget. In Japan, mostly in Tokyo, it is possible to find very good hostels at exceptional rates... the only condition is to book with large advance (I booked 3 months before leaving).
Hostels offer different kind of beds at different rates, in common or private rooms. I choose a common room, equipped with "closed" bed: each module, made by wood, can accommodate one guest and can be locked. Not such spacious and not such silent, but an excellent way of saving money for other purposes.
Hostels are a good choice also for another reason: they have common areas where it is easy to meet lot of people from all over the World... great for lonely travelers!
Hotels, touristic and business
During the last days, with my luggage become super-sized and my back paining because I'm a bit old (opssss!), I had no choice. Normal hotel, with normal room and normal bed.
Classic touristic hotels are in general a bit expensive, but it is worthing to pay the amount considering the high standard of services in Japan. I found great professionalism, kindness... small details, making the difference. It has been a pleasure to pay those more or less 100$ / night.
Not the same I can say about the so-called business hotels - very cheap ones, having place available even without booking. I know that many people talk positively about this kind of accommodation... maybe I've just been unlucky.
Anyway, I wanted to try the experience of finding a place to sleep in Tokyo without booking. Daring. In the end, I found one in the suburban area of Minami Senju... too far and much less welcoming for a lady traveling alone. Also the room wasn't very nice. I slept just because I was wasted after a crazy overnight. That's all.
It's quite incredible how Japanese people are able to sleep everywhere. And to wake up at the right time, without need of a very noisy alarm! Overnights in Internet cafes (technical term: manga kissa) are quite a legendary thing, talking about life in Tokyo. I was planning to try, then I had no chance - luggage too big, it was after the epic shopping in Shibuya
But I tried something else, I suppose quite similar as concept: the overnight bus. Because of my aim of maximizing the budget for shopping and spa (begging for mercy, I was missing these things after over two years in Africa), I decided to save money while moving around Japan. Yet, I moved enough.
Basically, I didn't buy the Japan Rail Pass... so I needed to find alternatives to the shinkansen train, to travel to Kyoto and back. But also this is a good topic for another post, so I'll talk about moving back and forth next time.
I found these buses traveling during the night, between Tokyo and other major cities, at quite convenient rates. I chose a private line having a very efficient online booking system... and kind of buses! Equipped with very soft seats, plugs for charging the phone and a "thing" to wrap your head while sleeping.
At about 10,30pm, they switch off the lights. Travelers are supposed to shut up and stop using mobiles and tablets. So you can sleep till the arrival, typically early morning. Actually, "to sleep" is a bit extreme as verb - these solutions allow you to relax, not to sleep for real. You get off the bus quite "confused", to be honest... but inexplicably, fresh enough to walk around for the whole day.
Oedo Onsen Monogatari
We're still on the same route of Internet café and overnight bus - to sleep not sleeping, I mean. Just with some interesting plus. Oedo Onsen Monogatari, located in Tokyo Odaiba, is a theme park about onsen, the traditional Japanese hot springs. Of course in Tokyo there are not hot springs, so this is a kind of "artificial" one - yet, very nice as well.
I'll write a post just about this place. Right now, I mention Oedo Onsen Monogatari because in certain situations it's very convenient. Open almost 24 hours a day, it is on the practical side the only place in Odaiba island where it is possible to spend the overnight at a reasonable price. Entrance after 6.00pm is 1,480 yen, and it is possible to stay till 9,00am paying a late night fee of 1,700 yen.
Baths and some restaurants are open during all the night, water and green tea are complimentary. Coin lockers are large enough to store a small trolley.
Then, if the question is how to kill the whole night here... as first enjoying the baths, forgetting about the clock - tried, it's worthing. Chilling with friends in the common hall, if you're traveling in a group (not the best for lonely travelers, it's quite difficult to find somebody speaking English). At least, there are lounges where it is possible to watch TV or to sleep on reclining chairs, for free. Or hotel rooms, paying an accommodation fee... and no, it is not possible to book in advance.