Renting a Guest House in Japan: Expectations, Rules, and Recommendations

A guest house, also known as a gaijin house, is a type of accommodation in Japan which has become quite popular over the years for its traditional setting and reasonably priced amenities. Foreigners planning to stay in the country for long periods of time often prefer to lease a guest house over the mainstream apartment or hotel to avoid the inconvenience of furnishing and cleaning. The lodging options at guest houses range from private to shared rooms and have an average starting price of ¥100,000 and ¥40,000 per month, respectively. Many guest houses also offer shorter contracts catered for tourists, traveling individually or by group, looking to experience authentic Japanese culture without having to break the bank.

Common Features and Facilities of a Guest House or Inn

A lot of guest houses available for rent can be found in the major cities and islands of Japan; Tokyo being the most abundant. Although guest houses are known to maintain a traditional sense of living, not all of these buildings actually date back centuries ago with some being relatively new. These inns are either owned and managed by united realty groups or operated independently by small families. Regardless, visitors can expect a Japanese-style or Western-style space featuring some, if not all, of the following:

  1. Tatami Flooring
    Tatami flooring is composed of woven straws and is a common feature in traditional Japanese-style homes. Visitors should remember that shoes and slippers must be removed when entering a space with tatami flooring.
  2. Futon Bedding or Beds
    Guests will be given a futon, a traditional mattress placed on the tatami flooring, or a western-style bed, depending on their room choice. Pillows, blankets, and other bedding are usually provided, as well.
  3. Common Area
    Most guest houses have a common area for tourists to mingle with other people or to simply gain access to Wi-Fi connection. The settings of these areas differ from inn to inn, but often feature seats, tables, computers, and other materials meant for leisure.
  4. Kitchen
    The kitchen is often a shared space in guest houses where visitors are welcome to use basic utensils and equipment for their convenience. Complimentary coffee and tea are also often available.
  5. Laundry Area
    For visitors who will be staying for quite some time, many guest houses have a laundry area complete with a washing machine and clothes dryer which can be used for a fee.

Typical Guest House Plans, Activities, and Inclusions

Most guest houses in Japan are run by a small team of staff. They aim to please and will do their best to embody the omotenashi spirit – a great service of hospitality deeply intertwined in the Japanese culture. Visitors will be asked of their arrival time and way of transportation so that proper arrangements and pleasantries can be made.

Staying at a guest house will grant tourists a relaxing experience and several opportunities to run through the everyday doings of the local community. Although the plans and activities included in renting a guest house may vary, visitors can expect to encounter at least one of the following:

  1. Chakai
    A tea ceremony is considered as a cultural activity in Japan and can last for over 4 hours if done formally. At guest houses, an informal tea gathering, called chakai, is often practiced to present a form of hospitality. The chakai is a simple course that includes sweets, light tea, and some snacks usually served upon arrival.
  2. Kaiseki Meal
    A kaiseki meal provides guests with Japan’s traditional multi-course cuisine. This is sometimes already included in the rental fee or may be available for an additional charge. If guests will be spending their first night at the inn, it is highly recommended that they not give in to the temptation of immediately digging in as to avoid having the gastronomical experience ruined by the strain from a long flight.
  3. Baths or Hot Springs
    Baths and hot springs are so prevalent in Japan that it has become part of the country’s culture. Many exist beyond the limits of guest houses and are open to local and foreign communities. These places are not actually meant for cleansing but instead serve as areas for relaxation where visitors can soak all their stress away.
    A separate space, usually found prior to the actual bath or hot spring, functions as the washing area where guests are required to scrub themselves clean. Small stools, soap, shampoo, and pails are provided along with a large and small towel. The large towel is used for drying while the smaller one is used as a sort of accessory while in the bath.
    Washing before soaking in the bath is very important because these places are often shared spaces. The water is not replaced every few hours, so its cleanliness is highly dependent on the guests using it.

