Want to take a short vacation in Japan and pay less than ¥5000 per night for comfortable, Japanese-style lodging? If so, look for the following brochures: Minshukus in Japan, Directory of Welcome Inns, Japanese Inn Group, Pensions in Japan, and The Youth Hostel Map of Japan. They are available at the Tourist Information Centers (TIC) operated by the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) in Tokyo (tel. 03-3502-1461). Kyoto (tel. 075-371-5649) and Narita International Airport (tel. 0476-32-8711). There is also a toll free number you can try at 0120-222-800. Prices per night average from less than ¥2000 for youth hostels to about ¥7000 for the Japanese Inn Group. Children under 4 usually stay free or pay only a small fee. The Welcome Inns are particularly good because they include a selection of traditional Japanese inns (i.e. ryokans, minshukus and kokumin shukushas), many of which are located at or near travel attractions or nature spots. A practical and inexpensive second choice are the youth hostels, which are abundant (more than 500) and not always housed within a drab institutional building. There's no age limit or requirement of student status. For an additional ¥1500, you can get supper and breakfast. Many youth hostels require membership, so call ahead (03-3269-5831) for information. I recommend choosing hostels that are within Japanese inns or temples.
With these pamphlets, and your most important reservations made prior to departure, you should be able to select the type of lodging and desired price range in or close to almost any destination in the country. Furthermore, you can enjoy a flexible trip schedule or itinerary, since reservations can be made by phone without a deposit and there is no cancellation charge as long as the hotel is informed in advance, usually by 22:00 the previous night.
For those who enjoy rural surroundings but feel intimidated by the idea of traveling by car in Japan, be aware that this is not necessarily as frustrating as it might seem. Things to remember if you decide to drive are: (1) avoid if possible national holidays, weekends and major urban or industrial centers; (2) carry with you a good bilingual map, such as Road Atlas Japan English Edition (Shobunsha, ¥2980); (3) choose a guidebook that contains information on the lesser-known and off-the-beaten-path spots, as well as on the main tourist attractions (Gateway to Japan, Kodansha ¥2500, is a good choice; it's comprehensive, well-balanced, and contains additional lodging listings); and (4) use the excellent expressway system to get from one major destination to the next. Although relatively expensive, in the long run, this saves you time, money and sanity. In any case, don't be afraid of getting lost from time to time (it's inevitable); you might end up in a beautiful corner, particularly if you're in the mountains or near the sea coast. Have fun!
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