Best hotels and hostels in Japan

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Northern Honshū (Tōhoku)

    Tsuru-no-yu Onsen

    The jewel of Nyūtō, Tsuru-no-yu is the epitome of the Japanese ryokan: discreet, atmospheric and sumptuous. At every turn there's another picture-perfect moment, from the slick suites opening up to the forest floor to the Edo-era artworks lining the halls. Evenings are distinguished by memorable meals and guests in yukata (light cotton kimonos) socialising by lantern light. Reservations are essential. The cheaper rooms have shared facilities. The newer Yamanoyado building is 1km back down the road towards the centre of Nyūtō, and very comfortable. Baths are open to visitors 10am to 3pm (admission ¥600) daily except Mondays. According to lore, the onsen became the official bathhouse of Akita's ruling elite after a hunter once saw a crane (tsuru) healing its wounds in the spring. Its milky-white waters are rich in sulphur, sodium, calcium chloride and carbonic acid. The mixed rotemburo (outdoor bath) is positively jubilant, although shyer folk can take refuge in the indoor sex-segregated baths.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Downtown Kyoto

    Tawaraya

    Operating for more than three centuries, Tawaraya is one of the finest places to stay in Japan. From the decor to the service to the food, everything is simply the best available, and this is reflected in the price. It’s a very intimate, warm and personal place that has seen many loyal guests over the years, from Marlon Brando to Steve Jobs. Rooms are kitted out in a mix of traditional Japanese-style and some mid-century decor, and the private wooden bathtubs have stunning garden views. It’s centrally located within an easy walk of two subway stations and plenty of good restaurants. Book at least a few months in advance, much more if you plan to visit during peak periods.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Tokyo

    Hoshinoya Tokyo

    In creating this contemporary ryokan in the heart of Tokyo, Hoshinoya has barely put a foot wrong, overcoming a location boxed in by office towers. Staying here is all about insulating yourself from the city in a building that incorporates timeless artisanship and the best of traditional Japanese design and service. Highlights include a proper onsen bath and, for an extra fee, an amazing kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine)-style dinner in the basement restaurant – an incredible space dominated by huge rocks. From the perfect mosaic of stone flagging at the ryokan entrance to the stunning seasonal ikebana displays, no detail has been overlooked.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Izu Peninsula

    K's House Itō Onsen

    Hugely popular with travellers, this 100-year-old riverside ryokan is an architectural treasure and an absolute steal. Japanese-style private rooms simply ooze history (book a river view), while the common areas are stylish and well-maintained. With a fully equipped kitchen, bicycle rental, helpful staff, and public and private onsen, K's is frankly the main reason to come to Itō. Book early. The hostel shares the same architectural layout and fine carpentry as Tōkaikan next door (apparently the original owners were related); the difference being you can actually stay here.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Kansai

    Nishimuraya Honkan

    Running for seven generations, this is a fantastic ryokan for a splurge. It excels at everything: beautiful rooms arranged around a central garden; onsen baths made of cypress and stone; seasonal kaiseki meals using top local ingredients; and fluent-English-speaking concierges. All rooms have private facilities, and a few have their own rotemburo (outdoor baths). While the building is not historic like the Honkan (main building), the ryokan's annexe, the Hiratakan, adheres to the same principles of traditional Japanese design and some guests may appreciate its quieter location, off the main road.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Downtown Kyoto

    Hiiragiya Ryokan

    This elegant ryokan has long been favoured by celebrities from around the world. Facilities and services are excellent and the location is hard to beat. Opt for the new wing if you prefer a polished sheen; alternatively, request an older room if you fancy some ‘old Japan’ wabi-sabi (imperfect beauty). Room 14 played host to Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata back in the day and is around 200 years old. You'll need to reserve months in advance and reservation is preferred by email.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Northern Kyūshū

    Yōyōkaku

    In a word: gorgeous. Also: rambling and minimalist, with 100-year-old woodwork, a pine garden and Karatsu-yaki pottery for your in-room seafood meals. Koi swim lazily in the immaculate 200-year-old garden. This property is a real getaway, yet it's less-than-10-minutes' walk from the castle. Even if you can't stay here, visit the on-site gallery of Nakazato family pottery. Rates are based on two people per room. Discounts available for accommodation-only plans.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Tokyo

