Back in 1995, Mike and I backpacked through Japan for a week. We stayed at a ryokan (旅馆)in Hakone and still have fond memory of it despite paying US$500 per person per night. We wanted to share the same experience with the boys but without the exorbitant price tag.
Hotels in Japan are notoriously expensive. Our small hotel in Narita called Narita-U hotel was a bargain at 19,600 Yen (S$314.93) for two rooms. It is located just within walking distance from the JR train station and beyond the station, there are numerous restaurants eateries. There is a bus shuttle between the airport and the hotel but it does not run frequently. Thus we had to change our schedule just so we could take the bus to pick up our car from the airport on time. However, Narita is much further away from Tokyo than we thought (about 2 hrs train ride) and may not be a good alternative to cheaper accomodation if your plan is to be in Tokyo.
At Kawaguchi-go, we stayed at a hostel. Kawaguchi-go Station Inn is located just across the train station and has a view of Mt Fuji from the window. It has such a small and nondescript entrance that we missed the hotel a few times. At 19,400 Yen for 5 pax (2 rooms), you need to share the common toilet with 6 other units on the floor. To shower, you need to climb to the top storey at level four. There are two private shower rooms. Alternatively, there is a onsen (hot spring bath). The inn owner’s wife was kind enough to lay the futons for us. (I don’t know if that is the common service or just because I requested.) We enjoyed this place as there is a recreation room downstairs with free internet, electronic dart board, a photography corner with kimonos and an origami corner. Free hot beverages was freely available throughout. We had fun bonding over dart games. They have washing machines and dryers for 200 Yens each with free soap powder provided. The only glitch is a small bed-bug I found crawling on Aaron’s futon the morning we were leaving. After reading horror stories about bed-bugs in the news recently, I nearly freaked out.
The Yudanaka Onsen Seifu at our next stop was our most luxurious ryoken. At Yen 99, 900 for 5pax (2 rooms x 2 nights) plus two dinners and breakfasts. The elderly couple who own the ryokan are so friendly that the old man came out to greet us as soon as they saw our car and helped unload our luggage. Their son, Mitsuo, could speak English and helped translate whatever his parents said.
The room assigned to us was a suite. In contrast, the two older boy had just a small room. For dinner, they gave us a whole dining room. That’s the beauty of travelling in large group during off-peak season. Like all ryokans we had visited, the toilet and onsen are common. When I asked for a private shower room, Mituso told be to just lock the door to the in-door onsen. Yep, there is an outdoor onsen which the males in my group bravely tried out in the cold.
There is an underground connection to the ryokan next door and I think they share the common recreation room. Nothing much in the cold room except a ping pong table which Mike and Aaron tried out.
A good ryokan must also be famous for its chef’s cooking and the certificates on the wall highlighted this.
At Shirakawa-go, we stayed at a gasso-house in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yokichi Guest House is a Minshuku(民宿) that is 140 years old. It has housed nine generations. The current owner who speaks a little English told us that the thatched roof has to be changed every 40 years and it’s a community event. For 47,000 Yen for 5 pax/night, she provided us breakfast and dinner. By now, we are used to the common toilet (except this is really common, no gender). The shower room is private and there is a specific time that one can use. The rest of the time is closed. (For the family’s own use, we guess.) We too got a suite here. The futon was warmed by a heater at the foot. It was comfortable except for Andreas, who had a bug fall onto his eyes while he was sleeping and stung him. Here, we paid Yen 47,000 per night.
The last hotel we stayed in was a stopover at Nagoya. Hotel Wing International is situated close to the train station where Takashimaya was located. We paid 21,600 Yen(S$347.24) for two rooms.
Overall, our hotel stay was an adventure itself. Coincidentally, when we were at Yudanaka Onsen Seifu, there were a couple of Singaporean men staying there as well and we met them when we saw Matsuo driving them to the monkey park. At our Nagoya Hotel, we met a Singaporean family. Their son immediately recognised our Singaporean accent and approached us.
Small world. Either that or Singaporeans are everywhere.