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Tokyo and Kyoto trip in May

At the risk of being far too general. My wife and I are heading to japan for our first time. We’re hoping for some boutique hotel recommendations and possible areas to stay in both cities. I know Tokyo is beyond huge. We don’t need the four seasons. We’re big foodies and want to experience japan. We try to steer away from the hiltons and marriotts. It seems Tokyo is all about the huge hotels.

Posted by
585 posts

Have not been to Tokyo but spent a few days in Kyoto which was enjoyable. We stayed in Ryokan kyoraku, a Japanese guest house very near the Kyoto Station, and some of Kyoto’s temples. There cherry trees on the median of the nearby main road which are much photographed in the spring. It is so very convenient for transportation, buses and trains. It did not serve meals, but had comfortable beds and clean rooms. Only thing was we were not able to access rooms between, 10 am and 3 pm. It was in a quiet area in spite of being just off one of the major streets in Kyoto with a variety of restaurants close by and there area great array of restaurants in the Kyoto Station itself (also has a department store, a hotel, an auditorium, etc. amazing place!).

We were there in October and it was approx. $100 a night. We booked it through booking.com, filter to just find Ryokans which are the guest houses. Most have western and Japanese style rooms. In another town we stayed at a Japanese chain called Dormy there are some in Kyoto. Breakfast was included and the rooms were very comfortable.

Posted by
15699 posts

You are going to have a hard time finding smaller hotels in Tokyo. Remember, it was mostly destroyed in the war and had to be rebuilt.

You can find some budget hotels but they won't be cheap.

If you really want to experience Japan, then spend some time in other areas besides the tourist capitals of Tokyo and Kyoto. It's a beautiful country.

Posted by
7906 posts

We did 8 days in Japan prior to a cruise that went from Tokyo, four ports in Japan, one in China, one in Okinawa and one in Taiwan, ending in Hong Kong. It was wonderful.

Prior to the cruise we stayed at a nice hotel near Tokyo Station. It was the Marunouchi Hotel. I recommend it.

We did a three day tour of Nara and Kyoto from Tokyo that included the Bullet Train, it was great.

Posted by
7569 posts

Because we could only fly to Tokyo, we trained to Kyoto for our first night. We stayed at Hotel Kanra Kyoto, 190 Kitamachi. This is a very modern, low-rise boutique hotel that is just within walking distance of the train station, and a few blocks from a convenient subway station. I think it also has traditional-style rooms, but we definitely wanted regular beds. We were expected to take our shoes off outside the room, and there was a soaking tub we didn't use, but it was primarily a modern, "western" luxury room.

We were surprised that a few American (?) guests were displeased that they could not order traditional bacon and eggs at breakfast, even though the western one of the two breakfast-plate choices did nod in the direction of American taste. We liked the hotel very much.

Note that Kyoto is a sprawling city, and it may not matter that much where you stay. It's so hard to get to (for example) the Golden Temple by public transportation that we just paid for a cab. Don't miss a day in Nara, and a part-day in Inari.

In Tokyo, we stayed at the Hilton for convenience and Hilton points. I'm not ashamed of that. Note that air conditioning can be important in summer. This was not a comprehensive Japan trip; we boarded a small cruise ship after two nights in Kyoto and two nights in Tokyo. I would have been happy to stay longer in Kyoto, and I'd been there before on business.

I'd emphasize the importance of advance planning for transportation. Although it seemed like an annoyance to have to go to a counter and pick up our (included in (US purchase only) railpass cost) bullet-train tickets, the woman who waited on us volunteered, "Oh, this [reserved seat] ticket is good from any of the Tokyo stations where it stops, so you might prefer to board at [... I forget] because it's so much less crowded there." We did manage to buy our local commuter-train Nara and Inari tickets at the self-service machines.

Posted by
3363 posts

Check out Japan-guide.com for great information. Being an obsessive trip planner, I already have a future trip to Japan planned out for 2025. In Tokyo, we will be staying at Gracery Shinjuku.

Posted by
872 posts

... we will be staying at Gracery Shinjuku.

I stayed in this hotel a few years ago, no complaints (small but modern rooms). Godzilla watches over you each night. The hotel is in the Kabukichō entertainment district. Be aware:

By 1999, the area had been named "Asia's largest adult entertainment district" ... At present, the 89 acre Kabukichō district has transformed from a residential area to a world-famous red-light district housing over three thousand bars, nightclubs, love hotels, massage parlours, hostess clubs and the like.

