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Hotel vs. Hostel vs. Capsule: Where to sleep in Japan and why

When visiting a foreign country, one of the most important questions to consider is, “Where should we stay?” Without knowing much about a destination beforehand, this can be a tough one to answer, and though it may not necessarily be the most important decision when traveling abroad, where you’re based during your trip definitely has the potential to make or break your experience. By taking factors like what’s fun to do nearby, access to public transportation if needed, overall safety, desired amenities and price into account, you can better ensure that the place you pick will be the perfect home-away-from-home.

Of course, no two trips are the same, and each traveler has different needs and wants; some require only the bare minimum (a clean place to sleep, a shower and outlets to charge their phone) while some desire the full five-star treatment (continental breakfast, resort-style pool, comfy king beds and room service), with many of us falling somewhere in between.

During my travels in Japan, I had the unique opportunity to stay in three different types of accommodations, each with their own perks and characteristics. To help anyone who may be considering a trip to Japan in the near future, I’ve put together a comprehensive account of what to expect in each of these types of lodging set-ups, and which I think are best suited for different types of travelers.

1. The Classic Hotel

Sleeping: This sleep experience is the closest to what you’re probably used to at home: a traditional stand-alone bed inside a wide open room with a door that locks. The feeling is very secure and comfortable, though my personal experience with this in Japan was a room shared with another person, so I did have to share a bathroom and space.

Amenities: Both of our hotels came with a laundry room open for guests, breakfast and a front desk with two concierges. We also had our rooms cleaned and beds made daily, and were given fresh pajamas, slippers and complimentary toiletries. We had private bathrooms with large tubs and our hotel in Kyoto even came with a smartphone we could carry outside and use free of charge. We also had large windows with views of the cities and some form of a TV.

Price: The hotel stay was included in my tuition and fees for the program, but usually hotels are the most expensive lodging option out of these three.

Overall Vibe: Not super different from a hotel you would stay at in the states. The feeling is luxurious and very accommodating, but not necessarily unique to Japan.

Best Suited For: Families with small children, those especially concerned with privacy and security, and anyone looking to have that traditional travel experience or a place that feels like home.


2. The Laid-back Beach Hostel

Sleeping: You’re likely to have a twin-sized bed, but enclosed in some form. For me, this was cozy, and a bit like I was at camp. For others, claustrophobic may be a more accurate description. You may feel less secure since you’re technically in the open with strangers – I was in a bunk with a closed curtain at the end, sleeping in a large area with probably 25 other people – this is why, as with anywhere, choosing a hostel in which you feel safe is very important. In this case, I felt very safe and slept like a baby.

Amenities: My hostel in Okinawa came with a laundry room, breakfast, fresh sheets that I put on the bed myself, one towel daily, sandals, a large locker with a key, shower facilities and 24-hour staff.

Price: $42 per night

Overall Vibe: Laidback, youthful, bohemian, free-spirited. Other than your bunk, there’s nowhere to sit down and hang out but in the common spaces with other people. Since guests there are okay with less privacy, and are likely looking for that community feel, it’s easy to meet people and make friends. I personally met travelers my age from Spain, Australia and Israel who had awesome stories to share, and were great company at the beach.

Best Suited For: The slightly more adventurous traveler who’s possibly looking to save a little cash and is fine with a less accommodating, but more exciting lodging experience. Hostels are probably not ideal for extremely claustrophobic people, but I truly did not find my bunk here cramped whatsoever. I think this would be great for other people traveling solo or in small groups, especially those hoping to meet new people during their stay.


3. The Futuristic Capsule Hotel

Sleeping: Extremely cozy and secure, almost like you’re in a little rocket ship. Plenty of room to spread out (for me, at least) and very cool. I was also in a top bunk so I felt like I was floating. I found it to be not as private as a hotel, but more private than a hostel.

Amenities: I stayed at the 9 Hours Capsule Hotel in Narita International Airport, where I was provided with pajamas, a toothbrush, toothpaste, two towels, a bath mat and slippers all in a mesh bag. I was also given the key to a large locker for my luggage and valuables, and access to showers in enclosed rooms with doors that locked. My bed was freshly made for me. There was also a front desk open 24 hours a day.

Price: $54 per night

Overall Vibe: Very modern, minimal, futuristic. The entire place was impeccably designed and well thought-out. There was an obvious emphasis on aesthetics and simplicity, which I found very enjoyable, especially sandwiched between two stressful days of traveling. Even though the communal sleeping arrangement was similar to the hostel, the capsule hotel was different mostly because your experience was made for you, rather than you creating your own.

Best Suited For: Someone looking for a truly unique experience, and a total departure from anything they would find at home. The pod was incredibly spacious so I would say even if you are slightly claustrophobic, you will do just fine here. This was such a cool place that I would say everyone should try out at least once! But, especially so if you are just passing through and need a quick and inexpensive stay.

In the end, the best memories from your trip will likely come from outside of where you lay your head at night. But, having a comfortable place to retreat to after a long day of excitement can definitely make a difference and help maintain your sanity. Wherever you decide to stay in your future travels, a little prior research and an open mind are sure to go a long way. Best of luck!

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