where to stay in tokyo
I’m going to Tokyo! Where should I stay?
If I’ve done anything consistently over the last ten years has been a. write and b. tourist the hell outta Japan (avocado toast is not the only thing sucking up my house fund lol.) So naturally people ask me questions about Japan. And naturally I don’t know when to shut up and send awkwardly long emails / facebook messages / instagram dms that are quickly lost in a black hole. Part of my motivation for setting up this blog was to have a home for these messages, only with a few less exclamation marks and a lot less spelling mistakes.
Let’s start with where should I stay in Tokyo? Because that’s the second most recent question I received, and it’s a very logical place to start.
Every one says Japan is expensive and it totally is if you’re comparing it to Southeast Asia or not already having the shit beaten out of you financially by living in Sydney. Like anywhere, you can travel very cheaply in Japan. The super cool thing is that you can actually travel very cheaply in Japan without feeling like you’re slumming it (you’d be hard pressed to find flea ridden beds, there’s heaps of cheap delicious food on offer, the most budget overnight bus is still totally spotless and chic.)
On a budget
Hostels have a bad reputation and in my experience it’s been for Very. Good. Reason. In my experience most Japanese hostels are clean and charming, the only downside being the high chance of young Australians roaming around all jacked up on strong zeros, cheap cigarettes and mum not asking what time they’ll be home.
I’ve heard truly great things about Nui hostel & bar, and Toco Japanese style hostel. I’ve never stayed at either of them, they book out about a million years in advance and they’re not the cheapest hostels around, but if you’re looking for something with a little more charm than a business hotel for a much better price, you may be very happy here.
Of course when you stay in a hostel you trade cost for location, and while the hostels are cute (tick) and cheap (tick) they are usually at least a train ride away from where you want to be spending most of your time. The one way to combine low cost and location is to stay in a capsule hotel. I don’t mind Tokyo crowds but I tell you what, the last thing I want to do after a day of wandering around the city is to go back to the hotel and chill in my coffin. But hey maybe you are slightly less claustrophobic than me.
So there’s price, and then there’s location. The first time I visited Japan I stayed at a hotel right on top of Shibuya crossing and it blew my teeny tiny small town mind. My mother instilled in me a belief that location is everything and can work the booking.com discount / free cancellation / find the best price function like a woman truly living her dharma. So after years of doing it on the super cheap, I eventually made the switch to location (like my mama taught me) and haven’t looked back (just put it on my house fund tab.)
Why? I know this is a basic, obvious choice, but in my opinion, Shibuya is the centre of the Tokyo universe. Anyone who has been to Shibuya will know that it is batshit crazy and one of the most magical places on earth.
You could spend a week or more just wandering around here and the surrounds. Shibuya is walking distance (if you are like me and want to spend your entire holiday walking) to harajuku, omotesando, aoyama, yoyogi park (nature!), meji jingu shrine (for a dash of culture mid shopping yaknow) and then of course you have loft, muji, muji café, tokyu hands, everything you could every want at your doorstep (I am hearing you say you don’t like shopping, but go to Tokyo, and get back to me on that.)
All the train lines connect here so it’s a very good base for exploring all of Tokyo, super accessible from the airport, and good for taking day trips further out of the city (if you are more into nature walks than giant giftwrapped rockmelons and socks with pom poms sewn onto them.)
Why not? if you are someone who doesn’t really like the city then too much time here could become draining. Most of the accommodation in Shibuya isn’t super pretty or cute. But why spend time in your room when you are in Shibuya I mean like really.
Where? I stayed here last year. It’s tiny. If you are two slightly bigger than average people the bed might be too small. Will fit a yoga mat. Is right in the centre of Shibuya and very, very cheap. It's about two minutes walk from About Life Coffee Brewers. I would stay there again for short periods, particularly if travelling alone.
By Harajuku I kind of mean Aoyama and Omotesando, but you’ll have more luck if you type Harajuku into the search function.
Why? My favourite area. Enough cute coffee shops to keep you well and truly caffeinated and Instagram story filled for days. Great farmers market on the weekend. Good access to heaps of amazing vegan food including cheap food trucks at Commune 246. Nice galleries if you’re into that. Super cute Japanese garden out the back of one of them. My top pick for shopping if you’re into that (like I said, you will be) from upmarket to small boutiques to second hand stores.
Why not? It isn’t budget friendly and you will be tempted to spend all your money here. On food. On a beautiful frying pan. On handcrafted incense. On the perfect striped shirt. On coffee.
Where? Dormy inn Jingumae is my favourite cause the location is perfect and there is a basement bath house with citrus fruits floating in it. The room is small (no space for a yoga mat) but for short stays, 100% worth it because, Basement. Bath house. Also there are bikes you can use but I don’t know how keen I would be biking around Harajuku… It would be more like taking your pet bike for a walk than any actual riding.
This place is super affordable. Can fit two couples / four people sharing two beds. Location is amazing. Heaps of space. Huge kitchen (we didn’t use it haha) giant bath, modern apartment block. Could stay here for a long time.
It’s nothing like Newtown but why don’t we just call it the Newtown of Tokyo.
Why? It’s a great little suburb. Much more alternative than the above. Lots of tiny and adorable cafes and bars, less chain stores and more second hand shops than you could possibly get through in one trip (Japan is the BEST place for second hand clothes ever.) Great suburb for wandering around and getting lost in. Shimokita is great for vegan ramen with two really good spots. It’s cheaper than the other two suburbs. It's way quieter (although that is changing rapidly.) You’ll probably get an air bnb that is very cute.
Why not? The Inokashira line (according to my friend kasumi) is the busiest in Tokyo and the rapid train from shibuya to shimokitazawa (3 whole minutes) is often uncomfortably packed. I had my first panicky, hard to breathe, too many people experience on this train, and started to dread the ride home each day. But its like 3 minutes so maybe I should just toughen the f up. It’s also slightly less accessible to other parts of Tokyo and not on the JR line so if you're planning to squeeze every last cent out of your rail pass, probably not the best spot.
Where? There are heaps of air bnbs here that are cute, cosy (tiny) and well priced.
There are at least a million other incredible suburbs you can stay in Tokyo. Each suburb has its own distinct feeling, so if you're starting and ending your trip in Tokyo, try two. Of the places I have stayed in Tokyo, these are my favourites so far and the places I cannot stay away from. This could change in the future.
Let me know where you stay in Tokyo? What should I try next!