Discover Japan’s most unusual accommodation with our guide to quirky and interesting places to stay across this spectacular and unforgettable country.
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While Japan has everything from traditional Ryokan accommodation to the latest, contemporary hotels, it has also become famous for offering up some of the world’s quirkiest and most unusual places to stay. From robot hotels to Buddhist monasteries, Hello Kitty to former computer game headquarters, Japan’s imaginative approach to accommodation offers international visitors a unique experience. We have pulled together our top ten unusual places to stay across Japan with everything you need to know including how to get there with the JR Pass - one ticket for unlimited travel on the country’s world-leading trains. When you visit a new country, it’s important to have a base to explore from and we have a list of great options below. Let’s get started.
Top Ten Unusual Places To Stay In Japan
As the originator of the capsule hotel concept, Japan has a reputation for being a little different when it comes to accommodation. Fancy sleeping between the shelves in a bookshop? Consider it done. What about trekking up a holy mountain and staying with Japanese monks? Done. Modern art fans, train lovers, gamers, and more, are all catered for too with unique accommodation. Get ready for a tour of Japan’s most unusual places to stay:
1.) Former Nintendo HQ becomes boutique hotel
Photo credit: Tokumeigakarinoaoshima, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
In 2022, Japanese computer games giant Nintendo’s original headquarters from 1933 will reopen as a hotel. Set to open on 1 April, the Marufukuro hotel in Kyoto has been designed by architect Tadao Ando, including a new annex, but will retain many of the building’s original, historic features. Interestingly, when the building first opened in 1933, long before the dawn of video games, Nintendo were a playing cards computer. Today they are one of the biggest computer games manufacturers in the world. The famous building has stood empty since 1959, but is set to become a major attraction, especially those with a passion for computer game history. For more on gaming, read our guide to Japan for Gamers, Otaku, and J-Culture Fans and for more on Nintendo read our feature on Japan’s Super Nintendo World.
2.) Hokkaido’s Ice Hotel
This winter saw the opening of a stunning ice hotel in Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. Hoshino Resort Tomamu at Shimukappu Village enjoys chilling temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius in the winter, which makes it the perfect environment for an ice hotel. There are eight ice domes - designed like large, modern igloos - in the village and there’s also an outdoor ice bath for the super brave. If you love cold climates, this could be the accommodation for you. The only catch? It only opens during the winter, so you’ll need to plan ahead for next year. Hokkaido is becoming an increasingly popular destination for those interested in seeing a different side of Japan. Find out more in our Hokkaido Five-Day Rail Itinerary with the JR Pass or by reading our guide on What To Do In Hokkaido During Winter.
3.) Sleep on a Luxury Sightseeing Train
JR East’s Train Suite Shiki-shima is a sleeper train with a difference. As futuristic as it is luxurious, this sightseeing train / accommodation takes guests on multi-day rail journeys through picturesque Japanese locations, all departing from Tokyo’s Ueno Station. The train suites are super futuristic too with luxurious hinoki cypress bathtubs to relax in while you travel, stylish observation cars, and fine dining cuisine. Japan’s domestic train network is world-famous and easily the best way to experience this unforgettable country. For more on luxury trains read our guides to the Twilight Express Mizukaze and the SAPHIR ODORIKO luxury excursion train.
4.) Stay in a Buddhist Monastery
For those of us seeking a serene and calming escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, a rural retreat in a Buddhist monastery could be just the thing and there is none more holy in Japan than Koya-san. Koya-san is a holy mountain in Shikoku and is the home and birthplace of Shingon Buddhism, which built its temples on Mt Koya in the 9th Century. The town of Koya-san is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also home to Japan’s largest cemetery, the beautiful and atmospheric Onku-in, where some of the country’s most prestigious people are laid to rest. Koya-san is also the beginning and end of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, which features 88 temples and shrines and can take three months to complete on foot. Even if you don’t have time for all 88, you can book a Shukubo (a ‘temple stay’) in Koya-san, which has more than 100 temples to choose from, many with their own onsen and zen gardens for maximum relaxation. Temples such as Eko-in and Muryoko-in are 1,000 years old and allow guests to meditate, practice calligraphy, take part in morning chanting and other rituals, and much more. It’s possible to stay for weeks to fully immerse yourself in the spiritual life. Alternatively, it is possible to visit for the day too. You can use the JRailPass to travel to Shin-Osaka by Shinkansen bullet trains from nearly anywhere in Japan, such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. For detailed instructions on how to reach Koya-san from Shin-Osaka read our dedicated Itinerary Tip: Koya-san guide. Meanwhile, for more on Japan’s spiritual side read our Spiritual Guide to Japan.
5.) Toy Story Hotel
Japan’s Tokyo Disney Resort is a must-see for families and lovers of all things Disney in Japan. In April this year, it is set to add a new hotel themed around Toy Story. This isn’t just a themed room, but an entire hotel fashioned after the adventures of Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and friends. It will undoubtedly be an unmissable hotel experience if you’re a Toy Story fan or Disney fan generally, especially if you’re travelling with young children and plan to visit Tokyo Disney Resort and Tokyo Disney Sea. Read our guide to Everything You Need To Know About Visiting Tokyo Disney Resort for more information.
