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Our favourite hotels in Japan

Hotels in Japan are a different ball game compared to other places throughout Asia. The vast majority is rather dated, although well maintained and generally very clean.

Rooms tend to be small which is an issue when travelling with larger pieces of luggage. We prefer to travel light with hand luggage only or duffel bags when on longer journeys as hardshell suitcases take up too much of the limited floor space. Also ensuite bathrooms can be very small, but we’ve never had any issue with the water pressure or temperature of the water.

Service is almost always super friendly and staff will go out of their way to help even with rather limited English language skills.

Whilst Japan has amazing high-end hotels with all the comforts, mod-cons and suites to rival the best in the world, this list does not include any of them. We paid around ¥15,000 – ¥25,000 (US$130 – US$220 | EUR115 – EUR190) per double room per night which might seem a lot compared to accommodation options in other Asian countries, but isn’t that much in Japan at all.

Please bear in mind that things can change quickly, prices go up and down and the quality of rooms/hotels change over time. We stayed in these places between 2019 and 2022.


Myoko Forest Lodge
Myoko, Niigata Prefecture (Honshu)
https://www.myokoforestlodge.com

Run by an Australian husband and wife team, Myoko Forest Lodge is a gem and felt like a home away from home. We loved the minimalist rooms, great common area and fabulous food and hospitality plus the snow was unbelievable!


Nishitetsu Hotel Croom Nagoya
Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture (Honshu)

https://croom-nagoya.nishitetsu-hotels.com

Nishitetsu Hotel Croom Nagoya is a Japanese business hotel done right. Centrally located and fairly new, offering modern rooms at a very good price. Great location, subway access. We wish there’d be more hotels like that.


Mascos Hotel Masuda Onsen
Masuda, Shimane (Honshu)

https://mascoshotel.com

What a gem! We discovered Mascos Hotel Masuda Onsen on our long road trip through Western Honshu in December 2021 / January 2022 and it was a breath of fresh air after staying a string of rather mediocre rooms. Brand-new Mascos is beautiful, the use of concrete and wood throughout feels luxurious and grounding at the same time. Breakfast is served in the light filled restaurant on the ground floor which is buzzing with the local hip crowd in the evening.


Sierra Resort Yuzawa
Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture (Honshu)
http://sierraresorts.jp/yuzawa/en/

This hotel sits quite high up on a hill and right next to a ski slope and chairlift. The common areas are modern and airy, the bar feels intimate and cozy at night. Our room was larger than average, but somewhat dated. We’d stay there again despite the dated rooms as we loved the common areas, location and views.


My Lodge Naoshima
Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture (Shikoku)
https://mylodge-naoshima.com

A lovely small lodge on a hillside, My Lodge Naoshima is located within walking distance from the ferry port. Our room with a little balcony overlooking the ocean was small, but super comfortable and modern. The restaurant downstairs serves great breakfasts and one of the best dinners in the area.


Shonai Hotel Suiden Terrasse
Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture (Honshu)
https://www.suiden-terrasse.yamagata-design.com

What a place! Shonai Hotel Suiden Terrasse is an architectural masterpiece designed by award-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. The light filled structure was built using vast amounts of wood, concrete and glass and sits in the middle of a rice field. We loved the spacious simplicity of the rooms, the lovely common areas (including a self-serve sake on tap bar) and the farm-to-table food in the restaurant.


Noku Kyoto
Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture (Honshu)
http://www.nokuhotels.com/kyoto/

Noku Kyoto is a great place from where to discover all that Kyoto has to offer. Located right above a subway station and with a bus stop across the road, most of the city’s sights are in easy reach. The hotel is new, the rooms large and beautifully appointed. We loved the personal touches of local snacks and treats that were waiting for us when we arrived.


Solest Takachiho Hotel
Takachiho, Miyazaki Prefecture (Kyushu)
http://www.solest-takachiho.jp

We really enjoyed our stay at Solest Takachiho. The fairly new hotel is centrally located and offers modern and comfortable rooms. Takachiho Gorge, the main attraction, is just down the road, about 20 min walk away.


Hotel Alegria Gardens Amakusa
Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture (Kyushu)
http://hotel-alegria.jp/en/

Alegria Gardens Amakusa is a hotel and wedding venue. The common areas and larger than (Japan-) average rooms could do with a bit of a refresh, but are clean and well maintained. The biggest draw is the hotel’s location – perched at the edge of the water, the views are amazing and there are plenty of options for coastal walks nearby.  


Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel
Otsu, Shiga Prefecture (Honshu)

http://www.princehotels.com/otsu/

We usually prefer staying in small and intimate hotels, we chose this hotel for it’s great view across Lake Biwa, the largest fresh water lake in Japan. Located right at the edge of the lake, the location is a perfect starting point for long walks along the waterfront.

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Hiking the Nakasendo trail, Gifu / Nagano Prefectures, Japan

Hiking the Nakasendo Trail

Japan is a great country for hiking. An abundance of mountain ranges and hiking trails awaits hikers, ramblers and day walkers – there are hikes for any experience and stamina.

The Nakasendo trail is the old trading route that once connected Kyoto with Tokyo and large chunks of it is now covered by national highways. Hiking through the Kiso Valley however is like stepping back in time and we loved it!

There are many hiking options available in the Kiso Valley area, we opted to do a day hike through some of the loveliest traditional and very well preserved villages of Magome & Tsumago.

Logistics:
We arrived by car from Tokyo on day 1, hiked on day 2 and returned to Tokyo on day 3. Getting there by public transport is possible.

Hotel:
Hotel Hanasarasa in Nakatsugawa. The hotel is large and dated, but a good base from where to start the hike. It has a restaurant onsite. https://www.abilive-one.net/hanasarasa/

Hike:
We started at the hotel and ended our hike at Nagiso train station and took a train to Ochiaigawa station from which is a quick taxi ride to the hotel. All in all we hiked for about 16km in 8h including a lunch break, snack & ice cream breaks and plenty of photo stops. The hike is easy and well signposted, no steep inclines.

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Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum

Adjacent to the Nature Reserve of the Institute for Nature Study is the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum. The gorgeous art deco building, once the residence of Prince Asaka and his wife Princess Nobuko (a daughter of the Emperor Meiji) was built in the 1930s by famous foreign and Japanese craftsmen, most notably René Lalique, one of France’s leading glassmakers.

The building is surrounded by landscaped grounds and a Japanese- as well as a Western-style garden.

I’m a big lover of museum shops and the one at Teien Art Museum does not disappoint. It’s small, but sells a well curated selection high quality items.

The beautifully appointed modern onsite restaurant (can be entered without a museum ticket) serves modern French inspired cuisine: Restaurant Du Parc

Official website: Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum

Click for more Tokyo inspiration.

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Institute for Nature Study – Nature Reserve, Tokyo Japan

The Nature Reserve of the Institute for Nature Study is a beautifully green and quiet haven in heart of Tokyo. The area covers around 20 hectares and contains ponds, forests, rivers and wetlands which are home to all sorts of plants, birds and insects.

I love popping in there for some peaceful nature walks and to get away from the city’s hustle & bustle. It never gets very busy as only a maximum of 300 people are permitted at any one time.

Official website: Institute for Nature Study

Click for more Tokyo inspiration

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This month I’m … July 2021

WATCHING
“Peaky Blinders” (Netflix)

We got absolutely hooked on this Netflix series.
It’s a fictional story based on the real life Peaky Blinders, a notorious gang in Birmingham, England who were active in the city from the 1890s to the early 20th century.

Expect brilliant acting combined with a great soundtrack.

READING
Old Filth by Jane Gardam

FILTH = Failed In London Try Hong Kong – is, in a nutshell, the life story of an English lawyer, born in Malaya during the British Empire’s heyday, his schooling in pre-war England, his professional success in Southeast Asia and his return to England toward the end of the millennium. I loved this book and I was sad when I turned the last page.
But hurray: It’s the first of a trilogy so I will keep on reading!

LEARNING
How to make my own clothes!

I’ve always loved fabrics and tend to collect them on my travels wherever I go. Melanie Uematsu offers sewing & pattern making classes in her atelier in Oyamadai – 5 classes later I’ve already made a skirt and I’m half way through sewing a top to go with the skirt.

