When it comes to finding accommodation, Japan is actually one of the most expensive countries in the world. While you may try to avoid steep prices by booking through a travel site rather than directly through a hotel, many of the best deals can only be found on Japanese websites—meaning that you would have to read Japanese to access them! More traditional accommodation such as ryokans are great, but they are both expensive and often even less likely to accommodate English speakers. Even Airbnb, although certainly convenient for the solo traveler, is far from the cheapest alternative. For travelers visiting Japan on a budget, youth hostels may actually be the best option. Here’s what to know about hostels in Japan to make the best of your trip.
How to Find the Best Japanese Hostel
To ensure you have the best experience possible, make sure to compare different hostels based on the criteria important to you. Here are some of the factors you may want to take into consideration before booking your hostel.
The first consideration for many travelers using hostels is the price. Hostels in Japan will generally not have the rock-bottom prices of some South Asian countries, but you can still save a great deal over hotels. Rooms are typically dorm-style with bunk beds to accommodate 6-8 people. Many are gender-segregated but some are mixed. On average a bed in a dorm-style hostel in Japan will cost around 2,500 to 3,500 yen per night, which may be as little as half the price of a standard business hotel—prices vary, so please compare for yourself. If your itinerary is likely to change, beware of cancellation fees when booking.
Location and Transportation Options
Keep in mind the location and how close the hostel is to public transportation. On one hand, a cheaper hostel that is more difficult or expensive to travel to, or far away from the major tourist attractions, may not be worth the difference in price. On the other hand, unlike many countries, Japan is both extremely safe and very accommodating to pedestrians and bicyclists. If you enjoy walking and taking in the sights, it may actually be worth booking a hostel which is a bit removed from the nearest major transportation hub. There are many hostels that are part of Japan’s Youth Hostel network, as well as numerous private hostels in major cities; you may want to check there to find the best combination of convenience and price
Also consider what amenities are included, such as towels. Most Japanese hostels provide free shared shampoo and conditioner, but some do not. If you are staying for more than one night, you will definitely want to know about laundry options as well. Even if a given location doesn’t offer all of the amenities you need, you can always purchase them at the nearest 100 yen shop—a very cheap option that can be found in most Japanese cities. Just check to make sure that the location you are scouting has a 100 yen chain nearby!
Another factor to take into account is whether the hostel provides any breakfast. Usually hostels that provide breakfast offer a few simple choices such as toast, cereal, coffee, and tea. This can be convenient but it isn’t usually a huge difference in value compared to a hostel in Japan that doesn’t provide breakfast. Most hostels will also allow you to get some food nearby and eat it in their kitchen or shared area, so you can always stop by a convenience store or bakery in the morning instead.
Atmosphere (Common Areas + Activities)
As meeting other travelers in a safe and social environment is often one of the perks of staying in a hostel, check the basic atmosphere of the place before you book. It might even be useful to confirm whether there is a common meeting area or even some organized activities in which people and groups can get involved. Of course, this is especially useful for solo backpackers who want to find travel buddies, share a meal or just spend the day exploring together. Hostels can offer great opportunities for networking with people of incredibly diverse backgrounds—and in the age of social media, contact is just a click away.
Check-in / Check-out
In contrast to hotels which often have 24-hour front desk staff, hostels have more limited staff and therefore limited hours. This means you need to be very careful to arrive at your destination with plenty of time to check in. Many Japanese hostels offer check-in from late afternoon to around 10 PM, but please confirm this with the hostel. Some may ask you to provide an approximate arrival time so that staff can be available to check you in. If you have a flight or train arriving late, make sure that the hostel is aware and someone is available. Some hostels also have curfews after which no admission is allowed. If you are planning to be out late at night, look for one without a curfew and with keypad access to the hostel and rooms. Check-out times are usually around 10 AM or sometimes 11 AM. Most hostels are willing to store luggage for you even after this time.
If you are traveling with valuables such as cash, cameras, or computers, you may be worried about keeping your items safe. In that case, make sure that the hostel you are staying at provides lockers for your luggage (or smaller safes for just your valuables). Japan hostels are generally very safe so not all hostels have lockers. In that case, inquire if they might be willing to store luggage behind the counter. Regardless of the situation, make sure to take essential valuables, such as wallets, purses, jewelry, and smartphones with you.
These days, WiFi is almost standard at any hotel or hostel. Most hostels in Japan provide free WiFi in the common areas and many in the dorms as well. If you plan to use WiFi a lot, however, you may want to check online reviews to see if the WiFi at a specific hostel is reliable and fast. Some hostels also provide a shared computer for you to look up travel information.
English-speaking, Knowledgeable Staff
Most Japanese hostels provide basic information in both Japanese and English, but for more detailed information such as travel advice or even help in an emergency, it is important that the staff at your hostel also speak English. You’ll want to check for this on their website or within reviews, which is actually the subject of the next part.
Check Independent Reviews
Satisfaction ratings are extremely important when comparing hostels and youth hostels in Japan. However, you may want to look at more than one site as some sites may have biased reviews. Also, look for balanced, detailed reviews rather than short 5 star or 0 star reviews, as they often provide more reliable and useful information. Also check how recent the positive reviews are, and see how other travelers rate the hostel for factors like overall cleanliness, the availability of showers/bathrooms, and public transportation. Hostelworld and booking.com are just two sites where you might get started.
Make the Best of your Trip with Japanese Hostels
Japan offers a wide range of accommodations to travelers, even those on a tighter budget. Youth hostels and private hostels in Japan are options that are not only cheaper than hotels but offer opportunities to experience different things and meet new people. As with any time you travel, do plenty of research on your accommodations ahead of time to prevent unpleasant surprises, and have a great trip!