Zen, Manga and the art of public bathing – Outside-the-box accomodation in Tokyo

Japan has done it again. Despite putting up with a considerable deflation and a weaker yen, Tokyo has overtaken the Swiss city of Zurich to resume its position as the world’s most expensive city in the world.  The latest Worldwide Cost of Living Survey from the Economist Intelligence Unit shows the balance is clearly tilting with Australasian cities now being the biggest movers in the top 20 positions. No U.S. city made it to  the top 20.

If you are planning on visiting Japan, these are not the kind of news you want to hear. Of course, if money is not an objection, this does not really concern you. In that case, you´d probably best browsing any of the many accommodation booking sites you´ll find on the net. But if you are a budget conscious traveller who desperately want to visit this incredible country (just like me), the following suggestions might help you make that dream a reality, even if it isn´t the most comfortable reality :).

Manga kissa

Ok, maybe not the place where you want to spend more than one or two nights, but certainly an option that can help you save some cash if you are coffers are suffering while in the big city.

The “manga kissa” or “manga kissaten” are popular versions of the classic internet cafe with ´long stay´options. A five-hour stay in a ¨private¨ cubicle will set you back around 1500 yen 8 or US$20.  This price will give you unlimited access to  comic books, a shower, and all the soda you can drink. But if you prefer to bypass all the manga paraphernalia and try to catch some sleep, the chairs in the cubicles are fairly comfortable. You can even get an all-night pack (most places are open 24 hours) for around 1,000 yen if you check in at around midnight. The average place has about 20-30 booths I think, but there are huge ones which spans multiple floors and have over 100 individual booths.

24 Hour Baths

Oedo Onsen Monogatari

In addition to offering gender segregated baths, some of these centres provide lounging areas, large comfortable chairs, or private rooms where visitors can rest for the night. For around 3000 Yen (US$30), places like the Oedo Onsen and LaQua   will get you a decent sleep area with personal tv, blankets and pillows.

One word of caution when it comes to public baths in Japan. Although different genders bathe in different areas, if you are fairly modest and prefer not to be seen naked in public, public baths might not be your best choice. You will also be required to ¨shower¨yourself before you enter the actual bath in a somewhat peculiar  position (generally sitting down on cute little wooden stools) and it may feel like a very awkward way to present your nude self. For further etiquette rules, visit this article in the trip advisor.

Onsen - Japan

Capsule Hotels

There is no denying you´ll surely feel trapped in a stacked-up sarcophagus but for an average of 3500 yen (US$37) will get you the rest you need and a few little gadgets to play with ( TV, radio, alarm clock and reading light). I don´t have to tell you there are a number of downsides to sleeping in these little pods – patrons could very well be quite rowdy as most often capsule hotels are found clustered around stations ready for  drunk businessmen who have lost their trains to crush on. Also, because of safety and privacy issues, women typically aren’t allowed at these hotels, so it is a good idea to check, as there are a few exceptions.

Capsule Hotel

Capsule Hotel Asakusa River Side

Shinjuku Kuyakusho mae Capsule Hotel

Green Plaza Shinjuku

Low budget (standard) Ryokan and Minshuku

Ryokan (s) are traditional Japanese inns originated in the old Edo days (seventeenth century) which, generally feature tatami-matted rooms and communal baths. You can go totally up market and be paying 40,000 yen for a room in these traditional lodges or find a no-frills option for as little as 4,000 yen per person.

Ryokan and Minshuku are similarly styled although the latter  aims to project a more personalised and homey atmosphere where guests are treated to home-style Japanese cooking.

The following are some affordable Ryokan and Minshuku options in the Tokyo region:Both of these options will generally not provide a private bathroom and you´ll have to share the communal area with other guests (and sometimes the general public).

Homeikan

rest

Location: Near Tokyo University and Tokyo Dome

Cost: between 7,000 to 10,000 yen per person.

Hotel Kaminarimon

Location:  Asakusa district of Tokyo, 200 meters away from the Sensoji temple.

Cost: between 7,000 to 10,000 yen per person.

Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu

Location: Near Nakamise-dori, which is the main street in Asakusa.

On the 6th floor there are shared Japanese “hinoki” (cypress) baths for both women and men (same gender only) with views of the Asakusa district.

Cost: between 7,000 to 15,000 yen per person

Sumisho Hotel

Location: Near Tokyo Station,

There is a large shared bath for the guests  (same gender only).

Cost: between 7,000 to 15,000 yen per person

Yamanaka Ryokan

Location: Ueno district in northern Tokyo.

Each room has its own private bath and toilet.

Cost: between 7,000 to 15,000 yen per person

Backpakers

You can easily get a list of the best backpackers in town from any of the accommodation sites or from Trip Advisor, but you may want to start with these two popular spots:

Khaosan Tokyo Guest House Ninja

Not ideal for couples as they don´t have any doubles, the communal space in this centrally located hotel features free Wi-Fi and a large TV with cable that encourages a community spirit among guests.

