Sayuki Ushers the Japanese Geisha into the 21st Century

Sayuki, meaning “Transparent Happiness”, was the name given to an Australian called Fiona Graham when she made her debut as a geisha in Japan on 19 December 2007, making her one of the first Westerners in the 400-year history of the geisha to be accepted into this mysterious and intriguing “flower and willow world”.

SCROLL DOWN TO READ MY EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SAYUKI OR CONTINUE READING TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT SAYUKI’S BACKGROUND AND HER FASCINATING LIFE.

Sayuki Geisha

Sayuki first went to Japan when she was fifteen years of age for a student exchange program. She went on to study at Keio University but she later decided, after graduating from Oxford with a Ph.D. in social anthropology, to spend a year as a geisha as part of her research for a television documentary. In the end, it wasn’t possible for her to do the television program while training as a new geisha so Sayuki received permission from the geisha office to continue as a working geisha and she made a long-term commitment to the geisha community. In her role as a geisha she has spent many years learning to play the yokobue flute and the shamisen, traditional Japanese musical instruments. She has also learned all the mannerisms and social customs that take several years for a geisha to perfect. Becoming a geisha in Japan is an extremely demanding role that requires enormous discipline. Hundreds of hours are spent learning essential social skills as well as traditional arts and music in order for a geisha to become a successful, well-known, and popular entertainer. An accomplished geisha must also speak fluent Japanese and she must have a tremendous understanding of the Japanese culture as well as the history of Japan. She is also expected to be witty and attractive and be able to converse simultaneously in a stimulating yet light-hearted way when she is entertaining guests. Up until now, clients have predominantly been very wealthy businessmen or nobility, and therefore a geisha must always conduct herself in an intelligent, elegant, and persuasive manner.

The world of geisha is really very beautiful and awe-inspiring. Although you sometimes hear sleazy and negative connotations and innuendos towards geisha, in reality this is simply a misunderstanding brought about by people who have an ignorant and uneducated understanding of the geisha in the modern world. One thing is for certain, it’s perfectly acceptable and reasonable for a geisha to date whomever she likes, but geisha never marry.

Sayuki is, in fact, an extremely well-educated lady. She is an Oxford scholar, a fluent Japanese speaker, a lecturer at Waseda University and Keio University in Tokyo, a published author of several business books, and an anthropological film director. Sayuki also appeared on the Oprah Show in 2010. As well as this, she has been interviewed and her life has been documented by top news channels all over the world.

These days, Sayuki no longer resides and works at her original okiya (geisha house) in Asakusa. Sayuki now runs her own independent geisha house in Yanaka, a traditional part of Tokyo, where she trains new geisha. Although she gets many requests from foreigners to train as geisha, it is not possible for foreigners to work as geisha without permanent residency.

A lot of Sayuki’s guests are Japanese and in the past it was almost impossible to meet a geisha in Japan without Japanese connections but Sayuki has opened her doors and welcomes foreign guests who have a genuine interest in geisha and their accomplishments. For a prearranged fee, geisha can sing and dance for you at a banquet while you enjoy the finest Japanese kaiseki cuisine, they are also available to entertain you at your business function, or if you’re looking for something less elaborate they will pour tea for you at a tea-house. In this way, Sayuki is bringing the world of geisha into the 21st century.

In order for this traditional art to survive and prosper the geisha need to be accessible on an international level. Sayuki has recognized the need for this and in this way she is preserving the geisha culture for many years to come. Without Sayuki’s vision, the world of geisha could become an intriguing part of Japanese history which no longer exists because only a few people were allowed access or because regular Japanese clients could no longer afford to pay for their services.

Sayuki really enjoys training young apprentice geisha and she’s hoping to receive sponsorship from companies or individuals who are willing to cover the costs of training a dedicated girl who wishes to become an authentic geisha. The cost of lessons, kimonos, hair ornaments, the official debut, and all sorts of other incidentals and expenses that an apprentice geisha will incur over the years are astronomically expensive and so sponsorship is essential and it would be highly appreciated. If you’re interested in sponsorship or meeting geisha in Japan or overseas please visit Sayuki’s website for more information.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SAYUKI OF ASAKUSA

Can you please tell us a little bit about your geisha house (is it a traditional house/how many rooms/reception rooms) and how many geisha live there?

