Japan is, quite rightly, famous for being a little bit zany. We all know the big ones: anime culture, strange technology, hilarious prank shows. But Japan’s taste for the cool and original translates even to the most general aspects of their lifestyles – to food, to commuting and even to sleep.
There are many, many funny places that you can go to bed in Japan. As someone who appreciates hilarity in basically all areas of her life, this comes as good news. Sure, you could go for the standard “mattress-on-legs” thing if you really want – by why not try something a little bit different when you go adventuring?
This is my list of the best places to kip on your visit, from the wild and amusing to the traditional and cultural.
- Karaoke bars
Okay, you’re not technically supposed to go to sleep in these. However, karaoke bars do offer an all-night service to those who like to “party hard” (by which I mean sing Bob Marley ‘til all hours of the morning whilst wasted). However, I have cheekily used a karaoke bar in the past to act as my portal to the Land of Nod – myself and my sister were lost in Kanazawa and couldn’t find the manga cafe that we were supposed to be staying in. After wandering around for quite a while we discovered a maneki neko themed karaoke club (I was an avid collector at the time and this seemed like fate) and booked ourselves an all-night session. The only other patrons there were a band of drunken businessmen (somebody should DEFINITELY name their band “Band of Drunken Businessmen”) screaming along to their favourite pop songs across the hall (a beautiful lullaby to go to bed to, I can tell you). We fueled ourselves full of melon soda and ice cream, experienced an incredible sugar-high before the inevitable (and somewhat planned) sugar-crash before pushing the coffee table in the centre of our booth against the door and falling asleep on our purses. Not THE most comfortable sleep I’ve ever had, but certainly a story I’ll be whipping out at parties again and again.
- Capsule hotels
Likened to morgues, capsule hotels are probably not the most desirable choice on this list but are certainly interesting places to bed down. They were primarily designed for businessmen who missed their last trains home to go to sleep in: beds which are basically drawers in a wall. As HORRIBLE AS THIS SOUNDS, it doesn’t actually look that awful (unless you are claustrophobic to any degree. Like, any degree at all). Some capsule hotels even offer TV’s and WiFi so it’s not as though you’re entirely cut-off from the rest of the world. On a practical level, it’s pretty top-notch – just depends how much you value your comfort. And they’re dirt cheap.
- Love hotels
No, love hotels aren’t just used for that. These hotels are actually open to all couples and you can book to stay in one as a regular old tourist (provided you have a numero duos in your party). These hotels often contain two resounding themes – one, a decorative theme of the hotel branch’s choice and two, a kinky theme (obviously). You can pretty much address any of your odd sexual quirks with what is supplied to you within a Japanese love hotel, and, dependent on what theme you pick, you could be addressing them IN AN ANIME SETTING. Or ON A BOAT. The Queen Elizabeth love hotel in Kanagawa is probably one of the most famous love hotels, based on a Titanic theme with a fake Jack and Rose teetering on the bow detracting from the sordid S&M going on inside. How lovely.
- Alpha Resort-Tomamu, Shimukappu
This is Japan’s very own ICE HOTEL. There are few ways I can describe it which goes into more detail than that – you go to sleep in thermal sleeping bags on ice. The walls are ice. Even your plate in the dining hall is made of ice. You’re only a little short of being inside an actual iceberg itself by the fact that, you know, you have links to the outside world and WiFi and stuff.
If you ever wanted to experience living like a technologically-apt polar bear, this is the way to do so. Plus, this hotel is situated inside an awesome ice-and-snow themed village in the North of the country, which is a brilliant hotspot (without the heat) in the winter.
Japan’s beautiful, environmental diversity is here to prove that isn’t always the best idea to go abroad in the summer, snow is fun too!
- A Buddhist Temple
That’s right. You can actually stay in one of these. The most well-known is probably Shojoshin-in, one of the oldest temples in Japan which has Japanese style guest rooms, Japanese style gardens and hot springs to bathe in. I haven’t stayed in one of these before but I would absolutely love to after looking it up – they appear to be the perfect zen paradise of tradition and tranquility.
And what a cool story to come back with.
Not only do you immerse yourself in a traditional, authentic atmosphere by staying here, you’re incredibly rural, within the wilder beauty of Japan. A brilliant, different night for those who want to stray out of the main cities and connect with the spirits and customs of the nation.
- Manga cafe/Manga “Kissa”
I still have not fulfilled this dream, either, due to the mishaps which occurred in point number one, but these are excellent budget places to stay in in Japan (at least, to my knowledge) and they actually look pretty darn comfortable. If you’re used to pulling all-nighters playing video games or reading, staying here would be no skin off your teeth. You have reclining leather chairs, computers, pillows and blankets and a whole host of comics to keep you entertained, and that’s just the standard – some cafes offer complimentary food and drink and internet access, whereas others even have recreational games like darts. A lot of cafes also offer supplies so that you can draw your own comics, others even offering a workshop in this to boot.
Like everything in Japan, this broad type of entertainment service is individualized by each branch. Nagomi Style cafe in Akihabara, Tokyo, is designed to look like a traditional Kyoto inn. Other cafes are likened to libraries, valuing peace and quiet (for the sleepier of you nomads and more serious readers of manga) and others couldn’t give less of a hoot: scream and run around and set fire to your pants, if you wish. There’s no standard.
A far more interesting and comfortable night than staying within a capsule hotel and specifically interesting to those who like Japan’s “nerd” culture, staying in one of these is definitely on my to-do list.
Ryokan is the Japanese title of a traditional inn. Staying in a ryokan is popular in particular with tourists as it is much like staying in a normal Japanese home: sleeping on a futon, rolling up your bedding behind you, having baths in hot springs and eating dinner on mats, all in normal cultural style. Staying in a ryokan can be a little bit pricey, but they do feed you to the brim with an elaborate dinner in the evenings, and Japanese food is completely delicious and incredible and should be consumed as often as you take a breath when you visit. In fact, just breathe as little as possible, so that you can continue to shove food into your mouth.
You will often be given Yukata on arrival, which is a traditional style of dress which doubles as both a bathrobe and loungewear. You are not obliged to wear this so don’t feel intimidated by traditional expectations, but I would strongly suggest that you do – anything you can do to heighten the cultural experience makes it even more special and memorable.
Ryokan also often have beautiful baths and springs – another thing that I emphatically suggest you try. You have never known true peace until you have bathed in a Japanese hot spring or public bath house. You do have to get totally starkers but there’s no need to be a prude – everybody is, and it’s weird if you wear clothes during onsen. Throw away your inhibitions and have a communally naked bubble bath.
- Park-Hyatt Hotel
The only reason I’m mentioning a swanky hotel on my otherwise totally traditional list is because this is the hotel that they filmed “Lost in Translation” in, one of my favourite movies of all time. It’s definitely a bit too much of a stretch for my wallet, and probably all other young budget travellers like myself, but it is worth a visit regardless of if you can actually afford to stay there – you can always just go straight to the New York Bar where Bill Murray went to tide away his woes in the bottom of a whisky glass (“for relaxing times, make it Suntory time”).