Travel

Staying in style: Tokyo's best and brightest hostels

by Russell Thomas

Contributing Writer

Hostels are no longer on the lower rung of the accommodation ladder. The capital’s burgeoning hostel scene is brimming with new additions decked out with creative interiors, from the cutting-edge to the repurposed and timeless.

Budget options in the city have previously revolved around the infamous capsule hotel — hives of coffin-like sleeping compartments — and business hotels with miniature rooms that barely fit a suitcase. But as hostels around the world have been shaking off their grubby image as basic, backpacker-only digs, Tokyo’s are emerging as some of the finest.

Book And Bed Hostel graced the pages of overseas publications half a decade ago offering a budget solution with the added twist of sleeping in a library, but other inventive hostels have also popped up around the city. Combining utmost cleanliness with a shrewd eye for design, they also reflect Tokyo’s unique locales: from the hipness of Setagaya to the sleepy shitamachi (downtown) in the east. More than simple places to sleep, these are shared spaces, bars and cafes, communal cocktails of the Japanese capital.

A transportive experience: Stay aboard a Japanese sleeper train at Train Hostel Hokutosei. | COURTESY OF TRAIN HOSTEL HOKUTOSEI
A transportive experience: Stay aboard a Japanese sleeper train at Train Hostel Hokutosei. | COURTESY OF TRAIN HOSTEL HOKUTOSEI

Train Hostel Hokutosei

Hokutosei started life in 1988 as a sleeper train shuttling passengers between Ueno Station and Sapporo Station. When it was discontinued in 2015, rather than being stripped for parts, the Hokutosei limited express was ingeniously repurposed.

While the train’s dining car was revived as a restaurant in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, in December, 2016, much of the rest of the train was rebirthed as a hostel.

Utilizing original parts, the four-berth rooms resemble sleeper cabins (note the art deco-style personal lights for each bunk), whereas semi-private rooms, sectioned off with curtains, boast wood-paneling and plush seating. Even the lounge and kitchen is styled after the former “Grand Chariot” dining car.

Originally attracting 90 percent train fanatics, today the hostel welcomes a wide range of guests who want a unique hostel experience in the city.

Nihonbashibakurocho 1-10-12, Chuo-ku, trainhostelhokutosei.com; dorms from ¥2,100 per person per night

Where design comes first: Citan Hostel's industrial-chic social space is a hub of cool. | COURTESY OF CITAN HOSTEL
Where design comes first: Citan Hostel’s industrial-chic social space is a hub of cool. | COURTESY OF CITAN HOSTEL

Citan

Sandwiched in a quiet, office-lined hinterland in Chuo Ward, Citan is a hub of culture and cool in an otherwise staid slice of Tokyo. It is a project by Backpackers’ Japan, which began life in 2010 to create places where people of all backgrounds can meet and mingle.

Citan is a design-led space, comprising concrete and dark wood interiors, industrial metal-frame bunk beds and private rooms that feel more hip hotel than hostel. Amenities come from cosmetics purveyor Osaji, whose first shop opened in also-cool Yanaka.

The hostel’s cafe, Berth Coffee, offers good brews and reasonable dishes (think Instagramable morning sets and berry-infused granola bowls) to daytime punters while its restaurant-bar-venue space brings the basement to life in the evening with DJ sets, cocktails and a local crowd. An all-in-one experience for indulging in the capital’s contemporary culture.

Nihonbashi-Odenmacho 15-2, Chuo-ku, backpackersjapan.co.jp/citan; dorms from ¥3,000 per person per night; private rooms from ¥4,500 per person per night

Khaosan World Ryogoku Hostel: Affordable, ultra-clean and in walking distance of Ryogoku Station/ | COURTESY OF KHAOSAN WORLD RYOGOKU HOSTEL
Khaosan World Ryogoku Hostel: Affordable, ultra-clean and in walking distance of Ryogoku Station/ | COURTESY OF KHAOSAN WORLD RYOGOKU HOSTEL

Khaosan World Ryogoku Hostel

Part of the Khaosan Hostel Group, which boasts nine hostels (six in Tokyo, one in Kyoto, two in Osaka) — winning Hostelworld’s Best Small Hotel Chain award in 2016 — the Ryogoku iteration hits high above regular hostel expectations.

From the noren (traditional shop curtains) adorning the ground floor entrance to its top floor ashiyu (foot bath) and tatami-clad common area with horigotatsu (tables with recesses for legs), this hostel feels like a crash course in classic Japanese accommodation.

Affordable, ultra-clean and in walking distance of Ryogoku Station — as well as big-hitter sights such as Ryogoku Kokugikan and the Edo-Tokyo Museum, plus a cavalcade of chanko-nabe (special sumo-strength hotpots) joints — the location is also a good place for spotting sumo as they go about their daily non-wrestling business.

Ryogoku 4-30-5, Sumida-ku, bit.ly/khaohost; dorms from ¥1,600 per person per night

Standing the test of time: Toco is a hostel set inside a 100-year-old heritage house in Tokyo's Taito Ward. | COURTESY OF TOCO
Standing the test of time: Toco is a hostel set inside a 100-year-old heritage house in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. | COURTESY OF TOCO

Toco

Old buildings tend not to stand the test of time in Tokyo, but in the Yanaka area efforts are being made to preserve historical structures. Taito Cultural and Historical Preservation Society, for example, has a list of repurposed properties, whereas contemporary art gallery SCAI The Bathhouse takes up residence in an Edo Period (1603-1968) bathhouse.