At the moment, I have one hangyoku taking a break (as her father is ill and she needed to help support her younger siblings with a fixed income job), and another about to come, so my house is very quiet for the first time in a long while! The house I am living in is an 80 year old traditional “nagaya” house commonly found in Kyoto, but very rare in Tokyo. It is a large house for a single person by Tokyo standards, which gives me space to have young geisha if they want to live in.

How long does it take for you to train an apprentice geisha and what do they need to learn?

It takes a couple of months at the very least for new hangyoku to be able to attend banquets. They must be able to perform at least one dance song to the standards of the very senior geisha and teacher who teaches them and also one drum song to even start attending banquets and learning on the job from their older sisters. This is a very much shorter time than the one year that I had to do to debut in Asakusa though!

On your website you have a new Japanese trainee geisha called Sae. Could you tell us why you chose her and why you think she will be a great geisha?

Sae is a very cute hangyoku and has the personality and demeanour to be able to entertain customers, but also to be respectful and liked by her older sisters, which may be the more difficult of the two requirements for a geisha. It is a great pity that she had family problems as soon as she started. It is very crucial now for the geisha world that there is some steady support for trainee geisha in the first year or two, and I am hoping very much that I can get businesses to sponsor my next geisha trainees.

The new Japanese trainee geisha called Sae

The new Japanese trainee geisha called Sae

How many kimonos does an apprentice geisha and a fully-fledged geisha own?

My customers asked my older geisha sister that question at my banquet last night, and she said she has 90 banquet kimonos. That doesn’t include everyday kimonos to wear to classes or in the day-time. I probably have half that many, but I also have many for my trainees.

How long does it take you to dress in kimono and apply makeup as a geisha?

It takes about two hours on average. At a pinch, I can do it in under and hour, but my trainees take a long time until they get used to it!

Do you work part-time at any other position and are your apprentice geisha allowed to have a part-time job?

I started to work part-time lecturing at university on Geisha Culture once a week when I was in my second year in Asakusa, of course with the permission of my geisha mother and the geisha office. No one had ever done such a thing before, but I gained the understanding of my older sisters when I brought my students as customers to banquets twice a year and they got to meet them for themselves. And now, some of those early students have joined elite companies and are calling geisha to entertain at their work functions; a truly wonderful thing that has made it all worthwhile!

Would you allow your apprentice geisha to marry in the future?

No, I would not. That geisha are never married is one of the romances of the geisha world where every geisha is theoretically single (though of course it is finally her choice).

I read that traditionally a geisha could only communicate with other people through hand-written letters. Can modern geisha use mobile phones? If so, are they allowed to use their mobile phone when they are entertaining guests?

The maiko in Kyoto were not allowed to use mobile phones, but as Kyoto is the only place in Japan where maiko can start at 15 years old (anywhere else in Japan they have to be 18), that probably has a lot to do with preventing homesickness and ensuring that the new maiko is fully concentrated on her maiko education.

In 2013, you attended the Hyper Japan event in London. What other big events have you attended in Japan and overseas and what did you do?

We have been overseas once or twice since I debuted and each time it has been magical. It is hard to travel outside Japan if not invited as geisha because of our busy schedule so I really appreciate being invited and being able to show the other geisha life abroad, and show foreigners a taste of geisha culture!

How much does it cost for foreign tourists to be entertained by a geisha in Tokyo?

The absolute minimum banquet is around 30,000 yen per person for a couple, but for a larger group it gets successively cheaper as the ratio of geisha to customers becomes less.

Which countries made you feel most welcome when you attended events overseas as a geisha?

We have had a wonderful time in every country we have been, and one of my very favourite things to do is to travel with my geisha trainees and sisters abroad. We are keen to travel anytime we are invited! Sometimes customers invite us too just to accompany them. I was invited to Brazil last year to train for six weeks and then participate in the Carnival and it was fantastic to be able to see another country’s music and dance traditions first-hand. We had a great time in England too, with five geisha renting a whole house with a garden near Kensington while we performed at Hyper Japan. There was some confusion though when we went sightseeing to the London Eye and they wouldn’t let us on because they said we were in fancy dress!

It costs a lot of money to train a geisha so you’re looking for sponsorship. What kind of benefits would a person or company receive if they sponsor an apprentice geisha?

