The good news is that there is many options for where to stay in Japan while you are staying. You can choose from hostels, capsule hotels, shared accommodations (AKA AirBnB), traditional japanese inns (Ryokans), Japanese hotels, and Western chain hotels. You can mix and match, plan all your stays before you go or book them a few days before you need them.
One thing to remember if you are going to book rooms as you go. You need to have a room for the first night you are in Japan. Like most countries when you fill out the customs paperwork on the plane you need to state where you are staying while in country. This means you need to have a reservation for the first night so you can put the address down, and if customs checks it will be confirmed that you have a room.
This is one of the cheapest options and most of the larger cities have multiple hostels to choose from. This is typically your standard shared accommodation with a common bathroom. Expect to be staying in a bunk bed with between 4 and 24 others in the room. Most hostels I looked at have luggage storage for your bags while you stay to keep them safe. Hostels also may have an onsen onsite and usually have programs that let you integrate into the local community. When looking for a hotel make sure to check the age restrictions (some may not allow people over 30 to stay), and whether it is a same sex hotel or not. There are a few hostels in Tokyo that do have single rooms that you can reserve.
Capsule hotels are uniquely Japanese. For the price which is about the same price as a hostel you get a room the size of a bed and a shared common bathroom. You can find these all over Tokyo and most other larger cities. This option is good for early morning import departures as most of the airports have capsule hotels onsite. One thing to remember about capsule hotels is they are for one night. Even though you may have a 3 day reservation you have to leave every morning, find a place to stash your luggage and then re-checkin at night for the next night. For this reason I do not recommend them for multi day stays.
There is a new trend for luxury capsule hotels with very small rooms over capsules. Here is one I will be staying at during my next trip to Japan. Hotel Zen
There are many options or this from AirBnB, to Agoda, to VBRO, etc. This option allows you to get either a room or a whole house/apartment. While in Japan we tried to use multiple services but we were only able to secure reservations with AirBnB. Japan introduced a licensing law for short term rental properties that requires each location to secure a license. AirBnB properties do have this license in order to be listed and I saw multiple properties that were cross listed on all sites so I assume all sites now enforce this rule. If you are staying with more then 2 people I have found that using AirBnB’s are very cost effective as the price you see is what you pay for the total people up to the listed max, unlike hotels in Japan.
One thing to look for is to verify the number of bedrooms when booking. It is very common to list the public living room as a bedroom in Japanese listings I’ve found. Also we stayed at one rental that listed 2 rooms, but it was 2 rooms with a curtain to separate them.
Below are listings for 3 People, 2 Beds, 2 Bedrooms. Notice some count a common room as a bedroom.
So just make sure you check what the accommodations are before you book, and be prepared for it to not be what you expected when you arrive. Our rental in Osaka was fairly sketchy but looked beautiful on AirBnB (Pictures really can sell it sometimes). Our favorite rental was the one we got last minute in Hiroshima.
One thing with these rentals is that most have rules about making noise. One we stayed at in Kyoto stated that if the police are called we would be asked to leave immediately and to not talk to the other residents in the building. The walls are also thin and some do not have central heat or air conditioning which depending on when you are going may be important. Also check and read the property manual when it comes to trash handling and how to get the key to the door.
In our trip 90% of our stays were in AirBnB’s as they were very convenient and close to where we wanted to go.
Ryokans are traditional inns and are usually a destination in themselves and very rarely used as a central location for sightseeing. Most ryokans are cash only for your stay and do tend to price their rooms per person. Also most ryokans are traditional so you will have a small snack and hot green tea when you arrive in you room. Then you will change into a yakata and go down to dinner while your room is switch to sleep mode and futons are placed on the floor. Then after dinner you can go to the onsen and relax before heading to bed. Most ryokans also have private onsens so if you have tattoo’s you can still experience the onsen experience. In the morning you will be served breakfast before you head out to experience the onsen or gardens of the ryokan. There are online booking sites such as Hotels.com that will also let you book a ryokan with a credit card.
Japanese brand hotels are all over Japan as to be expected. They are basically broken down into two types family hotels and business hotels. Family hotels cater to families and are very expensive as they are priced per person. Business hotels provide small basic rooms for business travelers and can accommodate 2 people usually. The most common Japanese business hotel is APA. When booking make sure you select a non smoking room if you don’t smoke, especially in business hotels. Business hotels are good for last minute reservations where you just want a room to sleep in.
There are also Japanese love hotels, where as you might expect Japanese couples usually go for some intimacy in private. Most Japanese tend to live with their parents and so use these hotels for some private time. Japanese love hotels like capsule hotels are for one night only, you can normally book for one night or a number of hours. Most rooms are themed and when you enter your room you are actually locked in until you check out and pay. So be prepared and have food and anything else you need before you check in. You can find these hotels in the cities near the redlight and bar districts. (Shinjuku in Tokyo, Namba in Osaka). I recommend checking these out if you a curious or you want to be intimate in Japan with your significant other.
Most high end western hotel chains have hotels in the larger cities in Japan. These hotels operate just like they do in the states. The price you see is for the room not the person usually. Be prepared the rooms are smaller as is the Japanese custom but they are very much like what you expect from a hotel room. We stayed at the Moxy hotel which is a Marriott brand hotel for our last three days in Tokyo before leaving.
There are some destination accommodations in Japan that you can check out. Most of these need to be booked in country usually at the location or in a nearby town. The most common one is an over night stay at a Buddhist monastery where you eat and sleep with the monks and then pray with them in the early morning. I found these mainly around Kyoto and Tokyo.
There are also themed hotels which I group in this category. In Shinjuku there is the Godzilla Hotel, Also in Tokyo is a Pokemon and Hello Kitty themed hotels. And finally there is a robot hotel where most of the staff are robots.