It’s no wonder Bill Murray got a little zoned out in his Tokyo hotel in the film Lost in Translation – Japan’s hospitality industry has a personality of its own. This weirdness has just reached surreal new heights with the opening of the world’s first ‘robot hotel’ Henn-na Hotel near Nagasaki, where guests are checked in by a smiling automaton. How about a toilet that offers massages, a bed next to Alice in Wonderland or the chance to sleep in a First Class airline cabin that will never take off? If you’re feeling a little befuddled get started with our favourite weird and wacky Japanese hotels.
1. Henn na Hotel, near Nagasaki
It could surely only happen in Japan, but in 2015 a new hotel, located near Nagasaki’s Dutch theme park Huis Ten Bosch, opened with robots taking on some of the staff duties, such as check-in, luggage storage and concierge. The owners aim to eventually replace 90% of the human staff with robots. Don’t worry if you haven’t brushed up on your Japanese – there’s a dinosaur who speaks English, also manning the desk. Of course. Rooms start from £36 a night but you may have to ‘bid’ for the chance to stay during peak months like April and November.
2. Nine Hours, Kyoto
Capsule hotels are all the rage in Japan, where space is at a premium and hotel room rates are traditionally steep. The solution is tiny capsules where you don’t have enough room to swing a Hello Kitty, but just enough to rest your head if you’re on a quick visit to nearby Kenninji Temple in Kyokto. Nine Hours, a nationwide chain, offers overnight stays with flexible check-in from 12pm if you want to drop off your bags, from 4,900 yen (£30) a night. ‘Nap’ and ‘Shower’ options come to about £6 and £5 respectively for anyone who’s just breezing through.
3. First Cabin, Tokyo
This stay on the grounded version of a First Class cabin may be the closest most of us will ever get to actually flying the real thing on a plane. On the other hand, it’s just a clean, compact room one step up from a dorm and not dissimilar to Japan’s ubiquitous capsule hotels. Either way, it’s plain weird and you get the super-friendly staff you’d find with a good airline and free access to the sauna, which you probably wouldn’t. Catch the Metro to JR Akihabara Station to get here, rooms start from around £40 a night for ‘first class’ and £30 for ‘business class’. Check out our tips for a fun-packed Tokyo holiday here.
4. Aman, Tokyo
Japan’s high-tech toilets are legendary. Some budget hotels still have the horrifying (to first timers anyway) hole in the ground, but at the ultra plush Aman, a new urban resort, they do things a little differently. For the price of a mere £460 and upwards a night, their warmed toilet seats also clean your undercarriage for you and even offer a ‘massage’. The hotel is in the heart of the main business district and handily right next to the Imperial Palace park, with some rooms offering unrivalled views of the magnificent building and gardens.
5. Hotel Gracery Shinjuku, Tokyo
Godzilla is back on the big screen this year and to celebrate, the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku at Tokyo’s largest entertainment complex, the Shinjuku Toho Building, has gone a little Godzilla crazy. The star attraction is a ‘life-size’ 12 metre high Godzilla head on the eighth floor terrace. You can, of course, sleep in a Godzilla themed room, but it’s worth remembering where you are before fleeing to reception screaming that there’s a giant monster outside your window. Shinjuku is located in Kabukicho, one of the city’s main party zones, so it makes a great base for a night out too, though beware the monstrous hangover. Rooms start at 14,400 yen (£86). Want more movie madness on your holiday? We’ve rounded up the top film-themed hotels around the world.
6. Book and Bed, Tokyo
Japan is not always about high-tech gadgetry. At Book and Bed Tokyo (opened in September 2015) they eschew tablets and smartphones with a retro nod to more traditional books. Guests sleep amongst the books in this library-cum-capsule hotel, around eight minutes from Shinjuku Metro station. As well as overnights you can come for a kip during the day from £9, but note that there’s no shower option with this.
7. Love Hotels, nationwide
You can spread the love at the famous (or notorious?) Japanese love hotels whihc you’ll find in many cities across Japan. Rooms are available in all sorts of themes to help you get in the mood and you don’t have to stay all night as you can rent them by the hour. They’re not half as seedy as they sound – some offer very innocent chill-out zones equipped with games consoles and big TVs. Angelo Love Hotel in Osaka, one of over 37,000 in the country, is probably the best-known such establishment, thanks to a documentary film which aimed to find the true stories behind the flashy rotating signs.