Great question as this is the project closest to my heart at the moment! A company in Tokyo could have hangyoku entertain at events or to entertain customers, or appear in advertising. We are in media all the time all over the world, and can certainly repay our sponsors with publicity. Geisha have appeared in commercials for many kinds of high class, luxury services. Company sponsorship is just a modern version of the danna – a traditional sponsor who paid for various parts of a geisha’s requirements, from kimono to debut expenses and not always with any agenda beyond wanting to support tradition. But more than that, there are now fewer geisha than lions and tigers, and as an endangered species, the young ones starting out on their careers could really use some support! There was some talk at some stage of a women’s group here in Tokyo jointly sponsoring a hangyoku, but that ended with the tsunami. I hope I can revive that with another group at some stage, maybe even a group of women abroad.

Do you have any plans to write a book about your experiences as a geisha?

I am now some years late in fulfilling my obligation to one publisher to write a book about the geisha world. As I hadn’t planned to continue in the beginning, I have some dilemnas about writing about a world that survives on secrecy and romance. I would very much like to finish the documentary project that was the beginning of me becoming a geisha, though, and that would now be based, not just on myself, but on my geisha trainees and the community of geisha with whom I work, and who work in a number of the Tokyo geisha communities. I welcome inquiries from broadcasters.

Sayuki in kimono on a day when she's not working as a Geisha

Sayuki in kimono on a day when she’s not working as a Geisha

What are your plans for the future?

I very much want to keep supporting young girls who want to become geisha. There are fewer geisha who are taking in trainees and largely because I had a kimono shop at one time, I was able to collect everything necessary to have three or four young girls at any one time. Foreigners do write to me all the time about wanting to train, but it is not possible to be a geisha without long-term residency in Japan. And I want these girls to be geisha but also to be in the modern world. In the past, we have had clothes sponsors, been sponsored to go overseas, and such. I think it is really important for these girls not to feel that they are missing out on modern life by becoming geisha.

Anyone can join a banquet by simply contacting Sayuki on her website, and anyone can call geisha out of Japan to perform at events in the UK or elsewhere.

Win £20 Worth of Shake Shack Vouchers (UK Only)

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED. THE WINNER OF THE SHAKE SHACK VOUCHERS IS LOUISE BROWN (TWITTER HANDLE: @lottielouyellow).

THANK YOU FOR ENTERING AND PLEASE CONTINUE TO CONNECT WITH ME ON TWITTER @RenaeLucasHall
STAY TUNED FOR MORE COMPETITIONS AND GIVEAWAYS IN THE FUTURE.

As a BIG THANK YOU to all the lovely people in the United Kingdom who have shown their support and bought my books, I’m running a competition over the next seven days for one lucky person to win £20 worth of Shake Shack vouchers. Just send out a tweet on Twitter about the competition with a link to this page or retweet my tweets about the competition and follow me @RenaeLucasHall for your chance to win the vouchers. The winner will be chosen on Monday 11 July, 2016. The vouchers will be sent in the post (Royal Mail Signed For® 1st Class) and the winner should receive their prize before Friday 15 July. You must be living in the UK to enter the competition. The Shack Shack vouchers must be used before 31 December, 2016.

Shake Shack

I write Japan-related fiction so I’m interested in anything to do with Japan, especially Tokyo. I first heard about Shake Shack opening in Meiji-Jingu Gaien in Japan on Twitter. I could see there was a lot of hype about just how delicious the burgers are at Shake Shack so I did a Google search and I was pleased to discover there are four locations in the UK (Covent Garden, New Oxford Street, Stratford, and Cardiff). Then a couple of weeks ago, I heard James Corden say in 73 Questions for Vogue on YouTube that he would choose a Shake Shack burger as his last meal on Earth!! So there you have it, everyone is loving Shake Shack burgers. If you want to find out just how good these burgers taste then enter my competition or visit their website to find a location near you. Shake Shack has sixty-six locations worldwide.

When we visited Shake Shake in London, we were amazed by how busy they were in Covent Garden. It looked like organised pandemonium. In fact, they had three seating areas and they were all chock-a-block Buzzerfull of customers. There was even a long line of people waiting to order, so make sure you have some time to waste when you visit at peak times. We were given a buzzer that lets you know when your order is ready (my husband is holding this in the photo on the left) and after about 15 minutes we received our burgers, fries, drinks and concretes (frozen custard ice cream blended at high speeds with mix-ins). Despite the fact Shake Shack was incredibly busy, all the staff at Covent Garden were working extremely hard to make sure every customer was happy and satisfied.

