Ok I admit. Accommodation in Tokyo can take up a huge chunk of your travel expenses, especially if you’ll be in Tokyo for quite many days, &/or you’re going in a bigger group. Try as I will always prefer my favorite hotel in Tokyo (read my review!), sometimes, it makes more economic sense to actually book an Airbnb.
(Updated Jun 2019) Till date, I’ve stayed twice at AirBNB apartments in Tokyo, once near Shinjuku and another at Otsuka (near Ikebukuro). Each trip’s stay still fell short of expectations, so this post is to share my experiences and tips for you! Mainly taken from the Shinjuku Airbnb’s experience.
When you stay at an Airbnb in Japan, you can get an idea of how the Japanese implement minimalism into their life, as well as see how Tokyoites cope with limited living space in the city.
What the Tokyo AirBNB host might not mention
They might be too optimistic in estimating guest size & luggages
At Shinjuku’s apartment, the host had assured that 3 adults and 2 small kids (baby + toddler) will fit just fine. From the professional photos seen on the apartment’s AirBNB page, the apartment looked super cosy, warm and inviting! We were really mesmerized by the decor and were excited to stay here.
Apartment 1: The actual place:
What you see around you is what you get.
Tada! Welcome to our studio apartment in Shinjuku. The bedroom = the hall = the kitchen = dining room. There’s a kitchen sink, and a large and heavy wooden low table facing it.
Seeing how tight the space is, we considered making the table stand and lean against the wall, so that we’ll get more floor area. But that will mean we’ll have no place to put our skincare, lotions, medications, and ohmygod all those kids’ stuff that keeps them kiddos well-fed so they won’t drive us crazy. Decided it’s not a feasible idea and so we let that table remain there.
There were 2 futons already set out on our bedroom/hall’s tatami floor. We opened up one more futon to make it 3 as there were three adults. Due to that additional futon, the remaining space available in the studio reached a whole new sad level. Which brings us to the next point..
You’ll have to make use of your creativity to lay your luggage open.
Simply because there’ll be insufficient space for you to open up all suitcases fully. We’d only brought 2 large suitcases + 1 backpack. Someone’s suitcase will have to stay half-opened with one side leaning against the wall. And we try to take turns to pack. Lol.
We hadn’t overpack! There were 2 young kids and they’ll be in Japan for 2 weeks in this autumn-turning-winter weather. Okay my suitcase was a little large when I was just staying for a few days 0.0
We also took to hopping from area to area over the remaining floor space, lol.
Your futon could be so thin, you’ll have to sleep on top of the duvet OVER the futon.
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For the extra cushioning necessary. And still ended up with body aches the next day. No, it has nothing to do with age. It’s the flat futons!
Despite the additional layer, I could still feel the wooden slabs when I sleep. Have no idea what those slabs are for, but that contraption of wooden strips was either not removable, or you’ll have to make do with the tatami as your base layer. With the futon being so thin, I’m not sure which option will ensure worse backaches, *cries*.
Since it’s cold weather, even when the aircon unit’s heating function is turned up to the max, cold air still seeps in through the apartment’s walls, so you end up rolling half the duvet to cover your body, staying in a fixed position, using half your bedspace. Not exactly an efficient use of space, but at least an effective method to keep warm.
The pillow will be amazingly flat and thin – it might just be for babies.
Not kidding. I silently thanked myself for having brought two neck pillows (which I use on flights, actually) because it became mine and my sister’s pillows for those nights.
That it’s actually not so clean.
Hair on pillows.. dust in the air.. and you know, feeling the rough, unclean parts of the futon and/or duvet, and you wonder if the host had cleaned the apartment properly. And I can only brush aside my eeky thoughts and feel glad I’m only staying here for 3 or 4 nights. For those nights, I slept using Dead Man’s Pose (the sleeping pose at the end of a yoga session) –– on my back, face never touching the pillows, and fully clothed (jacket and lounge pants) so my body never really is in contact with the futon/duvet.
Your bathroom will be so small, you’ll knock into something every other day.
Yep. It’s hilarious to hear someone knocking an elbow against the bathroom walls, or the shampoo dropping into the bathtub cos of the limited space. Given that space is scarce in Tokyo, this tightness is actually to be expected. (But you can avoid this problem by choosing Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku Hotel which I reviewed here.)
Body soap will dry your skin so much..
