I’m a huge fan of Airbnb. If it didn’t exist, I simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to stay overseas for longer periods of time like I have. For those of you that haven’t used Airbnb before or aren’t familiar with it, Airbnb.com is a website that allows you to book a room or whole apartment/dwelling anywhere in the world. It’s safe, it’s affordable and it’s absolutely amazing!
Seeing as it’s become so popular and there are now so many fantastic places in Japan you can rent out, I thought I’d put together a more in-depth guide in the form of this post to offer some helpful tips for booking the ideal accommodation for your Japan trip using Airbnb. Firstly, I thought I’d talk about the main reasons why you’d want to book accommodation through Airbnb and the different time periods you might want to stay for…
Short term vs. Long term stay
The first thing you need to think about is how long you’re going to be staying in Japan and the length of time you want to stay in different areas for. If you need somewhere to stay for one night or maybe a few nights, you could rent an Airbnb apartment as an alternative to a hotel, and depending on what you’re wanting it’s probably going to cost around the same, perhaps a bit cheaper. Most inner city apartments have a minimum stay of 1 night, so if you want to book an Airbnb for one night only, you can!
However, if you’re in Japan for only a week, and say you wanted to spend time in both Osaka and Tokyo so you had quite a hectic schedule, you might actually prefer the convenience of a hotel as the check-in process is guaranteed to be easy and you also aren’t going to need a kitchen, as no doubt you’ll want to eat out most of the time! This is really up to personal preference.
Larger houses or apartments can often fit quite a few people, so if you’re travelling in a group, this is just another situation where Airbnb would come in handy!
Note. You’ll mainly find only apartments for rent in Japan, but there are sometimes houses, although generally they’d be in more rural areas.
In my opinion, Airbnb is ideal for longer stays, (I’ll go through and list some of the pros and cons later) but the main appeal is that it costs less. In the prices section of each Airbnb listing, you’ll see that some listings offer weekly and even monthly discounts for longer stays. This is where you can really save a lot!
Note. Airbnb lets you choose if you want to rent an entire place to yourself, or rent a room in someone else’s place, more like an actual BnB. Personally, I’ve always booked whole apartments but I’ve also heard good things from people who’ve rented rooms with hosts. You can save money by doing this, but often in central Tokyo it’s not that much cheaper, so I’d rather pay a little bit more for the privacy.
Personally, I’ve never had a bad experience with an Airbnb host. Japanese people are more than often incredibly kind and helpful, and many apartment hosts are actually from different countries but have settled in Japan, so they can speak better English. The host of the last Airbnb I stayed in was actually from New Zealand! Airbnb uses a rating system and it goes both ways, so you rate the host and they rate you as a guest. It’s really fantastic! After a while you also build up references, which are always a good look for when you’re applying to rent an Airbnb. If you’re renting a place to yourself, sometimes the host will meet you and show you through the apartment first, or sometimes they just leave the key and you’ll never meet them. Airbnb has an instant messaging system which allows for easy communication too.
Every Airbnb is different. Before you go ahead and book, you need to check what amenities are available. Each listing shows what it does and doesn’t have, like the example below:
It’s probably worth nothing that ‘hot tub’ means ‘bath’ in Japan! Another important thing to note is that sometimes, the amenities list might not have been updated or is slightly inaccurate. For example, I’ve stayed in places before that have stated that they don’t have ‘essentials’, but actually they’ve had everything; shampoo and conditioner, soap, dishwashing liquid, toilet paper, laundry detergent, all that sort of stuff. I’ve also stayed in places that have said they don’t have a laptop friendly workspace, but they in fact had a table and desk! I’ll talk more about that soon, but what I’m trying to get at here is that you should really study each listing closely before booking it. Read every caption and look at every photo so that you don’t miss anything!