6.) Bookshop Hotels
Love books? If you do then bookshops are probably among your favourite places, but have you ever thought about sleeping in one? If the concept is new to you, a Japanese book hotel is essentially a hotel that’s a combination of bookshop, library, reading room, and accommodation all in one. In some cases, the rooms are essentially capsules between bookshelves and you can lie in bed reading (and surrounded by books) to your heart’s content - truly a book lover’s dream. Book-themed hotels and hostels do vary across the country though. While some are essentially capsule hotels, others are much grander hotels that have added a bookshop and library to the building, and some are the reverse - bookshops that have added beds and/or sleeping pods between the shelves. While they do vary, the one constant is that they feature lots of books and a place to sleep. For more on books, literature, and Japanese authors, read our Literary Tour of Japan or our guide to the Five Books To Read Before You Visit Japan.
7.) Capsule Hotels
Japan was the originator of the capsule hotel concept, and it remains a quintessentially Japanese experience that’s well worth trying for those in the mood for a different kind of accommodation. The aptly named ‘Capsule Hotel in Osaka’ was the first of its kind in the country in 1979 and spawned a hotel phenomenon that was replicated all over Japan and right around the world. Today, capsule hotels can be found all over the world (where they are often called ‘pod’ hotels), but the very best can still be found in Japan itself where they have continued to evolve and diversify, from low budget, practical options for single night stays, to more luxurious and quirky alternatives (and everything in between). For a detailed guide and our top recommendations for capsule hotels to try, read our article Staying In A Capsule Hotel.
8.) Hello Kitty Rooms
Calling fans of Hello Kitty! In Kyoto, there are now two special Hello Kitty themed rooms for guests to stay - the Maiko Hello Kitty Room and the Tea House Hello Kitty Room. Both are brand new for 2022 and located at Resi Stay Hotels in Kyoto. As well as tributes to all things Hello Kitty, the rooms bring to life different aspects of Japanese culture. The Maiko room is designed to look like a traditional wooden Kyoto townhouse while the Tea House is inspired by the city’s green tea and tea drinking culture. They are not the only Hello Kitty rooms in Japan either. Asakusa Tobu Hotel in Tokyo also has a Hello Kitty room and themed merchandise, including desserts. You could also follow up your stay by taking a ride on special Hello Kitty trains using your Japan Rail Pass. Read our guide to the Hello Kitty Haruka train and the super cute Hello Kitty Shinkansen bullet train for more information. The best news is that both trains are free with the JR Pass.
9.) Robot Hotels
Japan loves robots and is at the cutting edge of futuristic design and innovation. Japan is famous for its love of technology, and nothing shows that enduring fascination quite like a hotel staffed by robots. Henn na Hotels are a chain of state-of-the-art robot hotels around Japan where guests are assisted throughout their stay by anthropomorphic robots. Best of all, these hotels are designed to be budget-friendly, so that anyone can add a stay in a Henn na Hotel to their Japan trip. The premise of the Henn-na Hotels is that animatronic robots and AI handle many of the activities and jobs involved in running the hotel rather than humans. By using this technology, the hotel hopes to increase its efficiency, cut costs and become more environmentally sustainable. Since the first Henn na Hotel opened at Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki Prefecture, more hotels have opened up in cities across Japan. Nowadays, you can find 15 Henna na hotels across Japan, with ones in cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. To find out more read our guide to What It’s Like Staying at a Henn na Hotel.
10.) Stay On An Art Island
If you love modern art, this could be the accommodation for you. Famous for both its modern indoor and outdoor art, sandy beaches, stunning panoramic views and sunny weather, Naoshima art island makes for a great place to unwind, and you can stay there too. The island is home to the iconic Yellow Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama. This is only the beginning of the collection of open air-sculptures and installations, including works by Dan Graham, Shinro Otake and Karel Appel. What about accommodation you ask? How about staying in a museum? Benesse Art House is the most well-known and perhaps most intriguing museum on Naoshima. Created in 1992, Benesse House is not just a museum but an upscale hotel as well. Staying guests can wander the exhibitions at night without being distracted by others. The art collection includes an international variety of work by Tadao Ando, George Rickey, Alberto Giacometti, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Andy Warhol and others. Read our guide to Visiting Naoshima Art Island for a more detailed guide.
Naturally, while Japan has plenty of unusual places to stay, it also has a huge variety of more traditional options to choose from too. We’ve included a selection below in our bonus recommendations:
- Traditional ryokan
Found throughout Japan, ryokan are a traditional type of Japanese inn, operating as a guesthouse for travellers. Holding true to old Japanese customs, they tend to be found in postal towns or rural areas to service people travelling on Japan’s medieval highways. Read our guide to What To Expect When Staying In A Ryokan as an introduction and our feature on the Best Ryokan in Japan for our top recommendations.
It’s well-known that camping is a great way to really see and experience a country first-hand, and Japan has some of the best camping and glamping spots around. For more information, read our guide to Camping in Japan: Guide and Tips.
- Winter and Ski Resorts
Japan has some of the best winter resorts and ski slopes in the world. If you’re a winter sports fan, why not stay at one of these resorts during your visit? Our guide to Everything About Hakuba: Snow, Ski, and Winter Resort is a great place to start. You could also read our Starting Guide to Skiing and Snowboarding in Japan for more.
- Hot Spring and Onsen Resorts
Japanese hot springs are the perfect way to relax and while many ryokan have onsen, there are also specific onsen resort towns you can visit across Japan. Read our guides to Visiting Atami Onsen, bathing in the mist at Wakura Onsen, or staying at the famous Kinosaki Onsen Town, for three excellent places to start.