    Aman Tokyo

    Overlooking the Imperial Palace from atop Ōtemachi Tower, this outstanding hotel incorporates natural materials – including dark stone walls, blonde wood and white washi (Japanese handmade paper) – into its elegant, minimalist design. Enormous rooms all have baths with stunning city views – something you also get from the giant stone bath filled with onsen water in the spa.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Matsumoto & the Northern Japan Alps

    Kamoshika Views

    Russ the Kiwi has everything covered in Donguri, high above Hakuba. The dorm rooms are tight, but communal lounge, kitchen and party rooms make this a top spot. Russ runs complimentary train/bus-station and ski-area transfers, and also shuttles visitors on supermarket runs for food and drink supplies. If you're lucky, you might spot monkeys out the window.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Naoshima

    Benesse House

    A stay at this unique Ando-designed hotel-museum is a treat for art and architecture enthusiasts. Accommodation is in four different wings – Museum, Oval, Park and Beach – each with a clean, modern, clutter- and TV-free design, and decor featuring artworks from the Benesse collection. Reserve well in advance. A monorail takes guests up to the hilltop Oval wing (the most expensive of the options), where rooms are arranged around a pool of water open to the sky, and there are stunning views from the grassed rooftop. Rooms in Oval are spacious (though the bathrooms are standard-issue) and large windows make the most of the views; you may not want to come back down once you're up here. The Beach wing is a newer building by the sea, from where you can see the Yellow Pumpkin sculpture. Alternatively, stick close to the art with a stay in the Museum lodgings. Children under seven years old aren't permitted in the Oval and Museum wings. A guest-only shuttle bus runs between Miyanoura Port, the island's major art sites and the hotel.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Shikoku

    Kaiyu Inn

    Fluent English-speaking owner Mitsu has redesigned a concrete 1960s edifice, originally built by his father, into an intriguing contemporary retreat. Each self-contained apartment has been designed either by Mitsu or a range of emerging Japanese architects. Coupled with Mitsu's keen aesthetic eye and extensive designer-furniture collection, the results are spaces worthy of magazine covers, each with Pacific Ocean views. The on-site, boiler-fired onsen is a simple daily luxury, and communal meals are inventive, super-fresh and organic, featuring famed local clams, catch-of-the-day fish, and loads of fruit and vegetables. Meals must be reserved in advance for an additional fee. Many rooms have kitchens and long-stay guests are welcome. Take the bus from Nakamura Station to Ashizuri-misaki and get off at Kaiyu-no-yu-mae (¥1100, 40 minutes).

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Matsumoto & the Northern Japan Alps

    Nakabusa Onsen

    This rambling resort with indoor and outdoor onsen at the end of a twisting valley road to nowhere will delight anyone seeking a peaceful retreat. The older honkan (main building) has basic rooms, while the newer bekkan (annexe) is more comfortable. In late autumn gawk at stunningly colourful foliage from deep in the valley. Day trippers can use one of the smaller rotemburo (¥700) between 9.30am and 4pm. Enquire at the Tourist Information Center for info on the limited buses (¥1700, one hour) from Azumino, or rent a car (and bring nerves of steel). This place is extremely remote. Nakabusa Onsen is also the trailhead for a stunningly steep climb up to Otensho-dake (大天井岳; 2922m) and Tsubakuro-dake (燕岳; 2762m).

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Arashiyama & Sagano

    Hoshinoya Kyoto

    Sitting in a secluded area on the south bank of the Hozu-gawa in Arashiyama (upstream from the main sightseeing district), this modern take on the classic Japanese inn is quickly becoming a favourite of well-heeled visitors to Kyoto in search of privacy and a unique experience. Rooms feature incredible views of the river and the surrounding mountains. The best part is the approach: you’ll be chauffeured by a private boat from a dock near Togetsu-kyō bridge to the inn (note that on days following heavy rains, you’ll have to go by car instead). This is easily one of the most unique places to stay in Kyoto. If you tire of just relaxing with the views, it also offers meditation classes as well as incense ceremonies.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Osaka