Some things to consider when picking an Airbnb to stay in:
Internet and Wi-Fi – Most places have mobile ‘pocket Wi-Fi devices’ or sometimes they’ll have a router. If you’re already planning on booking your own pocket Wi-Fi to have with you for your whole trip, you might not be too fussed if your rental doesn’t have internet.
Washing machine – If you’re booking a longer stay, a washing machine is a must-have in my opinion! Having to go to a coin laundry is annoying and can be confusing, although it’s not impossible.
Oven – Something worth noting is that ovens are quite uncommon in Japanese kitchens. Usually apartments have a toaster oven or a normal toaster, and a hot plate which is usually gas powered. So just in case you were thinking of cooking a roast dinner (for some crazy reason!) it’s probably not going to happen.
Couch – It’s funny, but in Japan it’s not uncommon for apartments to not have a couch. A sofa might not seem like an essential item, but trust me, living without a good couch for a month is hard! Just something to keep in mind.
Toilet – It’s uncommon, but some places do still have a traditional squat toilet. If you’re not comfortable with this, you best check the listing to make sure!
Tables and desks – Apartments in Japan are often small, so every space counts. Some apartments will have a big dining table, some will have a smaller and more traditional-style table where you sit on the floor to eat, or some might not have any table at all. There might be an office desk for you to work at, or not. Every listing is different!
What is tatami?
If you’re booking a Japanese-style apartment, you’ll almost definitely have some rooms with traditional tatami straw mats. Sometimes, even in newer apartments, tatami is installed in just the bedroom. You can’t wear shoes on tatami and it’s also worth noting that it has a particular smell. The newer it is, the stronger the smell is. I’ll admit that when I first stayed in an apartment with tatami I really didn’t like it, but this year when I returned to Japan and stayed in another apartment with tatami, as soon as I stepped inside it was so familiar and brought back lots of great memories. So now I love it! Weird, huh.
To futon or not to futon?
The situation with beds in Japanese apartments is always interesting. Beds larger than a double size are quite uncommon. It’s actually quite hard to find an apartment with a queen or king size bed! I’m super tall and so is my husband, and he’s also a terribly light sleeper, so this has caused some problems in the past. Futon beds – basically a mattress with special bedding – are also incredibly popular in Japan, and to be honest, they’ve recently started growing on me. My first couple of experiences were at hotels, but these futons were total rubbish and hurt like hell! But I’ve recently slept on two different sets of futons in two different apartments, and they were both amazing! Interestingly enough, I’d now choose a futon over sleeping in a semi-double bed any day!
Requiring a parking space can make finding an Airbnb quite tricky, as not many apartments come with parking. However, if you find a place that does have a suitable space, it’s pretty awesome. If you’re renting a kei-car, perfect. If you’re renting a larger, lower sports car like a GT-R, this is where things can get stressful. Japan is notorious for its super small, super tricky parking spaces, so if you find an Airbnb with parking and you’ve got a larger car, check with the host BEFORE booking how big the parking space is!
If you’re going to have car with you or if you’re a keen adventurer, there are some really cool Airbnb rentals in more rural areas if you actually take the time to look for them. Last summer we stayed for a month in this MASSIVE 2-storey, 3-bedroom house in Ōme (Oume), which is on the western outskirts of Tokyo. It was about an hour and a half (by car or train) from Shinjuku, to give you some idea. Right next to a beautiful river, it had a small outdoor fireplace, plenty of parking and was close to an amazing mountain with a beautiful shrine and some killer driving roads. Staying out here was probably the best experience I’ve ever had in Japan!
Note. When a host allows you to stay in their home, it’s important to respect Japanese customs and remove your shoes indoors. Some places will provide slippers for you to wear, and there is always an area for your shoes to be stored as soon as you walk inside!
The booking process
The actual booking process with Airbnb is pretty straightforward. Either your booking has to be accepted by the host, who has 24 hours to accept it, (so you don’t have to wait very long) or it’ll have an instant book option, which is more common with inner city apartments.
Once your booking is confirmed, that’s it!
