Budget Travel: Sleep on the Cheap

Two of my favorite things to do are save money and sleep. Wouldn’t it be great if you could do both at the same time while traveling around Japan? You can! Japanese cities and towns offer some really affordable ways to get some shuteye; you just have to know what you’re looking for when it comes to all things "bed". Below I am sharing all the little tricks I’ve picked up while nomading it around Japan. I’ve even slept on train station floors in a pinch. (I really don’t recommend that option, though!)

Sleeping Options

Business Hotels

Toyoko Inn Standard Room -- from Flickr cc by Isriya Paireepairit
First up, business hotels are standard, no-frills spots that are most commonly frequented by Japanese businessfolk traveling for work, hence the name. If you just need a base of operations for your adventurin', these hotels are an affordable alternative to fancier hotels. While a bit small and bland, business hotels do not sacrifice cleanliness for cost. The business hotel brand that I frequented most in Japan was Toyoko Inn. The chain has a pretty extensive network. Most cities are home to at least one Toyoko Inn, and larger cities are home to several. I never had a bad experience while using them.  I also recommend becoming a member if you stay at a business hotel like Toyoko Inn. You can get points which translate to free stays or other bonuses!
Capsule Hotels

Capsule Hotel -- from Flickr cc by kimishowota
Next option, the enigmatic capsule hotel. While certainly not for the claustrophobic, staying at a capsule hotel is a unique Japanese experience, as well as a great way to save money while traveling. Check out this video by our#odigo47 project YouTube team, while staying at a Narita Airport capsule hotel:
For those of you who don’t know much about them, capsule hotels offer a small room -- well, really more of a small unit of sleeping space -- for extremely competitive prices. You can’t even stand up in one of these things! The capsule hotel philosophy is that anything more than where you need to sleep is just wasted space. Most capsules come equipped with a small TV and an outlet to for your rechargeables. Bathrooms are communal, and most capsule hotels feature a public bathing area in which to get cleaned up.
Youth Hostels

Dinner at Iwaobetsu Youth Hostel -- from Flickr cc by ㇹヮィㇳ
Youth hostels are a fairly well-known alternative to hotels. Even so, they deserve a mention. While almost always cheaper than a standard hotel, the cost savings come at the expense of some of your privacy. Typically, you share a bunk bed-style room with other travelers. You’re essentially paying for your bed in a shared room. Youth hostels are great places to meet others and swap adventure stories! Many hostels provide great basic breakfast food sets included in the rate or for a very small additional fee. Other hostels provide affordable dinners. Bathrooms and showers are communal (but hey, that’s part of the game). Now check this out. If you’re traveling with friends, you can potentially book the entire room for you and your buddies. A great way to save money, and keep your privacy too!
Manga Cafés

Sleep at the Manga Café -- from Flickr cc by Dick Thomas Johnson
Okay, time for my personal favorite cheap sleep in Japan: the Manga/Anime Café! These cafés go by some other names as well: Internet café, manga kissaten (café), anime café, etc. Although the names may differ, these cafés all mean the same thing…savings! When I first came to Japan, I had no idea what a manga café even was. Let me give you some background. At these cafés you pay for the use of a small cubicle to enjoy various forms of media including manga, internet, anime, and computer games.
Manga cafés, true to their name, have massive libraries of manga for you to browse. Many of these cafés offer unlimited soft drinks as well as limited food service for an additional price. Now wait, what do these cafés have to do with hotels? Trust me, I'm not making a segue about Japanese pop culture.

 Roomy Enough to Surf the Net and Sleep Too -- from Flickr cc by Connie Ma
The beauty of manga cafés, wait for it….is that you can sleep there! This service is totally okay and part of the business. When you “check in”, you select the type of room you want. The room suited for sleeping is a mat room or cushion room. The cubicle will then have a mat floor where you can sleep. You can either pay by the hour or purchase a package of several hours. Bathrooms and showers are communal and you can purchase toiletries.
One downside of manga cafes is that most require membership before you can use their services. However, signing up is a pretty painless process. Another word of caution: internet cafes do not take reservations; they are first come, first serve. Fortunately, you will usually find room. Most people sleeping at manga cafes seem to have partied pretty late and just need to sleep it off for a few hours. My favorite manga café is the iCafe chain. This chain also includes the Funky Time and Cybac manga cafés. I was able to find one of these cafés in most of Japan's major cities.
Karaoke Boxes

You Can Sleep in a Karaoke Box -- from Flickr cc by AKX_
And now for the honorable mention of affordable accommodation: the karaoke box! Don’t get me wrong, this option is super affordable, except...well…we're talking about karaoke boxes. Definitely the “Plan C” of Japanese accommodation, if choosing between sleeping on the street and sleeping in a karaoke box, of course you’re gonna k-box it. Hopefully your friends will stop singing while you’re trying to sleep!
Traveling around Japan on a budget? All of the above options can save you money during your stay which means more cash for sushi and souvenirs! You will have memorable experiences no matter where you stay, and I am sure you'll have fun sleeping on the cheap!

Check out more advice from Paul on riding the rails:


Paul M.