The area immediately around the hotel seemed safe. There were a lot of young adults in the evening, probably attracted to the many movie theaters in the hotel building's lower floors. I've stayed in other parts of the city. This location was interesting, but I wouldn't stay in that area again.

Posted by
335 posts

The Shinagawa district in Tokyo has some good hotels with a variety of price points and room styles even within the same hotel. I personally like to stay in the Ueno area, but it doesn’t meet the stereotype of either ritzy Tokyo or traditional Tokyo.

Be aware that in Kyoto in May you’ll run into a lot of students on school trips. They won’t be staying or eating at the same sorts of places you will, so you’ll mainly see them at the sites. Some may be from smaller towns where they don’t get to see non-Japanese people in person much. Sometimes I’ve been approached by students with a class assignment to speak in English to a foreigner. Since I speak Japanese, I enjoy humoring them and then blowing their minds by asking them questions in Japanese, which they aren’t expecting.

I second the recommendation to consider a day trip to Nara. I’d also add Uji as a possibility. From Tokyo, Nikko and Kamakura are common day trips, but also consider Kawagoe.

Have a great trip.

Posted by
930 posts

I would recommend the Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku near the train station. The station is centrally located to visit most of the sites in Tokyo and beyond plus a lot of restaurants. Also, learn a few phrases in Japanese and the people are very helpful, but English is not their first language. Glad we had Google Translate plus a few phrases.

Posted by
2035 posts

We also stayed at the Sunroute Plaza in Tokyo after another contributor to this forum posted their recommendation. It was indeed well located, shops and restaurants nearby, and the staff were helpful. When we left Tokyo we arranged bus transport to the airport through the staff and the bus picked us up outside the front door. In Kyoto we have stayed twice at the Westin owing to its excellent location for sightseeing some of the major shrines and temples (across the street), nearby restaurants and proximity to a subway stop about a minute walk from the hotel. I really don’t know what a boutique hotel is, but I’m guessing small and expensive? I’m suggesting these although I’m not sure they qualify but we were happily pleased with both. Have a great trip. Japan is fascinating and the people as nice as could be.
You might search Ryokans or minshuku which could be more of what you’re looking for.

Posted by
795 posts

Consider flying in & out of Haneda if you can, it's much closer to downtown. We stayed at Mitsui Garden Hotel in Gotanda a few years ago, it's around $150 per night, breakfast was AMAZING and the service was equally wonderful. Maybe a 3-star, impeccably clean & on the top floors, great view from the lobby. IF you do decide to stay there, DM me & I will look up an amazing 'Farm to Table' restaurant next door in a nondescript shopping arcade. Gotanda is on the Yamanote circle line, will get you around Tokyo & connects to the subway system, and it's nice to be above ground & see the views. PS, Ryokans are more expensive and up market, minshuku can be quite cheap, I've stayed at some pretty simple minshuku in the Japan Alps.

Posted by
1591 posts

Hello devin: I am visiting Japan in Mar 2023. I discovered lots of great hotels in the country and they are far more affordable than those in San Francisco. Many of these were built just before the Olympics and therefore are very new. Like you, I avoid the mundane, cookie-cutter international chains. However, I don't mind Japanese chains.

What is your style? Traditional Japanese, hip/trendy, western but with a Japanese flair,...etc?
Budget? What I love about Japan is that there is always a good hotel, no matter what one's budget is (caveat: except youth hostels).
What amenities do you need?
Which parts of Tokyo and Kyoto do you prefer--near the major train/subway stations (for convenience), more local/residential, commercialized, party central, ...etc?
Do you enjoy specialty (third wave) coffee? Proximity to a 3rd wave coffee shop is a must for my spouse.

For my trip, I am staying at a plain Jane hotel in Shibuya, Tokyo, because I want to save $. Shibuya is the hip/happening spot for party goers and 3rd wave coffee lovers. It's also close to my husband's Tokyo office. I will deploy my savings on splurging at Japanese ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) that offer dinner and breakfast feasts. I have not decided which ryokans to stay at yet, but they will be on Kyushu island at an onsen (hot spring) town.

I can offer some suggestions, because I spent a lot of time on hotel research.