I’d like to thank Kiki, the manager of Shake Shack in Covent Garden, for offering these vouchers for the competition. We also really appreciated Kiki’s excellent customer service.

Shake Shack Covent Garden

By the way, if you’re interested in Japan-related fiction please “Like” my Cherry Blossom Stories page on Facebook.

Good luck in the competition. All you need to do is retweet on Twitter for a chance to win!

♛ Top 20 Kawaii Hotspots in Tokyo ♛

Kawaii is a Japanese word used to describe anyone or anything that looks really cute. Thousands of young Kawaii Japangirls (as well as some boys and quite a few not-so-young women) from all over the world are embracing the kawaii culture and they’re flocking to Tokyo to indulge themselves in every aspect of this adorable craze. The kawaii culture, which originated in Harajuku, has now become so popular the word kawaii is being used in English by teenagers all over the world as well as fashionable companies to target consumers with their latest on-trend products and services.

Top international fashion and cosmetic brands are also using the word kawaii in their advertisements as a buzz word to describe items or features that are exceptionally cute or flattering.

There are lots of other adjectives that spring to mind when I think of anything kawaii in Japan such as sweet, endearing, charming, whimsical, sensational, fantabulous, stimulating, and even mind-boggling.

Kawaii LorealIf you think you’re too old for anything kawaii then think again! It doesn’t matter what age you are because there are lots of variations on the kawaii style in Tokyo’s shops and department stores and some of these items are so stylish you’re sure to find at least a few kawaii accessories you won’t be able to resist. There are also plenty of eye-popping kawaii experiences in Tokyo that will definitely broaden your smile and keep you entertained.

So, I think you can pretty much visualize the meaning of kawaii, but if you want to find out more then check out my top 20 hotspots in Tokyo for kawaii cuteness below.

 

KAWAII SHOPPING

1. Takeshita Street in Harajuku: This is usually the first point of call for kawaii fans. It’s a pedestrian street near Harajuku Station and it’s full of kawaii shops, restaurants, cafés and creperies. As you walk along this hugely popular street you’ll see people holding signs outside some of the shops offering discounts for that day so make sure you check out these stores first. By the way, Takeshita Street and the Harajuku area were the main inspiration for the song Harajuku Girls by Gwen Stefani so if you’re a fan of this music and all it represents then you’ll love this crowded, fun-filled shopping mecca, devoted to everything kawaii.

2. Shibuya 109 in Shibuya and LaForet in Harajuku: Both these department stores are full of boutiques stocking kawaii fashions and accessories but the prices here can be quite a bit higher than Takeshita Street in Harajuku. Keep in mind you’re paying for quality.

3. 6% DOKIDOKI: This shop is the brainchild of the famous Art Director Sebastian Masuda. This store is located in Harajuku and it’s full of kawaii merchandise. They also have a Facebook page and an online store with worldwide shipping!

DOKIDOKI

4. Hello Kitty store in Tokyo Solamachi: We all know the Hello Kitty brand but you’ll be amazed by just how much more there is to the range of Hello Kitty merchandise when you visit their store in Solamachi (a shopping complex adjacent to Tokyo Skytree).

5. Kiddyland (Harajuku): Yes, the name of this shop includes the word “kiddy” but some adults will also love to browse in this store. There are all sorts of fun toys  and a startling array of kawaii tat here but you’re sure to find some cute accessories no matter how old you are.

6. Cute Cube Harajuku: Located just a few minutes from Harajuku Station on Takeshita Street, this mini complex has a variety of kawaii shops and restaurants. Kawaii events also take place here.

7. Disney store at Harajuku ALTA building: The ALTA building opened in 2015 on Takeshita Street in Harajuku. It houses lots of top fashion brands and stores offering character merchandise. Here you’ll find the famous Disney store selling all your favourite Disney characters (please note this shop does not sell tickets to Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea).

8. Harajuku and Shibuya Kawaii shopping tour: An expert guide from Voyagin or Expedia will take you to all the kawaii fashion hotspots in Harajuku and Shibuya. These are the perfect tours for fashionistas and Tokyo first-timers who love to shop!

