Spoiler Alert: Japanese hostels blow European hostels out of the water in all areas. Cost, quality, atmosphere – you name it. Here are the details.
With living and travelling in Japan for the past two and a half years, I’ve stayed in countless hostels from north to south of the country.
During this time, I’ve also travelled to Europe, most recently to London. On this trip, I stayed at one of the most well-known European hostel brands – Generator. They’re based in over 10 cities across Europe, and brand themselves as urban design-led hostels. I had high expectations. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized how truly high Japanese hostels had set my expectations. London’s hostel experienced really struggled to hit the bar.
If you think about it, the answer lies at the core of these different cultures. Japan prizes the concept of omotenashi, which is Japan’s unique approach to hospitality. They prioritize a customer’s happiness and very closely match their needs.
London, on the other hand, is the world’s financial capital. It has an enormous advantage of being able to access Western and Eastern financial markets due to it’s dead-centre time zone, allowing it more time to be financially productive.
This financial orientation seems to carry over to the hostels, too. Let’s compare my experiences at countless hostels in Japan, including leading country-wide hostel brands like Khaosan, J-Hoppers and K’s House, homely hostels such as Backstage Osaka, and commercial hostels like &ANDHostel and Imano.
1. Baggage Storage Facilities
In all Japanese hostels, baggage storage is free. You can store it for a full 24 hours with no worries – it just needs to be out of the hostel by the end of the day. That’s the only rule.
At my stay at Generator London, baggage storage is a service which is charged at $2.60 per hour, $7.70 for 6 hours, or $10.30 for 24 hours.
2. The Cost of Hygiene Products
Body wash, shampoo and conditioner are all free in Japan. You’ll usually find them in large bottles in all showers, which you’re allowed to use freely. The only thing you’ll need to purchase in Japan if need be would be a toothbrush, which will cost you about $0.80. If you want a towel in Japan, they’re almost always free. If you do need to rent a towel, they’ll usually set you back about $0.80 too.
In contrast, at Generator London, you have to purchase hygiene products from reception if you didn’t bring your own. Shampoo, bodywash and a toothbrush kit will set you back $1.80 a piece. And, shockingly, it costs $5.15 to rent a towel from the hostel. A hot tip would be to walk down to the nearby store and simply buy your own towel for $7.80. You’ll save money in the long run.
3. The Cooking and Eating
At hostels in Japan, there is typically a cooking facility where you can cook your own food. If there isn’t a cooking facility, the hostel will usually have a bar/cafe of the sort that you can buy food from. More often than not, this is a convenience factor – not a business factor. It’s more than likely that you’re still allowed to bring your own food and eat it at the hostel. For most hostels in Japan, if there’s a breakfast buffet or menu to choose from, it’s around $5.50 for some food and a drink.
In contrast, Generator London has a strict rule of no outside food allowed at the eating area. I learned this after watching an exceptionally awkward exchange between another guest and a staff member. The guest mentioned that she can’t afford the prices charged at the hostel but still wants to chill in the ‘chill area’. It was met with an attitude of “not my problem” and she was told to talk to reception. Anyways, the food you can buy at Generator is sometimes reasonably, sometimes excessively priced. Pizza for $10.30? Sure. Fish & Chips for $13.50? Pushing it, but uh, sure. Breakfast for $12.20? Woah, back up now. Just leave and you can get a decent breakfast outside for about $4.
4. The Sleeping Spaces
Japanese living spaces and accommodations are world renowned for their exquisite cleanliness. That’s just part and parcel with Japan. That aside, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a Japanese hostel that doesn’t have a curtain that you can draw the full way around your bed. It adds a great layer of comfort and privacy to a 12-bed dormitory. Simple, but such a win.
On the other hand, European hostels on the whole almost never have curtains – Generator included. It’s not a negative really, but rather a huge plus for Japanese hostels in comparison.
5. The Price Points
Hostels in Japan typically range from $15 – $23 with all included. Have a look for yourself. At those price points with all of the quality and comfort as described above? An absolute dream.
Compared to hostels in Europe in general, and in this instance London, you’re looking at around $20 – $25 on average, with a whole lot of exclusions – such as the hygiene products, towels, storage facilities and so forth.
This is more so a statement on how high-performance and fantastic the Japanese hostels tend to be on average, rather than a commentary on poor European standards. The Japanese are masters of hospitality and comfort, and it shines through even at the budget-traveler level. It’s an absolute pleasure traveling in Japan, and they’ve set the bar high. I wonder how long it’ll take for European hostels to raise to their level?