Visitors to Japan face a myriad of options for temporary accommodations. You could attempt to emulate the experience of Bill Murray in Lost in Translation by staying at the high end Park Hyatt in Shinjuku or splurge on a traditional Japanese ryokan which may cost ¥25,000/person/night (but typically includes two meals), go the budget route of staying at a capsule hotel for only ¥2000/night or even try your luck at one of the ubiquitous “love hotels” (best done with a fellow traveler!).
While all of these would provide a unique experience and are, therefore, certainly recommended, where should you stay if you plan to visit the country on business and want a reliable, no frills hotel but don’t want to break the bank? The answer is to do what the locals do and book yourself into what’s simply called a “business hotel” to enjoy a terrific value. Business hotels are, by the way, not just for business, although don’t expect a pool!
If you’re only looking for a place to crash after a night of entertaining, then this type of hotel is a great deal.
The Japanese “business hotel” is known in Japanese simply as bizunesu hoteru. These are typically chains which provide single – or double-occupancy accommodations for a reasonable charge — usually well under ¥10,000/night. Single rooms outside the big cities can usually be rented for under ¥6000/night. You get what you pay for: a room with a bed, desk, television, refrigerator and “unit bath” which features a shower unit over a bathtub.
The rooms are usually just large enough for these items and little else—including additional space. WiFi is usually included, too, and many have on-site laundry facilities on the first floor. Most business hotels provide a bare bones breakfast, and some offer “free” noodles or other late night snacks in the evening. If you’re only looking for a place to crash after a night of entertaining, then this type of hotel is a great deal. In addition, in exchange for a nominal registration fee most have some sort of a point program which, for example, may offer one free stay for every ten paid nights.
Most business hotels are affiliated with a chain, although most of these chains can only be found in Japan and do not have reciprocal point programs with the big international hotel groups. The most well-known business hotel chain has got to be Toyoko Inn. There are now over 200 of these hotels across the country, and they are literally numbered. I equate Toyoko Inn with McDonald’s because no matter which hotel you choose, the rooms and other facilities are almost always identical, in my experience the rooms have always been clean and it’s a great value. Toyoko Inns are, generally, just a little off the beaten path (e.g., around the corner from a major train station) and offer a “free,” simple breakfast.
There are, however, many other options besides Toyoko Inn. The Apa Hotel group seems to be in the middle of a major expansion phase and is, in fact, in the process of constructing a 2400 bed hotels in Yokohama in time for the 2020 Olympics which will be the nation’s largest hotel. Other national chains include Route Inn, Super Hotel, Daiwa Roynet Hotel, Richmond Hotel and Dormy Inn. They often have a particular selling point such as how Route Inns are typically near expressway exits and Dormy Inns feature an on-site hot spring.
While it may not be a real hot spring, many of these hotels also often have daiyokujo or large, communal bath in addition to the in-room showers. They even give you a set of pajamas to wear down to the bath. One of my favorites in Fukuoka is Hotel Active! which has a large daiyokujo and Jacuzzi under a modern, black and white mosaic interpretation of Hokusai’s Great Wave. Daiwa Roynet is very popular with frequent business travelers because of its relatively large in-room desk and slightly larger rooms. You’ll find that when you ask Japanese business people about business hotels, they’ll probably tell you about their favorites.
Although some business hotels may offer a voucher for a nearby health club, this type of hotel typically does not have a gym or even any exercise equipment on site. You’ll need to go to a more expensive, international hotel for this type of service. Most don’t offer room service or even have a restaurant on premises (other than for breakfast), but there are usually any number of restaurants and izakaya (Japanese pubs/bars) within walking distance. It is virtually guaranteed that you’ll also be within walking distance of at least one konbini (24/7 convenience store). While you’ll often find menus in the room for nearby restaurants or fast food joints that will deliver right to your room, there is really very little space for in-room dining. Japan’s business hotels are, essentially, just for crashing for the night, checking e-mail and grabbing a quick breakfast in the morning.
While you can book rooms via internet travel sites, all of the business hotel chains listed in this article encourage you to book directly through their own websites in order to get “members’ rates” and preferential access to room availability upon initial registration. They definitely reward repeat customers. Especially considering how expensive it can be to move around Japan by airplane or train, the ability to stay for the night at a convenient, clean and safe hotel for a reasonable amount of money is very much appreciated by weary travelers.