KAWAII RESTAURANTS AND ATTRACTIONS

9. Moshi Moshi Box Harajuku: This should be your first stop if you’re not really familiar with the main shopping areas and attractions in Tokyo. This tourist information box also offers foreign exchange, free Wi-Fi and even a crepe stand. You’ll find it on Meiji Dori, not far from Harajuku and Meiji-jingumae Stations. Just look out for the huge kawaii clock on the front designed by Sebastian Masuda (yes, he really is the kawaii king).

Moshi Moshi Box in Harajuku (photo courtesy of Tomuu at City-Cost)

Moshi Moshi Box in Harajuku (photo courtesy of Tomuu at City-Cost)

10. Sanrio Puroland: I know, you guessed it, of course there’s a kawaii land in Tokyo and it’s called Sanrio Puroland. You and your children will be mesmerized by the kawaii shows and attractions inside this complete world of cuteness. I’m planning to visit this land just for the kawaii gift shops! My tip is to print out the discount vouchers on their website when you’re planning your visit.

11. Alice in Wonderland restaurants:
There are five Alice in Wonderland restaurants in Tokyo, each with a different concept but the same theme, and they’re all run by Diamond Dining. The food is not 5-star quality at these restaurants but who cares when you’re being served by waitresses in Alice costumes, ordering from pop-up picture menus, and eating food in the shape of Alice in Wonderland characters. Choose from Alice in a Labyrinth in Ginza, Alice in a Fantasy Book in Shinjuku, Alice in a Magical Land in Nishi-Shinjuku, Alice in an Old Castle in Minami-Ikebukuro, and Alice in a Dancing Land in Shibuya.

12. Kawaii Monster Café: Another Sebastian Masuda concept, their website says it all: “Upon entering, you’ll walk through the tongue of Mr Ten thousand chopsticks (choppy) and then come across the cake shaped merry-go-round “SWEETS GO ROUND” and also the 4 unique areas called “MUSHROOM DISCO”, “MILK STAND”, “Bar Experiment” and “Mel-Tea ROOM”!”

I think you get the picture! This place is ultra-kawaii with extra super-duper kawaii on top!

13. Maid cafés in Akihabara:
This one is for the boys but it’s also popular with otaku manga and anime fans! If you like the idea of your food served to you by young Japanese girls in sexy French maid costumes then this is the place for you. These enthusiastic waitresses will even play games like rock-paper-scissors (or jan-ken-pon じゃんけんぽん in Japanese) with you and sing cute kawaii songs. Oh dear!!

14. World Project Kawaii Café: This café hopes to spread kawaii cuteness all over the world. You can enjoy pancakes and other delicious dishes here. They’re located in the ALTA building in Harajuku and they’re happy to host parties and events.

15. Kawaii cake shops:
There are hundreds of extremely good cake shops in Tokyo offering mind-blowing cake creations. I recommend La Terre Saison in Futakotamagawa, Juchheim Die Meister in Ginza, Anniversary in Minami-Aoyama, and Funs in the Hikarie complex in Shibuya.

Kawaii Kuma-san cake from La Terre Saison

Kawaii Kuma-san cake from La Terre Saison

16. Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea: Yes, it’s true – the Disney theme park franchise is also in Tokyo. However, before you go to any of the Disney attractions you should know that it might not be everything you’re expecting. Nearly all of the attractions at both theme parks are in the Japanese language. Don’t worry, I promise you rides like Space Mountain are still as exciting as ever but you have to be prepared to queue for hours. Tokyo DisneySea is definitely worth a visit just based on the fact it cost 335 billion yen and it took two years to construct.

17. Kawaii nail manicures: Do you love having a manicure but you’re really tired of the same block esnailcolour or even the popular French manicure? Well, the manicure salons in Tokyo will fulfil all your wildest manicure dreams. They’ll even stick all sorts of famous characters on to the top of your nails. Have you ever wanted Minnie Mouse on the end of your ring finger? Yes, you can get that at a nail salon in Tokyo. What about a doughnut on the end of your pinkie finger? Yes, they can do that too! ESNAIL (esネイル) has five manicure salons in Tokyo in Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Roppongi, and Kichijoji.

