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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Top 10 travel destinations in Asia

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    1. Hokkaido, Japan. The island at Japan's northern extremity is famous for volcano skiing and hot springs, but most of all, its year-round beauty. Lonely Planet recently released its annual list of top destinations to visit around the world, including the top 10 destinations in Asia. Hokkaido, Japan, topped the list for its "year-round charms" and China's "Shanghai" was second to Hokkaido as "the centre of the universe". Take a look at the destinations and plan your next adventure.

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    2. Shanghai, China. Shanghai is a conjunction of fashion, culture and beautiful architecture. Lonely Planet said: "Looking for the centre of the universe right now? It's surely Shanghai."

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    3. Jeonju, South Korea. Jeonju, capital of North Jeolla Province, is the birthplace of Korea's most famous dish, bibimbap. Lonely Planet said that Jeonju is "one of Korea's best-preserved traditional villages with hundreds of wooden villas with gracefully upturned roofs housing an intriguing assortment of museums, teahouses and artisans' workshops."

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    4. Con Dao Islands, Vietnam. Isolated from the mainland, the Con Dao Islands can be hard to get to. But once you are there, you will find the Con Dao Islands to be a hidden gem in Vietnam.

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    5. Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong is a paradise for food and shopping. Lonely Planet also recognized Hong Kong for its focus on its natural heritage, specifically, the UNESCO-designated Geopark.

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    6. Ipoh, Malaysia. Ipoh is the capital city of the Malaysian state of Perak, and a gateway to the Cameron Highlands. Lonely Planet said: "Malaysia's lesser-known food capital has new flair thanks to a crop of boutique cafes that have sprung up in its historic quarter."

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    7. Pemuteran, Indonesia. Pemuteran is a laid-back beach destination for lovers of natural beauty. Lonely Planet said: "A double bay of beaches near Menjangan… don't wait until everybody arrives though."

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    8. Trang Islands, Thailand. Trang Islands offer some of Thailand's best tropical weather, white beaches, great coral reefs and amazing marine life, which you could spend months exploring.

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    9. Meghalaya, India. Meghalaya, which means 'the abode of clouds', is a beautiful state in the northeast of India. Lonely Planet said: "Opportunities for hiking, climbing, caving and rafting abound."

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    10. Taitung, Taiwan, China. Taitung is a city that lies on the southeast coast of Taiwan and home to seven aboriginal ethnicities. Lonely Planet said: "Taitung is Taiwan's secret wild card."

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