Planning your vacation to Japan is one of the most exciting parts of your journey. The sheer amount of options available to you really opens your eyes to the excitement of the Land of the Rising Sun. The traditional hotels with tatami mat flooring and paper doors; the waterfall hikes just a stone throw away from the city; the bright and healthy sushi; the grandiose, yet humble temples on your doorsteps…It’s truly endless. Japan is pretty much the Land of Tourist Opportunity. That explains its massive growth as a tourist destination over the past decade.
With this massive growth in tourism, there has of course been a massive growth in tourism companies too. Some are excellent ones have emerged, providing products or services beyond your wildest dreams. Others are honestly best avoided – and the ones that are worth avoiding might surprise you. First, let’s talk about those.
Websites that are hard to outright recommend using to book tourist accommodation in Japan
A standard accommodation booking engine
In general, I like these kinds of websites. Professional establishments are listed, with predictable and consistent quality across the registered accommodation on the site. They have a fantastic system of categorization to find exactly what you’re looking for, and you can easily filter your searches. If you search for hostels with a rating of 8 or higher, the filter gives you establishments that will impress you more or less equally. What it comes down to from there is selecting a property in your ideal location. Book, and done.
Even better with websites of this size are their rewards programs. After booking a certain amount of times on their websites, you may unlock exclusive discounts and rewards. Alternatively, you’ll rack up points for each purchase, which then makes you eligible for rewards. They’re truly worthwhile discounts, and end up guiding a lot of your future purchasing decisions on the site. I was once in Rome, and managed to snag a $500 per night room located directly across from the Pantheon for just $200, thanks to a special loyalty deal. Although not in Japan, it’s evidence of the value that you can find with a site of this nature.
Issues that may steer you away from large booking websites
There are two major issues:
- Many of the locations listed are pretty standard. Unless you get lucky, there’s usually nothing entirely memorable about the locations. It’s the equivalent of going to a franchise, rather than going to a unique, single-location restaurant.
- The establishments listed on these major booking engines don’t actually want you to make a reservation on there. They’d much prefer you to book directly since these booking engines take a large percentage of the purchase. Being registered on these engines is essential, but detrimental in a lot of ways too.
Doot Experiences is committed to sustainable tourism, supporting locals, and creating unique memories for travelers. With that in mind, it becomes a lot harder to outright recommend these kinds of sites to people who are spending their precious vacation time in Japan. We try to ensure travelers have heart-warming experiences every step of the way, including while you’re staying in your accommodation. So let’s cut out the middle man.
In Japan, use local home hosting platforms with caution
We’ve been trying out different tourist products and services in Japan for the past 5 years. Outside of Japan, we’ve had some amazing accommodation and experiences booked through platforms where locals rent out a room or bed in their house…But one of the things we’ve learned along the way is that, often, this system just doesn’t work as well as we expected in Japan.
On one occasion, we were rejected from a local’s rental house in Kobe
We were rejected because, upon arrival, the host realized we weren’t Japanese. She told us that only Japanese people are allowed to stay there. Admittedly, we had booked her property on a different website, so we weren’t protected by the usual policies of the platform. It would’ve given the platform an opportunity to shine in the customer service department. Nonetheless, it was still a property listed on the platform, by a host from the platform, who just had disappointing requirements for staying. We didn’t even get to experience this property. So, let’s recount the next experience.
The second local home hosting experience in Hiroshima was soiled
We stayed in a very local neighborhood, in a back-alley apartment. It was an interesting location, and the apartment was truly large. It had a full lounge area, two double beds, a kitchen, a washing machine, portable Wi-Fi, and a bathroom. It sounds epic, and at first look, we were really pleased. But slowly, the disappointments started rolling it – starting with a kitchen that was almost entirely unequipped. We had a stove, a sink, and a refrigerator, yet there were no pots, pans, plates, or utensils. It was a truly confusing situation. Things really took a strange turn when we were digging through the drawers, which were all empty…until we got to the final drawer. It was a massive drawer, and inside we found a small, neatly-stacked pile of baby utensils. We couldn’t help but laugh – it was such an unusual sight to see, and so unexpected. We ended up relying on the free plastic utensils from the nearby supermarket.