18. Transform yourself into a Lolita princess: If you absolutely adore the kawaii culture then Maison de Julietta in the LaForet department store in Harajuku will completely transform you into a Lolita for the ultimate cute kawaii photo shoot. They have an extensive range of about thirty kawaii outfits to choose from and you can even borrow a wig to enhance your Lolita look. Their basic menu which includes dressing up like a Lolita with hair and makeup costs 9,980 yen.

19. Kawaii photo booths: Recently, you may have seen photos of lots of Japanese girls on social media with unusually large eyes and perfect features, set in frames with all sorts of kawaii add-ons like bows and stars as well as popular characters like Hello Kitty. These girls are using apps on their phones or going to photo booths (called purikura in Japan) to make themselves look really cute with the help of all sorts of feature options that can completely change the way you look and increase your kawaii appeal (see the before and after shots in the pictures on the left). It’s important to know that a lot of these girls may look young but they could easily be a lot older than
they seem and they could look very different in real life! After they’ve completely transformed their facial features they can turn these photos into stickers. The photo booths have a game type setup that’s very easy to use. You too Purikura changecan find these purikura booths in the ALTA building in Takeshita Street in Harajuku and in Shibuya at the Shibuya Center Gai.

More purikura

 

 

 

 

20. My kawaii book – Tokyo Tales: A Collection of Japanese Short Stories: Before you head to Tokyo for the trip of a lifetime or if you’re already in Tokyo when you’re reading this and you’re resting in Tokyo-Tales-AMAZONyour hotel room, wondering what to do after a big day out in Harajuku, then why don’t you immerse yourself in the kawaii culture and enjoy lots of Japan-related stories from my book Tokyo Tales? As you’re reading each short story, I’m sure you’ll also appreciate all the gorgeous and super kawaii illustrations on the cover and throughout the book by the renowned Japanese illustrator Yoshimi Ohtani. You can buy Tokyo Tales in paperback and eBook from Amazon and more than 60 other retailers worldwide. The paperback version of Tokyo Tales as well as my novel Tokyo Hearts are also available from Books Kinokuniya in Shinjuku, Japan. Happy reading!

 

8 Tips to Help You Choose a Hotel in Tokyo


1. LOCATION:
Tokyo is vibrant and energetic but it can also be tiring and quite frustrating for first-time visitors who are trying to navigate their way around this incredible city. Therefore, it’s important to choose a hotel that is convenient and readily accessible to the major tourist attractions. One of the best and easiest ways to choose a hotel in Tokyo is to stay somewhere that has good access to the Yamanote Line. This is a circular railway loop that stops at nearly all of the major train stations. If you choose a hotel next to Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara, Ueno, Harajuku, and even Ikebukuro train station on the Yamanote Line you will have easy access to many popular tourist attractions and shopping areas.

YamanoteOther areas such as Roppongi or Nishi-Azabu, Ginza, Hibiya, Nihonbashi, and Asakusa are also terrific locations because they are very central, although they are not on the Yamanote Line.

Shinagawa is a good location if you’re planning to travel on the Shinkansen bullet train at some point to other areas in Japan but it’s not the best place to access the most popular attractions.

Odaiba is a fun new area surrounded by restaurants and amusement parks but this area is also a bit too detached from the rest of Tokyo and I’ve heard quite a few people complain about this.

Try to avoid hotels next to Haneda or Narita Airports and hotels in Chiba, Kamakura, and even Yokohama. These areas are really quite far from the major attractions in central Tokyo so your travelling times and your travel costs will also be more if you stay in these areas. You will also need to change train lines multiple times if you stay in these outer areas and this can be very confusing, especially for tourists who don’t speak Japanese.

There is also another really great way  for you to literally see how convenient your hotel is before you book: Simply, copy and paste the hotel’s address into Google Earth and zoom in to the street where your hotel is located. Make sure your hotel is (a) centrally located compared to the other main areas in Tokyo, (b) close to a train station, (c) near a convenience store and a couple of restaurants and coffee shops.

2. TYPE OF HOTEL: Tokyo offers a plethora of hotel options. You can stay in a Godzilla themed hotel (The Hotel Gracery in Shinjuku) or a Hello Kitty themed room (Keio Plaza Hotel, Shinjuku), a traditional ryokan, a cheap capsule hotel where you sleep in a pod (I recommend Book and Bed Tokyo – it has over 1,700 English and Japanese language books!), serviced apartments, and basic one-star hotels or luxurious five-star hotels such as the Imperial Hotel. You can also privately rent a room or an apartment with Airbnb Tokyo, or take part in a homestay with a Japanese family.