Basic Rules To Follow at a Guest House For Rent

Visitors should show the same respect that will be given to them by the management and staff of the guest house they will be staying in. Each country, of course, has its own definition of what is and is not decent. Fortunately, the majority of the Japanese people is very understanding and is not easily offended by what could be considered as pet peeves to others. Most will not scrutinize every little detail but it will not hurt to at least be informed of the basic manners observed at guest houses:

  1. Bowing
    Instead of shaking hands, the Japanese people greet each other by bowing. This does not necessarily mean that a handshake is frowned upon. Foreigners are not expected to follow the custom of bowing but will be warmly greeted, nonetheless.
  2. Shoes
    Removing one’s shoes before entering a household is a common practice in Japan. They are very neat when it comes to their living quarters and often have a small area by the entry way meant to leave outdoor shoes. A pair of slippers or sandals is often provided to use inside the inn.
  3. Chopsticks
    Although western-style utensils are usually available at guest houses, visitors may find themselves with no other option but to use chopsticks during their trip. Chopsticks should never be stuck vertically into one’s food or placed in a cross position on the table as these are signs of offering the meal to the dead. Chopsticks should also not be used to point at things or people.
  4. Last-minute Changes
    Typically, during the booking process, guests are asked what meals and activities they would like to include in their stay. This is done in order to provide guests with the best service and experience that the staff can manage. Requesting for a last minute change might come off as a bit inconsiderate and rude even if they can do it.
  5. Smoking
    Smoking is highly discouraged inside the guest house rooms, especially if being shared with other guests. Some inns do allow smoking in private rooms, but it is still recommended that visitors only smoke in designated areas within the vicinity.
  6. Noise Pollution
    Visitors should keep in mind that they are not the only ones renting a room in the guest house and be considerate enough to keep the noise at a minimal level, especially at night.

The English language is not often understood by the staff at guest houses but tourists are encouraged to ask if they are unsure how to do certain things. It may be impossible to cross the language barrier but hand gestures can go a long way.

Guest House Kikugawa (Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima)
Guest House Kikugawa is a 5-minute walk away from the ferry terminal and can easily be spotted opposite the Zonko-ji temple. The inn features wooden interiors and carries traditional Japanese-style and Western-style rooms. Guest House Kikugawa has a total of five rooms, each having its own bathroom, which are available for rent at a starting price of ¥6,804 (inclusive of 8% tax) per night, per person.

Guest House Oomiyake (Naoshima, Kagawa)
Guest House Oomiyake dates back 400 years ago and is considered a cultural property by the local government. Although the building itself is quite old, the inn is equipped with modern technology such as air conditioning, televisions, and internet connection. Guests can choose between getting a Japanese-style or Western-style room. Meals can also be requested but require a one-day notice before 3 PM. Guests will have to take a 5-minute drive from the ferry terminal to reach the inn. The location of Guest House Oomiyake is quite convenient as the Chichu Museum and Hachiman Shrine are less than a 10-minute walk away.

Guest House Ouka (Takayama, Gifu)
Guest House Ouka is an 8-minute walk away from the JR Takayama station. The inn follows a dormitory type of accommodation where rooms have no individual air conditioning or heating systems and some facilities are closed off during certain hours. Its rooms are separated by partitions just inches away from the ceiling and are equipped with curtains instead of doors. The kitchen, lounge, and bath rooms are all shared spaces.

The inn has free Wi-Fi, three computers, a vending machine, and several lockers available for use. Basic kitchen utensils, coffee, and tea are also provided. For additional fees, guests may request for towels and use of the washing machine and clothes dryer.

Guest House Orange Cabin (Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi)
Guest House Orange Cabin is 2.5 km away from Lake Kawaguchi but is only a 2-minute walk away from the Kawaguchiko train station. It is one of Fujikawaguchiko’s top-rated accommodations and does not have a single bad review on record. It has a total of six rooms for guests to choose from. The inn features a shared kitchen space within its property and shared bathrooms between its rooms. Free Wi-Fi and parking is available. Guests will also be glad to know that Mount Fuji and the Shimobe Hot Spring are just 16 km and 27 km, respectively, away from the inn.

Guest House Roku (Hiroshima)
Guest House Roku offers mixed dormitory, female dormitory, and private rooms to its guests. The dormitory rooms feature bunk beds while the private rooms feature futons. Regardless of room type, the kitchen, bathroom, and toilets are all shared. Towels are not included in the rental fee but are available for ¥100 (bath towels) and ¥50 (face towels).

The inn has free Wi-Fi and a bike rental service which charges ¥500 per day.  Visitors are advised to bring cash with them as Guest House Roku does not accept credit cards.

