Should you Book an Airbnb or Hotel in Japan?

Kyoto Airbnb

I don’t know about you, but whenever I travel or go on vacation, I always consider two possible forms of accommodation: Airbnb and Hotels. After a brief bit of research and asking some of you guys, it seems you’re exactly the same. So, should you choose an Airbnb or Hotel in Japan?

If you’re in a group and looking to save some money, experience something a little different, or prefer the communal vibe of an entire building to yourself, go for an Airbnb. If you’re looking for a specific luxury hotel, looking to get more points from that hotel you have status with or make sure you’re in a prime location in the city, go for a hotel.

I’ll tell you from the outset that, unlike a lot of people, I don’t have loyalties to Airbnb or hotels in Japan (or ever really) and I don’t have status with any big hotel chains. This entire article is coming from a place of complete objectivity to make sure you pick the best one for your trip! And to make things slightly more complicated, I really don’t think it’s as simple as that bolded paragraph above…

Reasons to Choose a hotel in Japan

Hotel in Japan

1. You need the extra help

In any semi-reputable hotel, you’ll almost always have access to a 24/7 reception desk and help will be just a phone call away. That’s nothing to be taken lightly when you’re far from home in a country where you don’t speak the language (even somewhere as easy to navigate as Japan).

Need help booking a taxi? They’ll be able to do that for you.

Is something wrong with your booking? You’ll be able to speak to them in person to discuss it. Something you won’t be able to do with a lot of Airbnb’s

Booking a hotel in Japan often gives you access to accommodation that has an entire infrastructure around it. You’re not left to fend for yourself and help is merely a phone call or a quick trip down to reception away.

2. You love the Japanese hotel extras

I have to admit, this wasn’t something I was aware of until I moved to Japan and now I feel like no other hotels will live up to Japanese hotels. Lots of hotels in Japan cater to Japanese businessmen and one way they excel at doing this is by providing everything you need for a good night’s rest.

These are things like Pyjamas, toothbrushes, combs, shower and hair gel, moisturizer, tea, ironing boards, and a whole lot more. I’ve even been to hotels that have what look like mini supermarkets where, once you’ve checked in, you’re handed a shopping basket and you can walk around and grab bits to make your stay more comfortable.

And before you start suggesting that it was in a really posh hotel, it wasn’t. I’ve had it happen twice in Tokyo and both times I was staying at one of the cheapest locations Agoda or Booking.com could give me.

That means you could technically turn up without any night clothes or overnight bags and still be totally fine. This is something a lot of salarymen do in Tokyo (whether from working way too late or drinking far too much), and easily one of the best points to consider when trying to figure out whether to pick an Airbnb or hotel in Japan.

3. You want to experience an Onsen

Unless you’re planning to go out of your way to find one or dedicate a specific block of time to it on your itinerary, staying in a hotel is possibly the best way to experience an onsen in Japan for tourists. 95% of the hotels I’ve been to in Japan have had some sort of onsen on their premises, and as guests, you’ll usually be able to get free access.

The only exception to the rule that I’ve found so far is Hotel Villa Fontaine Grand at Haneda Airport. I’d imagine that’s because it’s slightly more tailored to tourists as opposed to locals, or because it’s like a full-on spa up there.

I’m not saying that Airbnbs don’t come with outdoor baths and cool things like that, because they do, but to get that proper onsen experience, staying in a hotel is going to be your best bet.

4. You want to be centrally located

On the whole, hotels are going to be located in more convenient areas than Airbnb if you’re staying in a city. For instance, if you want to visit somewhere like Ginza, there are far more hotels around that area than Airbnbs. In this case, you could stay somewhere slightly further out like Kameido, but it’ll make visiting central locations more of a hassle.

Of course, this can work on the flip side as well if you’re traveling to a remote part of Japan where hotels barely exist, but if you’re sticking to the cities, you might find yourself with more options and less travel time with hotels than Airbnb

5. You’re after a specific luxury hotel

Japan is full of some of the most incredible luxury hotels I’ve ever seen. From Hoshinoya Tokyo to the Aman resorts, and the Tokyo Peninsula, you’re literally spoilt for choice. Sadly for me, my budget hasn’t yet been able to stretch to any of these, but if yours can then this might be a reason to pick a hotel vs Airbnb in Japan.

To be honest, some of these are worth staying at if only for a night or so, so if you prefer the idea of staying at an Airbnb for the majority of your trip in Japan but would like a night or two of luxury, then why not do both?

