Low rates make 'imperfect' rooms attractive in Japan

Low rates make 'imperfect' rooms attractive in Japan
A Tobu Kinugawa Line train runs just next to an open-air bath at Takumi no Yado Hanzuiryo in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture.
PHOTO: The Japan News

Low-priced accommodation plans offered by ryokan inns and hotels for rooms with imperfections such as poor views or limited space are becoming popular at tourist spots.

Behind the popularity of such discounted accommodation plans is said to be a sharp rise in room charges due to an increase in the number of foreign visitors to Japan.

Some travel booking websites with special sections for low-priced accommodation plans have seen a substantial rise in the number of reservations.

Discounts on physical products with imperfections, such as oddly shaped food items, are well-known. This concept has now spread to the travel industry.

Kisen, a ryokan inn in the Isawa hot spring resort in Fuefuki, Yamanashi Prefecture, boasts of open-air baths facing a Japanese garden and dishes using locally produced ingredients.

Its basic accommodation plan for an 8- to 13.5-tatami mat Japanese room with meals is priced at ¥12,778, plus tax.

However, the rate for a six-tatami room - or a Western-style room of the same size - without meals starts from ¥6,296, plus tax. Kisen has nine rooms of this type.

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"They were originally rooms for tour bus staff," Kisen President Yoshikazu Sugihara said. Western-style rooms of this type each have only two beds and a TV set, but not a toilet or bath.

These rooms were used by tour bus drivers and guides in years past when group tours were popular, and almost all rooms were occupied. However, Kisen began to offer those rooms to guests after they often remained vacant because of an increase in individual tours.

"I will be drunk anyway, so as long as I can sleep, it's fine," said Aya Kitade, 33, of Suginami Ward, Tokyo, who was staying at Kisen to visit wineries nearby. "Since the room charge is low, I will bring delicious wine home."

Jalan.net, a travel booking website, launched a special section featuring low-priced accommodation plans for rooms with drawbacks in 2010. The number of reservations for such discounted accommodation plans made via the website totaled about 180,000 in 2011. The figure more than doubled to about 400,000 in 2015.

"Because room charges are rising across the country due to an increase in the number of foreign visitors to Japan, consumers have turned their eyes to low-cost accommodation plans for rooms with drawbacks," a Jalan.net official said.

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The website is currently offering 3,000 low-priced accommodation plans. Reasons for low room charges vary, including "poor views," "a room close to a banquet hall" and "ongoing construction in the facility."

Takumi no Yado Hanzuiryo, a ryokan inn in the Kinugawa hot spring resort in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, has six rooms, one of which has a drawback.

The room with an open-air bath is gorgeous. But the Tobu Kinugawa Line is just 3 meters away. Although soundproofing measures have been taken, such as the installation of double-paned windows, the roar of trains running on the line echoes inside the room.

Therefore, Hanzuiryo set the rate for this room at about ¥10,000 cheaper than other rooms. After that, the room became the most popular among tourists because of its low price. Sometimes, railway fans make a point of reserving this room.

Meanwhile, Kamogawa Grand Hotel in Kamogawa, Chiba Prefecture, which faces the Pacific Ocean, offers ¥1,000 to ¥3,000 cheaper rates for four Japanese rooms on the second floor because of poor views. Part of the view from the rooms is blocked by the roof of a restaurant on the first floor.

"Because they [inns and hotels] honestly explain the drawbacks, guests can have a sense of security," said Kazuko Murata, a travel journalist. "Even if rooms have drawbacks, guests still can enjoy a hot spring and other facilities and have a luxurious time. That may be why these kinds of rooms are popular."

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