In 2013, AirBnb made its launch in Japan and quickly became a go to site for booking from abroad. With options ranging from homestays at traditional Japanese houses in the countryside, to high tech capsule hotels, AirBnb had something for everyone. The site was a fast favorite for budget travelers, families and friends traveling in large numbers, and those searching for accommodation with something a little more unique than your average hotel.
However, new laws regarding the licensing of home shares put into effect June 15th, meant that more than 40,000 AirBnb hosts, approximately 80% of the original number registered, had to close their doors to visitors. If you’re planning a trip to Japan in the near future and were hoping to use Airbnb for at least part of your stay, you’re going to need an alternative for searching for accommodation. No worries! Get Around Japan will explain why the new law has changed the rental business here, and how you can still find a great accommodation before you make your way to Japan.
Understanding the New Law and What it Means for You
The new rental laws, effective June 15th 2018, apply to accommodations known as minpaku or minshuku. Any rental of a single room in a home or an entire residence for rent, falls under this category. Under the new law, renters are now required to register with the Japan Tourism Agency and are subject to other rules and regulations, including yearly rental limits, that reduce the profitability of owning rental properties. While AirBnb provided great business, it was met with some resistance by locals as it compromised security in private apartment buildings and trash separation was not always carried out properly by guests.
When the law went into effect this summer, even with reservations in place, hosts without an approved registration by June 15th were forced to cancel their bookings immediately, and many travelers lost their accomodation at the last minute, some even upon arrival in the country. A quick glance at the site will make it apparent that currently, far fewer options remain on AirBnb, and many of the options that do remain are comparable to the hostels that you might find in a quick web search. (For more information from the Japanese Tourism Agency, check out their English site, here.)
So, how should travelers booking a place to stay in Japan find the same sort of spots available when AirBnb was still an option? Here, we’ll present a few categories of accommodation that might suit travelers on a budget.
Capsule hotels are a hit for first time travelers to Japan. Capsule hotels typically provide visitors one cell in a large stacked unit, looking somewhat like plastic barracks. For the non-claustrophobic, staying in a pint-sized room (you might not be able to sit up without your head brushing the ceiling) can be a novel experience. Capsule hotels are a great option if you are looking for cheap accomodation close to an airport or other main terminal station (ie. Shinjuku, Shibuya, Kyoto) as there tend to be clusters of these types of hotels there. You’ll find business travelers and tourists alike stopping here for a quick night of sleep before catching an early morning flight or bullet train. Capsule hotels are also a great option if you don’t plan to spend a lot of time in your actual hotel room.
Depending on how large your luggage is, and if you have valuables that need protecting, it’s important to check with a capsule hotel about storage and security before booking. Some places will have lockable security boxes and lockers, while others might not.
New Generation Hostels
Recently across Japan, and especially in Tokyo, a new generation of hostels have emerged. These hostels cater to younger travelers. These hostels have all the conveniences you need, often including free WiFi for staying connected and saving data while at the hostel, in addition to social spaces like cafes and bars for meeting new people. Some hostels even hold weekly events and international gathering where both guests and the local community are invited to participate. Hostels tend to have a reputation for not being the nicest (or cleanest) of accommodations, but many of these newer hostels are swept to perfection, and have interesting concepts and design. Stay in a hostel that doubles as an art gallery, or shack up in a place with minimalist design that uses only natural wood in its architecture. The hostel experience can bring unexpected meetings and adventures, and you won’t have to break the bank to get it. In general, prices range anywhere from 2,500-4,000JPY per night per person.
Pensions and Ryokan
For many families traveling together, the option to rent out an entire house for vacation was the main draw of AirBnb. When traveling in groups, finding accommodation for everyone at a reasonable price can be a challenge. Regular hotels might be one option, but for a more unique experience, consider renting a pension or booking a stay at a traditional Japanese inn, called ryokan. Pensions are the equivalent of Bed and Breakfasts in Japan, and are often located on a home property, with the manager living on site. Most pensions offer meals to their guests and provide a homey atmosphere at a reasonable price for families. Ryokan are also a good family option. Many ryokan have larger rooms lined with tatami mats where several family members can all stay together on futons.
Bookers Beware: Craigslist and Other Posting Forums
While it might be tempting, it is best to avoid public posting forums such as Craigslist when making your booking. If you are asked to make monetary transfers from abroad, this is a huge red flag that the posting is most likely a scam. The promise that you can stay in an enormous pent house in the center of Shibuya or another expensive area like Roppongi for 20USD per night, most likely has a catch. In sum, if it appears too good to be true, it most likely is. With the new law in place, these unlicensed accommodations are technically not legal, and accordingly, as a booker you have no protection should anything go wrong during your stay.
For more recommendations of individual accommodations to book in Tokyo, stay tuned for Get Around Japan’s new article series, Tokyo Tomari. Beginning from next week, we’ll be providing new articles with in-depth information alongside interviews of hotel staff, to give you a good feel before you make your booking choice.