6. You have status with a hotel

This is something I’m trying to get into, and if you come from America, there’s a big chance you’ve already got some sort of status with a hotel chain (and perhaps without even knowing). So whether you’re trying to rack up those points at the Hilton, redeem a few for a decent night at the Hyatt, or sleep comfortably at the Mariott hotels, these could be the deciding factor as to whether you’d choose a Hotel vs Airbnb in Japan.

I could probably write an entire post on this point alone, but briefly, remember to book in advance if you’re using reward points, remember that Japan will be more crowded and flights will be expensive during the high season.

If you’re considering redeeming your points, it’s not worth basing your entire trip to Japan around something like this unless you’ve already booked it beforehand and you know for sure you can redeem those points. I don’t imagine it’s the case with all hotel chains, but I know that some only have a certain number of reward nights during a certain period to give out. So check beforehand!

7. You’re on a budget and are traveling solo

While this could 100% be a point in either of the lists, I’ve found that after using this Japan trip calculator, hotels slightly edge out in terms of cost-effectiveness. Usually, that’s because of the trains you’ll have to get in and out of the city, the fact you’ll have to pay for or make your own breakfast, and the Airbnb prices seem to get a little more expensive if you want anything special.

Honestly, this is very much a ‘case-by-case’ kind of point. I’ve also stayed in Airbnb in Japan that are WAY cheaper than all the hotels in the area, and that’s even more evident if you’re staying with a bigger group who can split the cost!

So, if there are only a couple of you, or you’re traveling solo, a hotel of some sort might end up being the more budget-friendly option.

Issues I’ve encountered with Hotels in Japan

Honestly, I haven’t encountered many. Most of the time the room has been clean, the service has been friendly and the hotel has done exactly what I needed it to.

I use Agoda to book rooms and more often than not, they’ll always get you the cheapest price out of any booking website.

The one thing you will have to do is fill in a form with your details (where you’ve stayed and where you’re going to etc.), which can get a little annoying after a while but it’s not too much of a big deal.

If you’ve come to Japan as a group, staying in hotels could either make the experience a blessing or way less fun than you want it to be. If you want your own space, go with hotels, but if you want a more communal area to chill out and plan your trip then this isn’t something staying in a hotel in Japan is likely to give you.

Reasons to choose an Airbnb in Japan

Traditional hotel in Japan

1. You want to experience unique properties

My number one reason for suggesting that people book an Airbnb in Japan is so they can have a unique stay, something they’re very unlikely to find anywhere else in the world. For instance, if you happen to be staying in Kyoto, although it’s more expensive than surrounding areas like Osaka and Nara, you’ll have the opportunity to stay in a traditional Japanese townhouse called Machiya.

While I’m not entirely sure everyone in our party was as psyched as we were to experience what it’s like to sleep on a floor futon on tatami mats, if your health allows it, it’s SUCH a fun experience and one that you’ll remember for years to come. Was it the most comfy thing in the world? no, but was a great feeling to be in such an old Japanese house.

Take a look at this post if you’re interested in seeing more (including a video of the Machiya that we stayed in, among other things).

2. Often in interesting suburban areas

One of the main things that tourists visiting Japan miss out on is the smaller and less obvious parts of the country. It’s understandable when you’ve only got a few weeks to trek through the country, but I think you can do a few things to make that experience just a little more authentic.

One of the easiest ways to do that is to book an Airbnb in a residential area. Take a look at the general location of the Airbnb on the map and head on over to the street view. Usually, if a place is 10-15 minutes away from a station (often less), you’ll be in a suburban area that probably very few people visit without reason.

It’s a slice of Japan that isn’t littered with tourist traps, major attractions, and English-speaking guides, it’s authentic. I’m not saying you should spend multiple days around the area your Aribnb is in, but even a walk at dusk or dawn around the neighborhood is a great way to decompress from a day’s worth of exploring. It also makes for a number of incredible photo opportunities, just another reason that shows why Japan is so beautiful.

Of course, this can work against you as well if you’ve got a packed schedule with things to do in the cities. But even then, there’s no reason why you couldn’t grab an Airbnb flat. We chose to stay in one in Hiroshima when we traveled down for the second time. It was in its own little neighborhood but still just 5 minutes from the major attractions.

3. Possible host interactions

Speaking of my second favorite city in Japan, the first time we visited Hiroshima for 2 days we had THE BEST interaction with an Airbnb host. Usually, you don’t even see your host, but this was completely different.

We stayed in a place called Fuchu (about 10 minutes away from central Hiroshima by train) where our host had told us the bus number to get on and then met us at the bus stop. After walking back to the Airbnb, the host told us about the area, about herself, and how she loves meeting people, and said she would like to come back and have tea with us on the morning of our departure.

