Understanding Japanese Accommodation

When it comes to planning your perfect Japan tour, you’re sure to come across some confusing, unfamiliar terms – especially when it comes to accommodation! 

Here at Heartland JAPAN, we love to include some of Japan’s authentic and unique accommodation options into your special, once-in-a-lifetime trip itinerary. That’s why we’ve created this handy glossary, to help you understand exactly where you’ll be resting your head

Ryokan

A lovely view from a Ryokan room (Photo: ©photoAC)

A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. Rooms in a Ryokan usually have tatami mat floors, and guests sleep on traditional ‘futons’ (mattresses placed on the ground) which are normally prepared each night by staff members, and then tidied away again in the morning. 

At a Ryokan, guests are typically expected to use shared bathrooms, but this can vary depending on establishment and room type. There is also often a large bath available on the premises for guests to soak in – either privately or communally – but some more expensive rooms may have their own private bath in a separate bathroom, or a private indoor shower and outdoor bath (guests are expected to always wash in the shower before using a bath). 

Some Ryokan will also have an onsen hot spring on the premises – a naturally occurring hot bath with waters that contain minerals and chemical elements thought to be healing and beneficial for the human body.

Ryokans usually offer a package with at least two meals (usually breakfast and dinner) included, which make them a great choice when staying in a rural location with few local restaurants. 

Minshuku

When resting in a Minshuku, be ready to sleep in futon – they are very comfortable! (Photo: ©photoAC)

While some people consider Minshuku and Ryokans to be similar, Minshuku are actually bed-and-breakfast establishments run by a family, and are typically much smaller. 

While a room at a Minshuku may be smaller or have less amenities/facilities than at a Ryokan, one of the main differences is the true ‘authentic lifestyle’ experience that staying at a Minshuku can offer. The family running the accommodation will usually spend plenty of time talking to and getting to know their guests, and everyone will typically eat together in one large dining room, while many Ryokans will serve meals within your own private room. 

Meals are not always included when you stay at a Minshuku, and bathrooms are almost always communal (make sure to use the special slippers provided!). Occasionally, the owner of a Minshuku may decide not to put individual locks on rooms within their accommodation (although this can be the case at other accommodation options, such as Ryokan, as well). When deciding where to spend the night, you should check to make sure that all the services that you require are available before booking. 

Shukubo

Signs pointing a pilgrimage route and a stop to a temple (Photo: ©photoAC)

Shukubo literally translates as “to sleep with monks”, and is the name given to accommodation within a Buddhist temple. As many temples in Japan are several hundred years old, staying in a Shukubo is a fantastic opportunity to spend the night in a truly historical building, while also getting up close and personal with hospitable, practicing monks. 

As an accommodation option, Shukubo operate quite similarly to a Minshuku with the exception of some slightly stricter rules that guests are expected to follow during their stay. These rules can include basic rules such as the removal of shoes (common in almost all Japanese accommodation options, as well as in homes, some special restaurants and more), or other rules that you may not expect, such as wearing modest clothing (ie. by covering up shoulders, midriffs etc.), being mindful of a curfew, and keeping to a schedule in regards to meals and bathing. It’s important to remember at all times that you are staying in a place of worship, not a hotel, and that showing respect to your hosts and the temple itself is very important. 

Rooms at a Shukubo are usually quite basic, and may not include a TV. Bathrooms are usually communal, while meals will follow a traditional Buddhist diet and are usually completely vegetarian (or vegan). At some Shukubo, there may also be an expectation for guests to join monks in some easy morning chores – you can find out what will and won’t be included in the package before booking your stay. 

For many guests, the best part of staying in temple accommodation is the opportunity to take part in authentic Buddhist practices and rituals. Some Shukubo will allow guests to attend a morning prayer or ritual before breakfast, while others run activities such as Sutra copying or meditation lessons. 

Other unknown accommodation terms that you may come across include:

Western-Style – rooms with elevated, framed-beds rather than futon

Pension – similar to Minshuku, but with western-style room furnishings

Hostel/Dorm – communal sleeping with strangers, usually using bunk-beds 

Capsule Hotel – guests sleep in small ‘pods’ or ‘capsules’ and share facilities

Manga Cafe/ Book-and-Bed Accommodation – similar to a capsule hotel, with a library of books available to read for free. Manga cafes do not usually supply proper beds and are not recommended as a proper form of accommodation, but ‘book-and-bed’ style accommodation will normally have pillows, blankets etc for a more comfortable sleep

Sleeping in a capsule hotel is an experience to try! (Photo: ©photoAC)

Whether you’re planning a trip by yourself, wish to take part in one of our all-inclusive, off-the-beaten track package tours or will be enjoying a custom, one-of-a-kind Japan tour built entirely around your interests by Heartland JAPAN, we hope that this guide helps you to understand the wonderful variety of Japanese accommodation options on offer and to find the perfect fit for you. 

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