A Truly Unique Experience
Hotels in Japan can truly be part of the experience. There are a wide variety of options in Japan, many of which are unusual for western travelers. It's definitely recommended that you step outside of your comfort zone and try something different while you're in this fascinating country. In Tokyo, you will probably find the widest diversity of accommodation, but in rural areas and smaller towns, you will find more traditional style hotel options.
Whether you're looking to stay at a high end, high tech hotel like something you might see in the movies, or if you're on a backpacker's budget and find yourself sleeping on a tatami mat on the floor, your hotel experience in Japan truly can be a fascinating part of your trip.
Saving Some Money
Hotels in Japan, particularly Tokyo can be predictably expensive. Japan is an expensive country and you'll be hard pressed to find cheap accommodation that doesn't come with some kind of catch. There are some hostels spread throughout the country, but often the furnishings are sparse and you'll likely find yourself sleeping on a tatami mat on the floor. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is something you should be prepared for.
Famous "capsule hotels" may be an option, but they are quite small and tight, as you would expect. This is a unique experience and will save you a few bucks, but it is unlikely you'll actually want to stay in a capsule hotel more than a night or two.
If you're looking for the budget end of a ryokan, consider a minshuku. Minshuku's are traditional Japanese inns that serve dinner and offer an authentic experience. The food and facilities found in a minshuku are typically much simpler than ryokan, but the experience is still enjoyable.
Ryokan are perhaps the most well known type of accommodation in Japan, and they offer the most interesting experience. You can choose between two types of inns, the smaller more traditional style that are usually wooden buildings with long verandahs and gardens, or the more modern high-rise type that have a luxury feel with fancy public baths.
Instead of a Ryokan, you may choose to stay at a Kokuminshukusha, which government run and usually found in remote locations. If you're heading to a city, you'll found high end luxury hotels, some western chains, and a hand full of youth hostels. You may also find the infamous "capsule" hotels which are little more than a drawer where the guest may sleep for the night. You typically receive a locker for your belongings and access to the bath house to freshen up as well.
Tokyo has a wide range of hotel options. You'll find both budget hotels and expensive accommodation spread throughout the city. Unless you stay at a western chain, the staff will likely speak limited English.
Many of the budget options are found in the areas of Asakusa and Ueno. You can also find some a little outside the city center in the Yokohama area. Some of the budget hotels do have curfews that they enforce. You should confirm this information in advance, particularly if you plan to be out late. There are a decent number of hostels around. Most have a basic kitchen, shared bathrooms, and both dorms or private rooms. You'll likely find yourself sleeping on a traditional tatami mat.
Capsule hotels are another cheap options but they can be uncomfortable and it can be hard to find an option that allows foreigners. They often have strict rules regarding behavior, and communicating these rules to English speaking guests can be quite challenging. If you're truly interested in staying in a capsule hotel look one up in advance and confirm that they take foreign guests.
If you're traveling alone and want to stay at a mid-range hotel, your best option is likely a business hotel. The rooms can be quite small but the prices are cheap and they are often located near a subway station, making them a convenient option. Couples traveling together may find the rooms slightly too small.
Like Tokyo, Osaka has a wide variety of hotels to choose from, whether you're looking for luxury or affordability. Many of the city's more expensive and fancier hotels can be found in the areas of Umeda , Namba, Shin-Osaka and Kyobashi. If you're particularly keen on staying in these areas but are traveling on a budget, you may be able to find a few options, but you will have to do some research. These days, many of the backpackers headed to Osaka stay in and around the JR Shin-Imamiya and subway Midosuji Line Dobutsuen-mae stations. These are found in the Tennoji area. The area is somewhat run down and the poverty can be apparent, but generally it is a safe neighborhood and the people are harmless. Still, it is best to use common sense whenever you are traveling somewhere new.
There are more budget hotels around Osaka than there are hostels. The staff rarely speaks English so communication can be challenging. Room quality can vary dramatically also so, as with any place, read reviews and research the neighborhood prior to making a reservation. You're highest priority should be that you feel safe and comfortable in your accommodation.