Toco is part of this trend. Wooden walkways, rough plaster walls and sliding doors entice, as do the warmly lit dorms and private rooms that are gorgeous tributes to another era. The ground floor hang-out area and bar ushers guests and locals into this portal to the past.

Shitaya 2-13-21, Taito-ku, backpackersjapan.co.jp/toco; dorms from ¥3,200 per person per night; queen double room from ¥15,000 per night

Gather 'round the kitchen: Rustic interiors at Irori Hostel and Kitchen create a homely feel. | COURTESY OF IRORI HOSTEL AND KITCHEN
Gather ’round the kitchen: Rustic interiors at Irori Hostel and Kitchen create a homely feel. | COURTESY OF IRORI HOSTEL AND KITCHEN

Irori Hostel and Kitchen

At Irori Hostel and Kitchen, the irori (traditional hearth) is the focal point.

“The irori is traditionally used for heating homes and cooking food, and is where families gather,” explains the hostel staff. “We’d like our guests to gather around the irori and connect with each other, and understand more about Japan’s regional culture and attractions through food and conversation.”

From its ramen-making lessons to a traditional Japanese breakfast of rice and grilled dried fish, or simply sitting around with a few drinks, this hostel’s strong sense of getting everyone together twins with homey chic interiors for a winning combination.

Set in what it calls “a traditional wholesale district with rich culture and history,” Irori also has affordable nightly rates and is located in a triangle of train stations that can whisk guests anywhere in the city.

Yokoyamacho 5-13, Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, iriorihostel.com; dorms from ¥1,900 per person per night

Future-focused: Millennials Shibuya brings the capsule concept into the 21st century. | COURTESY OF MILLENNIALS SHIBUYA
Future-focused: Millennials Shibuya brings the capsule concept into the 21st century. | COURTESY OF MILLENNIALS SHIBUYA

Millennials Shibuya

Amid new developments such as Parco Shibuya and Scramble Square, Millennials Shibuya emits a youthful, “neo-Shibuya” aesthetic and suits the plan to turn this already popping center into a so-called Entertainment City by 2027.

Millennials Shibuya gives you a “Blade Runner”-esque capsule experience, but with fewer murderous replicants, more glowing tables and plenty of social space for laptops and morning-after-the-night-before debriefs. It has its own coworking space, too.

Billed as Smart Pods, the generously sized capsules here feature reclining beds equipped with uber-comfortable mattresses. Throw in a slew of swish metal and gray lavatories and other utilities to complete the future-facing credentials of this zeitgeisty hostel.

Jinnan 1-20-13, Shibuya-ku, themillennials.jp; Smart Pod from ¥4,675 per night

Almond Hostel & Cafe

Almond Hostel & Cafe is sequestered from blaring Shibuya by Yoyogi Park — or Yoyoko for short — and is all the better for it. A calm, quiet hostel, Almond takes cues for its feel and design from its neighborhood, known for hip bakeries, contemporary coffee spots and its relatively placid upscale ambience.

The hostel’s onsite cafe, with its polished concrete floors and curated collection of mid-century furnishings, serves up its own specialty blend of coffee alongside a host of curries (avocado cheese, anyone?) and grilled sandwiches, including the surprise addition of “the Elvis” — banana, peanut butter and bacon, if you didn’t know.

Almond features two upper floors of dorms, the second of which is female-only; these comprise corridors of white-painted pods, complete with cute shelves, electrical outlets and their own dimmer lights for extra coziness. Comfort, parkside locale, plus coffee, curry and coronary overloads at your fingertips, makes Almond a mighty fine place to stay.

Motoyoyogicho 1-7, Shibuya-ku, almondhostelandcafe.tokyo; pods from ¥3,800 per night

Boutique hotel? No, it's a private room at Shimokita Hostel. | COURTESY OF SHIMOKITA HOSTEL
Boutique hotel? No, it’s a private room at Shimokita Hostel. | COURTESY OF SHIMOKITA HOSTEL

Shimokita Hostel

Shimokita Hostel represents all things Shimokitazawa. Named after a truncation of the area’s name, the hostel was founded by Bare Note Studio (BNS), the result of three housemates who became friends while living in a Shimokitazawa share house together.

“Despite the bustling energy of Tokyo, the sense of time seemed to flow slower in this part of town,” says BNS CEO Ikumi Kuroki via email. “We loved that — and also the thriving, youth-driven coffee, fashion, bar, music and art culture it had to offer.”

Shimokita Hostel gives guests that same atmosphere and aesthetic under the concept of “social neighborhood hostel.” From the minimalist pods and stark, industrial-chic private rooms to the color pops of artwork peppering the social spaces, it’s Shimokita through and through.

Kitazawa 2-17-11, Setagaya-ku, shimokitahostel.com; pods from ¥3,800, double rooms from ¥7,500 per night

In line with the nationwide state of emergency declared on April 16, the government is strongly requesting that residents stay at home whenever possible and refrain from visiting bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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