Strange eventually turned into gross. Over our three day stay at the apartment, we had noticed a sour smell. We originally thought that it was just the scent of the apartment. Presumably, it was something in the wood. But we were giving the place too much benefit of the doubt. We came to find a soiled diaper sitting behind the toilet. Who knows how long it had been there, or why it was there in the first place? The fact is that it was there, and it had been stewing there for however long. It at least explained the baby eating utensils in the large drawer.
That’s one of the issues with platforms like this – overall quality maintenance is possible to a degree, in terms of what the place looks like and where it’s located. Yet the cleanliness, maintenance, and provision of amenities are totally out of the platform’s hands. That’s up to the host, and it can change depending on the day, season, or availability of the host to put in work.
It took a while, but we finally found the best accommodation site to use when you book your trip to Japan…
We were pleasantly surprised when we finally came upon Shiki Properties. Doot Experiences has values which are very closely aligned with Shiki – that is, providing truly the best hospitality to guests in Japan. The mission of Shiki Properties comes across very clearly throughout their website and accommodation options. The quality and range of choices available are next-level.
Private and premium gorgeous vacation rentals
One of the most striking things about Shiki is how balanced their properties are. They get you to experience life like a local, yet in the most glamorous and high-end fashion. Their properties are the closest we’ve seen to staying in authentic high-income Japanese housing, matched with aspects such as tatami mat flooring, Zen gardens, old bonsai trees, and outdoor baths. Many of their locations are have the perfect blend of being in local neighborhoods and located near major tourist spots at the same time.
If you’re someone that cares about the atmosphere, design, and architecture of the place that you’re staying in, then Shiki Properties will make you feel like a kid in a candy shop. If you’re someone that wants to get as close to experience life as a local as you can, then Shiki Properties will exceed your expectations.
Affordable and luxurious accommodation
The most surprising part of all of this is how affordable it is to stay in these deluxe locations across Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo. On average, Shiki’s accommodation is priced similarly to mid-range hotels in Japan, such as Toyoko Inn. Instead of paying for a standard room with limited amenities and few memories, you could be staying in a high-end, luxurious, true-to-Japan accommodation with Shiki. Oh, and on top of all that? Some properties even come with Netflix included. No matter what way you look at it, Shiki comes out on top.
Professionally managed and maintained vacation rentals
The issues we raised earlier, about the lack of maintenance or questionable cleanliness, simply won’t happen. Since Shiki Properties is a professional group that personally manages all of their properties, there is a degree of care and attention that goes into each location. No stone goes unturned – just like you’d expect from the hotel groups on large accommodation search engines. Essentially, you’re looking at the balance between well-managed properties that you’d find on large sites like that, and the uniqueness and quirkiness of properties you’d find on local home hosting platforms.
Add-On Experiences make Shiki Properties a one-stop-shop when planning a trip to Japan
Another epic thing about Shiki is that you can transform your deluxe apartment into a fully deluxe experience right on their website. There’s no need to jump around from website to website – it’s all there in one place. Two of the experiences that really stood out to us are the bento breakfasts and the in-room massage services.
Bento, loosely translated as “lunch boxes”, is such a special part of Japanese culture and it’s fantastic that Shiki has made it possible to experience this as a guest in the country. Bento contains fresh and well-balanced portions, often comprised of a variety of traditional food items. These boxes are delivered directly to your room in the morning to give you a convenient and local breakfast feeling. The reason why we love this service offering, in particular, is because it’s so difficult to find good breakfast options while you’re in Japan. Breakfast is not typically eaten outside of the home, so tourists often end up buying something basic from the convenience store. Instead, this bento service allows you to eat the way the locals eat.
To start or cap your day off, you can even order a massage. The masseuse comes directly to your property to give you a shiatsu massage, which has 700 years of history behind it. These massages are focused on getting the blood flowing in your body, and relieving stress and tension. If you’d prefer an oil massage, you can opt for that too. Amazingly, these massages are practically on-demand, requiring only 1-hour booking notice.