So that’s exactly what we did, and it continues to be one of the most wholesome experiences of my traveling around Japan.

We also had another great meeting with the owner of the Airbnb we chose to stay in over Christmas while visiting Tokyo DisneySea. It ended up with us meeting him at his office (a little strange but kind of fun) and him telling me that he used to be a ski instructor. Love it!

These are experiences that you’re just not going to get if you book into a hotel. I know some people don’t really care about this part of traveling but for me it’s been one of the best parts.

And yes, it can go the other way and you may end up having a bad interaction with your host, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

4. You may get more for your money

With a bit of luck, a bit of planning, and a whole lot of research, you could definitely get more for your money than a simple hotel room. At the start of Summer 2023, I managed to book an Airbnb in Kyoto with its own outdoor bath.

Kyto is very expensive usually, and outdoor baths are somewhat of a luxury and a great alternative for those who don’t want to brave a public onsen. Once split between the 5 people who were staying there, it worked out FAR cheaper than all of the other hotels we could have stayed in, plus we got a freaking awesome accommodation.

From what I remember, it also had samurai armor in it as well which is just mad. There’s something slightly surreal about sitting in an ancient Japanese townhouse, drinking local green tea next to a suit of Samurai armor.

5. You’re on a budget and are traveling solo

Yep, it’s on both of the lists!

I wish there was a more straightforward answer but annoyingly there isn’t. If we take Kyoto as an example, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a really nice Airbnb in Springtime, but might have an easier time finding a hotel.

If you’re traveling as part of a group and don’t mind spending more communal time with each other, splitting the costs of an Airbnb in Japan might be the better choice.

However, if time is an issue and you just want somewhere to lay your head – getting everyone up and out of a hotel might be the easier job!

Issues I’ve encountered with Airbnbs in Japan

Unfortunately, I’ve encountered more than one… Whether it’s enough to stop you from booking an Airbnb altogether can only be your decision. The jury is still out for me!

On a recent trip to Hakone, we decided to go all out and book a property in the middle of the mountains that had an outdoor stone onsen. It was one of those spontaneous decisions where we probably should have had more mature and sensible adults with us, know what I mean?

Anyway, everything seemed fine until 12 hours before we were due to get there when we received a cancellation notice from Airbnb. Apparently, the property wasn’t abiding by certain rules which meant Airbnb had to close them down.

I mean, that’s fine, but 12 hours before we were meant to stay there? That completely messed up that portion of our trip and meant we lost money in other areas as well (through activities that we had to cancel in the area).

I don’t blame the individual property, but I do blame Airbnb.

Another property we stayed at was seriously dirty with hair and grease and food, and after bringing it up with Airbnb support they decided they could offer us $3 as an apology. I never complain about the state places are in, but this was seriously bad to the point that we couldn’t relax.

After days of talking to support they finally knocked a much bigger chunk off our bill. Unfortunately, that situation wasn’t nearly as smooth as it could and should have been.

Should you book an Airbnb or Hotel in Japan?

For the vast majority of people, you shouldn’t rule out either and should use them both to your advantage. In some cases and locations, you’ll find Airbnb has the better offerings, and in others, you’ll find hotels make more sense.

If you’re in a big group and looking for a cheap way to travel, Airbnb will probably be the best way to go. On the flip side, solo travelers may find hotels more economical for the duration of their stay.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a more straightforward answer. You’ll have to see what makes more sense in your situation and make your own decision based on that.

FAQs about booking an Airbnb or Hotel in Japan

Is Airbnb legal in Japan?

Airbnb’s are completely legal in Japan and you’ll have more than a few options to choose from on your stay. In June 2018 Japan imposed something called Minpaku Law (housing regulations) which basically shut down a lot of those currently operating.

Don’t worry though, there are still more than enough for you to stay in for your entire trip to Japan.

Is Airbnb safe in Japan?

Japan is a very safe country to visit and Airbnb in Japan is no different. After the Minpaku law was introduced, each Aribnb should now have a license number and require you to give over a copy of your passport.

Though they may seem annoying, regulations like this make Airbnbs in Japan safer for everyone.

Is Airbnb cheaper than hotels in Japan?

As we discussed above they can be. It just depends on when, where, and what type of accommodation you’re after. If you do your research, are happy making small compromises, and are flexible with your dates, Airbnb definitely could be cheaper.

If you’re traveling with more than just one person, this is another great way to keep those costs down.

Jonny Gleason

Jonny is the founder of A Day of Zen and has an unhealthy obsession with Japan. In 2022 he moved to Japan on a mission to give his audience the best possible information. He's helped over 300,000 plan their trip so far, and is eager to make that number much bigger!

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