Guest House Toco (Tokyo)
Guest House Toco just recently opened in 2010 but features a traditional house which has been standing in Tokyo for 90 years, more or less. It has undergone several renovations to address modern issues but still maintains its rustic charm. It has a total of six rooms ranging from dormitory to private type spaces which are available for a starting price of ¥2,800. All other amenities are shared.

Guest house wasabi (Arakawa, Tokyo)
Guest House Wasabi is located near the JR Mikawashima train station and will only take about a minute walk to reach it. The inn has a total of 46 rooms that range from private and dormitory rooms with corresponding individual and shared facilities. A public bath can also be found within the vicinity which permits the use of swimwear.

Guest House Yuyu (Sapporo, Hokkaido)
Guest House Yuyu has a total of 8 rooms with shared bathrooms and a shared kitchen within its vicinity. Guests are provided with complimentary toiletries and free use of hairdryers, for their convenience. The whole property is equipped with free Wi-Fi, as well. Guest House Yuyu is 1 km or less away from several establishments such as the Sapporo TV Tower, Sapporo Clock Tower, and Odori Park and has bikes available for rent. The area is especially stunning during the winter season (November – March) when The White Illumination event takes place.

Japanese Guest Houses in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Other Cities of Japan

  1. Guest House Shinagawa-Shuku
    Guest House Shinagawa-Shuku is located 10 minutes away from the Shinagawa station and is surrounded by several restaurants and convenience stores. Their lodging options include dormitory rooms (¥3,300/night), single rooms (¥3,800/night), and twin rooms (¥7,600/night).
  2. Khaosan Tokyo Origami
    Khaosan Tokyo Origami is located in Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s popular tourist spots, and provides a stunning view of the Sumida River. Guests can choose to rent a dormitory room for ¥2,200 per night or a twin room for ¥2,500 per night.
  3. K’s House Tokyo Oasis
    K’s House Tokyo Oasis is a 10-minute walk away from Asakusa and, thus, caters to a lot of tourists. The inn has dormitory, twin, and double rooms available for rent for ¥2,950 – ¥4,900 per night.
  4. Guest House Bon
    Guest House Bon has four rooms that are either 78. 5765 or 104.41 sq. ft. in size. The kitchen, lounge, washing room, shower room, and toilets are all shared spaces.  Prices per night start at ¥2,500/person which excludes internet connection, bike rental, telephone, and laundry services.
  5. Santiago Guesthouse Kyoto
    Santiago Guesthouse Kyoto is situated in Higashiyama and is 15 minutes away from the Kyoto station by bus. The inn is a four-story building that offers mixed and female dormitory rooms, for an average price of ¥1,500/night. Bedding is included in the rental fee while toiletries and towels have an extra charge.
  6. Osaka J Hoppers
    Osaka J Hoppers is located near the JR Fukushima station and is one of the famous guest houses in Osaka for backpackers. It has not only become a place to experience Japanese culture but also a place where world travelers can share their own. An overnight stay at this inn will cost ¥2,800 – ¥3,400.
  7. Tenma Itoya Guest House
    Tenma Itoya Guest House is situated in a residential area of Osaka and is near Tenjinbashisuji Shoutengai, the longest of Japan’s famous shopping streets. Guests can choose between dormitory and private rooms which all feature tatami flooring and futons. The price for one night ranges from ¥3,950 – ¥9,100 per person.
  8. U-en Hostel
    U-en Hostel was originally built during the 1940s as an extravagant Japanese restaurant. It has undergone several renovations over the years and now serves as a guest house. Mixed dormitory, female dormitory, and private rooms are available for rent starting at ¥2,500 per night.
  9. Fuji-Hakone Guest House
    Fuji-Hakone Guest House is situated in Hakone National Park. It is a walking distance away from several restaurants, museums, convenience stores, and mountain and hiking trails. The inn features a natural hot spring and private baths. Single, twin, and triple rooms are available for ¥5,000 – ¥18,000 per night, per person.
  10. Guest House Sakuraya
    Guest House Sakuraya is located in Nara and maintains a traditional style and ambiance. All rooms are separated by sliding doors to provide some privacy. The rate for an overnight stay ranges from ¥5,200 – ¥7,250 per person.