In your Airbnb account you’ll have a record of your bookings, as well as an Itinerary with an address and a house manual including instructions of how to get inside. Easy, huh?
Pros of Airbnb
You can cook – If you have dietary requirements, you’re wanting to save money or you’re simply going to be staying for a longer time period, this is certainly one of the big advantages of renting an Airbnb.
Get more space – Hotel rooms in Japan are horribly small, and if you find the right Airbnb rental you can really get a lot more space for your money.
Live like a local – You’ll get to experience what living in Japan is really like. The longer you stay, the better. You’ll get to go supermarket shopping, explore more, interact with neighbours and put your Japanese skills to the test – it’s great fun!
Save money – Like I mentioned before, look for rentals with weekly and monthly discounts!
Cons of Airbnb
Garbage – There really aren’t any big downsides to using Airbnb. However, if I had to pick some, the rubbish system would be one of them. Japan is strict when it comes to sorting and recycling, and to make it more confusing, every city within each Prefecture is different. Some have special rubbish bags for burnable and non-burnable trash. Some cities let you mix plastics with paper. Most listings give you detailed instructions within their house manual, but if you’re not sure, check with your host to clarify!
Check-in can sometimes be a bit confusing – I mentioned this briefly before, but basically every house or apartment has a different check-in process. Sometimes the host will meet you. Other times, a key is left out. Most of the time it’s pretty easy, and everything goes to plan. However, Japanese addresses can be VERY confusing. Firstly, when locating your Airbnb, triple check that you’ve entered the correct address into your GPS. Match it with the map on the listing to be sure.
Inner city apartments are usually easier to locate, but in saying that, I’ve actually been given the wrong house manual by a host before and checked into a slightly different apartment in a similar area which was actually a completely different listing to the one I’d booked! I’ve also spent over an hour in the rain trying to find a house with no labelled address number down a dark, almost pitch black back-road. Sometimes, these things do happen!!!
I hope I’ve provided some helpful insight in this post, and as usual, I’m all ears if you have any questions. If you’re interested in looking at some of the Airbnb listings I’ve booked in the past, here’s a full list:
Apartment in Meidaimae, Tokyo.
Length of stay: 6 weeks.
Cost: Around $2,700 NZD. (New Zealand Dollars).
10th storey studio apartment, amazing view, two workspaces, tiny bed!
Large house in Ome, western Tokyo.
Length of stay: 1 month.
Cost: $2,230 NZD
2 story house, 2 big tables, 2 toilets, so much space, 2 parking spaces, so amazing!
Large apartment in Kawasaki, Kanagawa.
Length of stay: 2 months.
Cost: $5,466 NZD
3-bedrooms, 2 workspaces, 3 beds (one a king bed!!!), highly recommended for a longer stay.
Apartment in Shiba Park, Tokyo.
Length of stay: 3 nights.
Cost: $523 NZD
Had all the basics, great transport links. Suitable for a shorter stay.
Townhouse in Funabashi, Chiba.
Length of stay: 3 nights
Cost: $407 NZD
3-bedroom townhouse with open parking, a bit more spacious, suitable workspace, futon beds etc.
Apartment in Machida, Tokyo.
Length of stay: 6 nights
Cost: $417 NZD
Small apartment, two single beds, two workspaces + parking space, hilariously small bathroom!
Large-ish apartment in central Hiroshima.
Length of stay: 1 week
Cost: $978 NZD
Very small parking space (not suitable for a large car – learnt that the hard way!), 2-bedrooms + lounge, no couch, incredible view, up a very large hill (great exercise but it’ll kill you if you’re unfit!) and another hilariously small toilet situation. Worth it for the comfy futons and beautiful sunsets.
Apartment in Kasugai, Aichi. (Near Nagoya).
Length of stay: 1 week.
Cost: $367 NZD (great deal!)
Two single beds, couch, good parking space, very basic amenities, bit of extra space (not too cramped).
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