.. your skin starts to become dry and itchy, so you head out to one of Tokyo’s amazing pharmacies to spend 15 minutes deciding which body soap looks more moisturizing (Tokyo gives you major #DecisionFatigue.), ending up with extra weight to carry around.
Tip: Always bring a good body moisturizer to combat the winter weather! Also, read my post on how to moisturize for winter!
You might feel tired before you begin the day’s programs.
This AirBNB unit is one subway station away from Shinjuku Station, on the Keio New Line.
Every morning, from the AirBNB, you’ll need to walk 10 minutes to the subway station, go two levels underground, buy a 130-yen ticket, take one stop to Shinjuku, exit it then walk another 5-10 minutes up steps and escalators to Shinjuku station’s main entrance. And then buy train tickets to get to your first destination. 30-45min is easily gone before you even get on the train anywhere from Shinjuku. With kids and stroller and the full works.
Repeat this for the return journey, ganbatte!
When you need to avoid Tokyo’s peak train hours, and daylight being very short in winter, the remaining time for you to be out is actually very limited.
There will be those damn stairsssss to conquer at the subway station.
Pardon my #PrincessSyndrome acting up although I’m fully aware that not every station in this world will provide lifts or escalators for every exit (I’m looking at you too, Europe).
But it’s Tokyo we’re talking about, in Shinjuku district, yet there was no lift for the exit that’s supposed to lead us to the accommodation… which means I need to lug my winter luggage UP a flight of stairs, and carry it down that same flight of stairs when I was to leave. It also means parents of toddlers will need to carry both their kids and stroller(s) and whatever else up and down those stairs everyday omg. Is that why Tokyoites are so slim and fit?
The very first time we reached this subway, a helpful Japanese led us to the lift and we exchanged farewells. We went up, glad to exit, only to realize.. we’re at the wrong end across a major road. Guess what? We now have to conquer a BRIDGE to cross back, hahaha! Heaving my suitcase up 1/4 of the stairs grew my arms some muscles, before my family member took over.
I truly wondered how the physically disabled or elderly cope in this kind of situation.
I have to mention the good about this AirBNB stay, of course!
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- We got a taste of living like the locals do. This AirBNB was situated in a residential area and hence it was dead quiet at night, Tokyo-ites being very considerate the way they are.
- The kitchen sink brought convenience for families with young children, because you can wash the bottles and dry them, etc.
- The AirBNB unit didn’t have any funky smells.
- The host provided a 3G WIFI router for us to Tokyo, which was a very thoughtful gesture!
- There were sufficient restaurants, convenience stores, drugstores, and even Starbucks nearby.
Sometimes, although AirBNB reviews can be raving, they don’t always cover the full picture.
But I will always advise travelling parents with kids to choose one in an excellent location, such as Sunroute Plaza. With this post, it does not indicate that I’ll swear off AirBNB or any other Japanese AirBNB for good. It was just a one-time experience. I had a very wonderful stay at another Kyoto AirBNB though!
Tips before you book your AirBNB in Tokyo
- Read the reviews very carefully. Read what’s written, as well as what’s not written. Check what previous guests mentioned about space, hot water, pillows, amenities, facilities, etc. Hot water might only be available for a limited duration (not stated till you check in), take note!
- Tokyo is actually very big, so make sure you’re staying in the right area for your trip. Popular areas in the city are usually Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku; followed by Yoyogi and Ikebukuro. You wouldn’t wanna waste time and money commuting.
- Manage your expectations of space, especially in Tokyo’s city centre. The professional photos on the AirBNB listing might be fisheye lens – making the apartment look much bigger.
- It seems common among AirBNB hosts in Tokyo – they like to count the maximum number of guests allowed, without considering luggage space. Another AirBNB host I encountered in Tokyo had stated a max of 9 adults when there were 6 beds – another room with futons available. He didn’t state that if that futon room was used, there’ll be no space for luggages to be opened! To be safe, always count by the number of actual, real beds.
- Japanese people value their surroundings and mutual consideration of human beings very much. A lot of AirBNBs in Tokyo are in actual residential neighbourhoods. Keep noise level to a minimum, and always follow the house rules.
- Many Japanese AirBNB hosts like to provide a portable pocket WIFI router for their guests so you can use when you head out. Don’t lose this pocket WIFI or you’ll have to make a police report, by law.
- If you’ve never tried AirBNB before, sign up with my AirBNB link today which gives you S$45 off your first stay (above S$100)!
What do you think of AirBNB stays? Yay or nay?