Twin rooms start at US$60 and dormitory cabin beds from US$32, but you get free tea and coffee and Internet access.

YMCA Asia Youth Centre

You will find the rooms here rather small, but most of them feature an en suite bathroom and wireless internet.  Doubles start at US$150.

Buddhist monasteries (Shukubo)

 

Enlightenment

Buddhist temples and monasteries are ideal accommodation options to retreat to a world of zen calm after a busy day in the megacity. Most of them are quite a distance away from the tourist areas so you have to factor the transport when making your decision. Expect very minimalist (almost spartan) but clean rooms, vegetarian meals and the option to be part of the Buddhist rituals.  You will be expected to lay out your own futon mattress and quilt at  night and fold them up again next morning. The toilets will be  Japanese style, and the bath, if it exists, a communal one, perhaps  even shared with the priest’s family. Do not expect a  television nor  locks on the door and no front  desk at which to deposit your valuables.

Mount Mitake

Mount Mitake has been worshipped as a sacred mountain for a very long time in the Kanto region and shukubo lodges have spread around the Musashi Mitake shrine, most of them providing the option to perform Takigyo or  meditative practice under a local waterfall.

The trip from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station to Mitake Station on the Ōme Line takes about 95 minutes.

A shuttle bus, located 50 meters to the left of Mitake Station, travels to Takimoto village every half hour between 07:30 to 18:00. From Takimoto village, the Mitake-Tozan Railway cable car operates every half hour between 07:30 to 18:30 and leads to Mitakesan village at its top. Mitake summit and the Musashi-Mitake Shrine  (武蔵御嶽神社 Musashi Mitake Jinja?) can then be reached by trail—approximately 1000 meters.

Komadori Sanso (Mount Mitake)

Cost: without meals 5,250 yen ( approximately US$55), with two meals 8,400 yen (US$90), with Takigyo 10,500 yen or US$113.

How to get there: JR Yamanote line Shinjyuku Station” > “JR Mitake station” > (bus) > “Cable-Shita bus stop” > (Cable car) > “Mitakesan” > 15 minutes walk.

Seizanso (Mount Mitake)

Cost:  including 2 meals 7,350 yen (US$80), including 2 meals and takigyo 10,000 yen (US$108)

How to get there: JR Yamanote line Shinjyuku Station > JR Mitake station > (bus) > Cable-Shita bus stop > (Cable car) > Mitakesan > 8 minutes walk

Kanagawa (Greater Tokyo area)

Saijyoji

Cost: including 2 meals 5,000 yen (US$53)

How to get there: “JR Daiyusan station” > (bus) > “Doryoson bus stop”

Togaku-bo

Cost: including breakfast 6,000 yen (US$65) including 2 meals

How to get there: “Odakyu Railway Isehara station” > (bus) > “Robentakimae bus stop”

Seityo-ji temple (Chiba – South Tokyo) 

Cost:  accommodation and two vegetarian meals 8,000 yen (approximately US$85)

How to get there: JR Awaamatsu station and jump on the bus towards Chiba to stop in the Seityo-ji bus stop.

Syogaku-ji (Hanno, 50 km Northeast of  Tokyo)

Cost: accommodation and two vegetarian meals 6,500 yen (approximately US$70).

How to get there: JR Yamanote line Ikebukuro Station” > Seibu Ikebukuro Railway “Hanno station” > (55 minutes bus) > “Nago bus stop” > 1 minutes walk

For further information, the Tourist Information Centres in Tokyo  city can provide you with up up-to-date lists of temples where foreigners  are welcome to stay.

Homestays

Japanese Home

This may sound like an option best suited for the young but that is not the case. There are quite a number of websites that help you experience the real Japan and match people of any ages to households looking to host for up to 50,000 yen (US$550)per month.

Homestay Web – Tokyo
Homestay in Japan
Homestay Booking

Overnight transport

If you are on your way from Tokyo elsewhere in Japan, highway buses in Japan (kosoku for ‘highway’) will take you to any major city within six to nine hours, and even as far as the southern island of Kyushu in a 15-hour stretch. While day time buses cost anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 yen (US$100-150) one way,you can get a discount for the night ride that’s usually around half the daytime price.

One thing to be careful thought is to double check departure and arrival times and arrive at the pick-up area early, since sometimes it is difficult to find where the bus is parked.

For more information on overnight buses visit Japan-guide.com. If you prefer to travel by train, there are also some night options available to you, you can check them out here.

I hope this helps you get to Tokyo without having to break your bank. Of course, there is always the option of doing like quite a few of the locals and falling asleep in the train ( many travellers, like myself, have witnessed a few exhausted Japanese men stay behind after a train docked in its last stop :)).  When it´s time, it´s time.

Early One Morning