8. Keio Plaza, Tokyo
For the ultimate in kitsch, don’t miss the Hello Kitty themed room at the Keio Plaza. They actually have two options – Kitty Town for younger fans and Princess Kitty for the, er, grown ups. Each comes bedecked, of course, with all manner of Hello Kitty décor flourishes and a lot of pink. The special rooms can book up over a year in advance but if you don’t get your dream room, the hotel is surrounded by shops and malls, so you can still pick up some feline mementos of your stay around Shinjuku-dori Street (near Shinjuku Station). Cat person? Take a tour of the best cat cafes in Japan and beyond.
9. Chapel Christmas Hotel, Osaka
Wish it could be Christmas every day? Well it can if you stay at the Chapel Christmas Hotel, a few steps from Nihonbashi Subway Station. Tinsel and bobbles abound, as do images of Santa himself, whose face even adorns the room doors, and lights up to let you know you’ve found the right one. Part festive and part love hotel, this surely is 100% unique. If you enjoy your stay you can even buy a souvenir mug. Hour-long visits cost from 1990 yen (£12).
10. Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari, Tokyo
Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari is all very Japanese, a sort of theme park given over to the national obsession with hot spring bathing. If you’re on a budget, you can just pay a nighttime entrance fee (after 6pm it costs from 1980 yen, weekdays, or 2,180 yen on weekends) and take a reclining sofa-bed in the ladies lounge for the night or pay a bit more for the gents-only capsule hotel. There are separate, gendered ‘full’ baths for which the dress code is full-blown nudity, but you can always stick with things like the outdoor foot bath, walking over reflexology rocks or getting your dry heels nibbled by fish. Grab some sushi or ramen in the food court for afters. There’s even a free shuttle bus between the baths and Tokyo Teleport station.
11. I-Cafe Akiba Place, Tokyo
I-Cafe Akiba Place is a seriously quirky place to stay with a more serious back story. Japan has endured more economic turmoil than any other developed economy in recent years, which is why such establishments have grown in popularity. Anyone on a serious budget can stay at a 24-hour internet café, also known as Manga cafes. This one near Akihabara Station is 250 yen (£1.50) for the first 30 minutes, and 100 yen for every half hour extra. You may need to pay more for membership, but you get freebies with this, including your own (tiny) booth and reclining chair, hot and soft drinks, some basic food like miso soup and toast and plenty of Manga comics and games to keep you entertained. You may be left feeling a little soulless, but your bank manager back home will no doubt approve.
12. Sukeroku No Yado Sadachiyo, Tokyo
Slick, modern Japan not fulfilling all your visions of a land of samurais and geishas? Well here at this ryokan (traditional hotel) they offer the chance to experience a more old-fashioned Japanese evening based on the last Shogunate period in Japan, known as the Edo, with karaoke, geisha dancing and Japanese party games. There’s a price for tradition however – you’ll sleep on tatami mats starting at 14,100 yen per person, or £86 (this price halves if you’re in a group of 4 or more).
13. Hotel Benesse House, Naoshima
You don’t need to go down the tacky route to stay at a weird Japanese hotel, not at Hotel Benesse House, which is part of the ‘art site’ of Naoshima Island. This peaceful community boasts outdoor installations, sculptures and galleries populated by Japanese artists and Western names like Monet and Warhol, aiming to offer ‘a fresh reinterpretation of the potential of art museums’. We’re not sure what that means, but this place is pretty as a picture. Try and bag an airy beach suite overlooking the Seto Inland Sea if there’s availability. Reach the island by flying from Tokyo to Takamatsu Airport or Okayama Airport on the main island of Honshu and then catching a boat from Takamatsu or Uno Port.
Ok, you may think that there is nothing weird about staying at Disneyland if you’ve got kids, but many guests in themed rooms such as the Tinkerbell and Alice in Wonderland suites are actually adults! Direct buses get here in under an hour from major stations in Tokyo, like Shinjuku and Tokyo Station, and the usual world of Disney attractions awaits beyond the hotel. A two-day adult ‘passport’ for Disneyland and Disney Sea costs 12,800 yen. Here you’l find all the usual suspects – Mickey, Minnie and their pals – but you’ll also come across Duffy the Disney Bear, who, despite being nearly unheard of in the rest of the world, is more popular than Mickey Mouse in Japan and even has his own Twitter account…
15. Train Hotel, nationwide
We love the look of this hotel on wheels. Currently under development and slated to start operating in 2017 this will be a surreal, but deeply luxurious way of kipping for the night, designed by Kiyoyuki Okuyama. The computer-generated teasers online have convinced us about this train hotel already, as has the prospect of a carriage partly made of glass!
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