When I’m traveling alone, I like to stay in hostels. It allows me to meet other people and helps me stay on a budget. Usually hostels are one offs – set up only in the city that you’re in. However, I found in Japan, there was an interesting phenomenon where you would often see the same names popping up and they would always be well reviewed.
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Curious about all the different options, I wanted to try them out and see which one was the best. Of course this isn’t the best sample as I would have to stay at everyone to truly compare but based on the handful that I did stay at in various cities, I definitely have a clear favourite chain and a clear one that I did not enjoy.
One thing I did learn from my month of sleeping in hostels is that I definitely prefer the bottom bunk. All that climbing in and out of bunk beds and rooms – especially ones that were more capsule-like – wreaked havoc on my poor knees. I started showing up right at check in so I could either select the bottom bunk when I get to the room or request a lower bunk from reception.
K’s House was my clear favourite of all the hostel chains I stayed in. I stayed at one in Hakone and in Takayama. They were both very similar in experience and feel down to the design and layout of the rooms. They have other locations in Tokyo (2 of them!), Kyoto, Hiroshima, Mt. Fuji, Kanazawa, Ito and in the Hakuba Alps.
The dorms consisted of capsule-like beds for each individual complete with curtain. You get a lot of privacy. Bathrooms are located outside the room but they’re close by. Toilets and showers are located separately and were always clean. Both common rooms were simply designed with chairs in one area and a sitting area in another.
I enjoyed how you have areas where you can meet others, but I really enjoyed the privacy and space that you’re given as an individual. Plus, the one in Hakone comes with its own onsen right in the hostel. Who could ask for anything more in a hostel?!
Book It Now: K’s House Hakone | K’s House Takayama
J-Hoppers for Japan Hoppers has 6 locations across Japan: Takayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Osaka Universal, Kumano Yunomine and Hiroshima where I ended up staying. I quite enjoyed my experience at the J-Hoppers in Hiroshima.
The beds at their Hiroshima location were like capsules and offered a lot of privacy and room for an individual. I was able to keeps all my luggage inside it as well. However other locations of the same chain looked like they offer bunk beds only.
If you’re going to be visiting cities with J-Hoppers it might be worth it to book consistently with them as they offer discounts for loyalty. I wish I had seen this before going to Japan so I could have taken advantage of it. For some reason they don’t advertise this on their website, but at the hostel, you can pick up a pamphlet that acts as a stamp card.
Book It Now: J-Hoppers Hiroshima
I didn’t get a chance to stay at this hostel chain so I can’t speak to the experience. However, it is a part of the J-Hoppers group, and I had a pleasant enough stay there so I would imagine a similar experience. Hana Hostels have locations in Kyoto, Osaka , Hiroshima and Fukuoka. The main reason why I opted to not stay with Hana Hostels is because their beds are more bunk bed style and during this trip, I realized I vastly preferred the capsule style where you essentially have a mini room for yourself with more space. However, one cool thing is that they offer Japanese style rooms where you sleep on a futon on top of tatami mats which can be a unique experience.
Book It Now: Hana Hostel Osaka
Khaosan Hostel Group
It seems since writing this guide, the Khaosan Hostel Group have closed both of these locations. Given my experiences with them I’m honestly not surprised. Of course I can’t speak for the other locations that I haven’t stayed in, but I’m not sure I personally would give them another chance. The photos look pretty cool though – especially this one also in Asakusa.
When it comes to the Khaosan chain of hostels, it’s definitely a case of you pay for what you get. In an effort to save a bit of money, I stayed at a Khaosan hostel in both Kanazawa and Tokyo (by Asakusa). Both weren’t the best experiences.
Everything felt run down and ratty. The Khaosan Kanazawa location looked like it was built in an old school – i don’t know if it previously was one, but it was definitely giving me strong school vibes. They attempted capsule-like beds however it was like they didn’t finish it. The boxes, built out of thin pieces of wood, were unfinished. It felt like I was just sleeping in a wooden box. Sure, I was probably doing that in other hostels too, but at least I didn’t know that specifically. As I was there in winter, it was chilly both in and outside. In an effort to warm up the halls they were running extra heating elements which left the whole hostel smelling like gasoline. I was so happy to move on from Kanazawa when it came time (along with many other reasons).
The Tokyo location was no better. A mishmash of beds lined the walls of my dorm room. For privacy every bed had what looked like an old sheet hung up around it. They didn’t even give all that much privacy – you could see right through them. Maybe because my bed was right by the window, but I was incredibly cold. I ended up wearing all my sweaters and my toque to bed in order to keep warm.
There are numerous other locations and the photos look decent, but based on these two experiences, I’d definitely suggest paying a little more to get a little more at another hostel.
In some of the larger cities, I also stayed at independent hostels which I would recommend doing. I selected them based on reviews and photos I found online, but I really did enjoy these experiences. Or perhaps, you could try out a capsule hotel for a night? Here are some recommendations for one off hostels around Japan:
Dot Hostel in Nagano – This hostel felt so much like a family. It’s small which helps. This is where I made the most connections with others due to the family feel. However, if you go in the winter, be prepared for it to be chilly! The building is over 100 years old and drafty. While the rooms that you hang out and sleep in are heated, the hallways are not. Read reviews.
Piece Hostel Sanjo in Kyoto – This hostel doesn’t feel like a hostel. Sure you’re sleeping in a shared room, but everything else just feels like a boutique hotel. While a little more expensive compared to the average hostel, it was so comfortable, comes with an amazing breakfast, and you can even choose the firmness of your pillow! Amazing. Full review coming soon but in the mean time check out these reviews.
Unplan Kagurazaka in Tokyo – Experience a different, quieter, side to Tokyo by staying at Unplan Kagurazaka. Modern, comfortable, clean and quiet. It felt surprisingly relaxing to retreat to my bunk at Unplan away from the noise and chaos that Tokyo typically presents. You can see my full review here.
Have you stayed in any of these hostels? What were your experiences like? Did I miss any great ones?