    Hostel 64 Osaka

    Osaka's most stylish hostel is inside a 1960s office building suitably kitted out with vintage furniture. There are Japanese- and Western-style private rooms (all with shared bathrooms), a small dorm with beds separated by screens (that feel more like semi-private rooms) and a lounge and cafe-bar. Staff are friendly and knowledgable. It's understandably popular so book at least four months in advance. There is no elevator. It's in a quiet neighbourhood a 20-minute walk northwest of Shinsaibashi. From the station, exit right, turn right at the third stoplight and make the first left. The hostel produces a handy bilingual Japanese–English map covering Osaka's hippest 'hoods.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Sapporo

    SappoLodge

    A little slice of mountain life a stone's throw from Susukino – you can use the climbing wall to get to the 2nd-floor dorms instead of the stairs – SappoLodge is a magnet for outdoorsy types who find themselves in the city. The only downside is the noise from the (fun, popular) ground-floor bar until 'quiet time' is enforced at 2am. Owner (and Sapporo native) Nara-san is a real adventurer. He worked as a guide for 14 years and this is his form of 'retirement' – though he still takes guests on hiking and backcountry excursions to his favourite spots (shoot him an email if you're keen). It's a great spot for a nightcap, even if you're not staying here.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Ehime Prefecture

    Kiya Ryokan

    A rare opportunity to rent an entire house where literary greats have stayed, Kiya Ryokan offers a compelling reason for an Uwajima stop. Though not a traditional ryokan experience – no in-house staff or elaborate kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) dinners – it is uniquely modern and appealing. Best enjoyed by, and most economical for, groups (the house sleeps up to eight). The house surrounds an inner courtyard garden, and bathing facilities are a beautifully integrated combination of modern and traditional. Even if you don't stay, it's worth a stop to browse its tiny, well-curated boutique and get the lowdown on current happenings around town.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Asakusa & Sumida River

    Andon Ryokan

    About 2km north of Asakusa, the contemporary Andon Ryokan is fabulously designed in form and function. It has 20 tiny but immaculate tatami rooms, bathrooms decorated with specially commissioned manga art, and a spectacular upper-floor spa with a manga-style mural, which can be used privately. Toshiko, the friendly owner, collects antiques, which are displayed around the ryokan. As of early 2019 Andon also has a new kitchen and cafe space on the ground floor in which a full program of cultural events are hosted. Bike rentals and laundry facilities are also available. It's a five-minute walk from the subway.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Northern Higashiyama

    Westin Miyako Kyoto

    Overlooking the Higashiyama sightseeing district (meaning it’s one of the best locations for sightseeing in Kyoto), this grande dame of Kyoto hotels occupies a commanding position. Rooms on the north side have great views over the city to the Kitayama mountains. There is a fitness centre with a swimming pool (extra charge), as well as a private garden and walking trail. The hotel even has its own ryokan section (rooms from ¥25,000) for those who want to try staying in a ryokan without giving up the convenience of a hotel. Rooms are undergoing refurbishment to be finished in 2020.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Hakone

    Guesthouse Tenmaku

    The centrepiece of this impeccably designed hostel is the irori (sunken hearth) in the bar-lounge, around which communal feasts of grilled fish, rice and miso soup are shared between guests (¥1000). The 'deluxe dorm' is worth considering – private timber cabins/capsules furnished with double beds. There's a good selection of rooms for families, too, and kids of all ages are welcome. Tenmaku is from the same (exceedingly talented) folks behind Hakone Tent. In an area low on nightlife, the bar here is a choice spot for a drink or three.

  • Top ChoiceLodging in Southern Higashiyama

    Four Seasons

    Extravagant and contemporary yet restrained and traditional, Four Seasons is an impressive new luxury hotel in the Higashiyama sightseeing district. The long bamboo-lined entrance brings you to a vast airy lobby with huge floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the 800-year-old koi-filled pond and stunning gardens. The elegant rooms feature dark-wood floors, iPads, huge TVs, coffee-pod machines and marble bathrooms. Facilities are top-notch, including a 20m pool, sushi restaurant, brasserie, bar, and a teahouse by the pond serving sake and champagne from 5pm to 9pm each evening.