Unique types of accommodation in Japan
This morning we got up early and met with a local friend of ours. I worked with Aki for years in Calgary so it was nice to have someone we know and trust that also speaks English show us around. We wanted him to show us the unique styles of accommodation that Japan has to offer. We wanted to learn about the different styles as well as the proper etiquette when staying at them. First Aki wanted us to see the Ryokans which are traditional Japanese Inns. These are the Japanese version of a bed and breakfast. The rooms don't have beds, but are covered with 'tatami' matting on which you place a bedroll. You are usually offered a hot cup of green Japanese tea when you first arrive. Some forms of etiquette to follow when staying at a Ryokan include taking your shoes off before entering the room, there are slippers waiting for you that you should slip into before you walk on the tatami (reed mat flooring) and bathing before dinner. When bathing in the public bath, take off your clothes and leave them with your drying towel in the changing room. Take a small towel and go into the bathing room. The public bath is only for soaking your body, while cleaning your body is done in the area outside the bath. There are a few things to expect when staying at a Ryokan that you should be prepared for. Maids often enter your room either unannounced or after quickly knocking during your stay. This is a normal practice at a Ryokan. Often there is clothing provided for you such as a yukata or cotton robe that is provided for you to wear in your room, around the Ryokan, and if you want, you can wear it together with your geta if you want to take a short walk near the Ryokan. If it is cold outside, a tanzen (outer robe) is provided to keep you warm. When bathing in the public bath, remember that these baths can often be very hot. If the bath is too hot for you, try to enter it slowly and move as little as possible (the more you move, the more the water is stirred and the hotter it gets). In the evening, the maid will either serve your dinner in your room or else you will be served in the Ryokans dining room. When you have finished eating, the maid may clean your room and prepare the futon (quilt bedding) for you to sleep on. There can also be a curfew time since front desks at Ryokans generally close early. If you are planning to stay out late, confirm the curfew time. You will be served breakfast in either your room or the dining area. Ryokans cost anywhere from 8,000 to 40,000 Yen per room, per night, which is about $93.00 - $467.00 Canadian.
Next, we moved on to check out the night capsule. This is an extremely cheap option when staying in the heart of big cities in Japan. These are designed mainly for business men and don’t cater well to women, children or couples. The hotel reception looks like any other hotel reception. Always remember to take your shoes off before you walk in, and place them in one of the lockers in the lobby. Upstairs, there are several floors of fiberglass sleeping capsules, each floor with their own locker room and shared showers. You change in the locker room and put your clothes and bags into your locker. Your capsule has radio, alarm clock and TV, and a screen or curtain pulls over the capsule entrance for privacy. Capsule’s usually cost about 3,000 to 4,000 Yen per night which is about $35 to $46 Canadian.
Aki was a little hesitant to show us the following place, but we assured him that we were all very open-minded people. This type of accommodation is called a “Love Hotel” which is not meant for tourists to lodge. Love hotels are visited by couples who wish to enjoy some undisturbed time together. These rooms are rented for 2-3 hours during the day or can be rented for an overnight stay. Love hotels can usually be identified using symbols such as hearts and the offer of a room rate for a "rest". The period of a "rest" varies, typically ranging from one to three hours. Cheaper daytime off-peak rates are common. In general, reservations are not possible, leaving the hotel will forfeit access to the room, and overnight stay rates only become available after 10pm. Entrances are discreet and interaction with staff is minimized, with rooms often selected from a panel of buttons and the bill settled by pneumatic tube (which is that weird cylinder thing pushed through tubes by compressed air, those who have seen the movie “Elf” may remember this being a way they sent mail to the mail room), automatic cash machines, or a pair of hands behind a pane of frosted glass. These room rates obviously vary in price, usually anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 depending on the amount of time that you rent the room for. This equals about $70 to $140 Canadian.
Finally we got to the Temple lodgings. These are referred to as Shukubo which is an accommodation facility that is part of a Japanese temple or shrine. A Shukubo lets you feel the culture and history of Japan. Shukubo is similar to traditional Japanese inns, and anyone can stay regardless of his or her religion. In temples, you can join in their Zen meditation. Also, in some shukubo, shojin ryori (vegetarian meal for monks) is served. Many temples require that you be accompanied by a Japanese person and that you speak Japanese yourself. One of the best places to experience a night at a temple is Mount Koya. Temple lodging can cost anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 Yen per night and Temples do not accept credit card payments. This amounts to about $58 to $180 Canadian.
Now we're off for some well needed R&R!