PLANNING
Our trip to Germany

I haven’t seen my family in 2 years and after postponing our flight 5 times, we keeping our fingers crossed for our mid-August departure. Travelling used to be fun – I’m currently buried neck-deep in Covid-related rules & regulations…

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Historical European-style houses of the Yamate/Bluff district, Yokohama Japan

Yokohama is a great location for a day trip from Tokyo, there is just so much to see and do. One of my favourite areas is the historical Yamate / Bluff district. This is where western foreigners settled after Japan’s isolation ended sometime in the 1850s. The foreign traders didn’t just arrive with goods and their families, they also brought their residential building styles and architecture with them.

I have a huge soft spot for buildings of that era and love strolling around the neighborhood imagining what it would have been like to live there at the turn of the century.

Further information: Yamate The Bluff District Yokohama

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Nezu Shrine, Tokyo Japan

Japan does plant and floral displays really well. Flower festivals can be found in many places during spring and summer all the way into autumn.

Around 3,000 purple, pink, white and red purple azalea bushes turn the grounds of Nezu Shrine in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward into an explosion of colour in April – early May.

Nezu Shrine
1 Chome-28-9 Nezu, Bunkyo City, Tokyo 113-0031
Map

Further information: Nezu Shrine Tokyo

Click for more Tokyo inspiration.

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Travelling – my favourite resources, websites and apps

The world of travel planning has become a complex one. Back in the day the traveller / holiday maker basically had two options to get information: the bookstore and the travel agent. 

Fast forward to the digital age and one can spend hours and hours researching the best hotel options / train connections / restaurants / things to do. I admit I sometimes get lost for ages in the world wide web just doing that, but I usually gravitate back to these resources that help me plan and book:


Guide books

I still remember the first time I held a Lonely Planet guide book in my hands. A whole new world opened up for me that day at the age of 24 in a bookstore in London. You can travel the world independently?? Without having to have huge savings?? I was gobsmacked, excited and elated! And I have used Lonely Planet guides for my trips and travels ever since. I tried different guide book series, but always went back to LP. Carrying a guide book around might seen old fashioned to some people as you pretty much have all the information you never knew you needed on your smartphone, but I like the compactness of a guide book. Plus I love diving into the history, culture and food sections of the Lonely Planet guide books on long flights and train journeys.

One of my favourite feature of the books is the map highlighting the best sights of a country. That instant overview paired with suggested itineraries depending on the length of your stay is gold.

Those maps can also be found online on Lonely Planet’s website.

For more tricky travel issues such as up-to-date information on land border crossings I like to refer to Lonely Planet’s Thorntree forum


Accommodation 

My first choice for accommodation reservations is Booking.com. I like the generous cancellation policy for most hotels. Also their app is very user-friendly, in particular the feature that lets you display the address of your hotel address in the local language – a godsend when arriving in a new country without any command of the lingo.

I also use Airbnb quite frequently as you get to stay in more local areas and the tips your get from some of the owners are invaluable!

If you are after a bit of luxury, make sure to check Mr & Mrs Smith as well as iEscape to swoon over their listings which are absolutely divine.


Flights

Skyscanner is my go-to source to research flight connections. Flights can’t be booked directly through the them, but Skyscanner displays a list of bookable websites with all respective prices for each particular connection. It pays to have a look at the user ratings for those websites. Some of them are dreadful to deal with if you need to change / cancel a flight. 

I usually find my connections on Skyscanner and book directly with the airline(s).


Car hire

I pretty much use Rentalcars for all of my car hire bookings as they seem to cover most locations and their app is very user-friendly.

With most bookings Rentalcars offers the option to upgrade the insurance level for the car – an option I usually make use of as I have been stung by local insurance charges.

Using Rentalcar’s insurance upgrade alters the claims process: the local car hire company charges the user’s credit card for damages caused and Rentalcars refunds the money after. I recently had a claim – the refund process was simple and swift.


On the ground transportation

Taxi apps I use are Uber and Grab. The latter works very well in a number of South-East Asian countries. 

Bahn.de is great for booking trains in Germany and Europe and I also like to refer to Seat 61.


Other

Travelling with a group? I highly recommend using Tricount to keep on top of shared costs and expenses. This handy little app lets everyone log whatever they spent for the whole group and the app calculates who owes what to whom. Multiple currencies are supported.

Not mentioning Tripadvisor in my list of resources would be wrong as I refer to it more often than not for restaurants and things to go.

The best resources however are the locals themselves or friends & family who have recently been to the place of interest. Nothing beats a personal recommendation!!

Happy travelling!
Alex x