Imperial Hotel

3. GOOD AND BAD AREAS IN TOKYO: Depending on what sort of tourist you are you should stay in an area that suits your needs. If you’re travelling with young children you should probably avoid the Kabuki-cho area in Shinjuku because this is basically the red light district in Tokyo. You’ll also probably want to avoid Roppongi because this is an area filled with bars, clubs and adult entertainment.

Akasaka Mitsuke, Hibiya, Ebisu, Asakusa and Ginza are all very nice places to stay and they are considered to be five of the most reputable areas in Tokyo.

4. BOOK YOUR HOTEL ROOM AND YOUR PLANE TICKET TOGETHER: If you live in the UK I highly recommend the online travel company Expedia. On this website you can book your hotel room and flight together as part of a package deal. You should also subscribe to Expedia’s mailing list because they offer some great reductions on flight and hotel prices and you’ll get notifications for these sent straight to your inbox. I’m sure every country offers similar holiday package deals through an online travel company so do your homework before you book and you’ll definitely save a lot of money.

5. CHOOSE A HOTEL WITH BREAKFAST INCLUDED: If you’re staying in Tokyo for at least a week then you should definitely consider a hotel with breakfast included and it’s best to choose one with lots of variety. Quite a few three-star hotels offer a free Japanese breakfast and a Western breakfast with omelettes, sausages, meat patties, salad, bread rolls and croissants, orange juice and tea or coffee. This is the perfect way to start the day and a free breakfast could save you a lot of money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. PROS AND CONS OF HIGH MULTI-STOREY HOTELS: Some of the major hotels have at least 25 floors and although you can enjoy great views of Tokyo and even Mount Fuji on a clear day you are also more likely to feel frightened if an earthquake occurs and you’re staying on one of the upper floors. I was staying in a room on a very high floor when I experienced an earthquake that measured above 6 on the Richter scale and I can assure you I was very scared. If this happens when you’re in Tokyo the room will move up and down and side to side, the elevator will not be in service, and you’ll be advised to stay in your hotel room. Call the hotel receptionist for advice, don’t panic, and sleep in your clothes that night with your suitcase packed and ready to go if you’re anxious. Hopefully, there will be no more earthquakes. One thing is for sure: If you experience an earthquake in Tokyo you’ll definitely have a memorable trip.

7. SIZE OF YOUR ROOM: If you can speak at least basic Japanese then it would be a good idea to choose a hotel room in an area that is located on the outskirts of Tokyo because you’re more likely to get a bigger room. This would be an important factor if you’re staying for at least two weeks. I would only recommend you to do this if you’ve been to Japan before so you don’t get confused changing trains or finding your way around Tokyo. If you’re travelling alone I would advise you to book a room with a semi-double bed rather than a single bed and you’ll definitely be a lot more comfortable, especially if you’re tall or an above average sized person. Take a look at the tourist photos for the hotel that you want to book on TripAdvisor and then you can get a good idea of how big your room is going to be. Also check to see if the room has a wardrobe to hang your clothes or enough space to store and open your suitcase. Some hotel rooms in central Tokyo are described as shoeboxes because there is hardly any room to move and you have to open your suitcase on the bed which can be annoying.

8. SMOKING AND NON-SMOKING ROOMS: I see a lot of people on TripAdvisor complaining that their hotel room smelt of cigarette smoke when they checked in to their hotel in Japan. These people all seemed to be quite upset about this because they specifically booked a non-smoking room. Many people don’t realise that Japan is not as strict with their smoking laws so you may find it difficult to make a complaint about cigarette smoke to the concierge at your hotel. If cigarette smoke really bothers you, make sure you book a room at a hotel that is completely smoke-free. If this is not possible you also have another option. Many hotels in Tokyo are refurbishing some of their rooms in time for the Olympics in 2020 and they don’t want guests who are smokers in these rooms, so look for hotels that offer newly refurbished non-smoking rooms when you book and you’re more likely to get what you want. A lot of hotels are also offering air purifiers as standard in all their rooms and this can help a lot. Air purifiers are usually listed as part of the room amenities in the hotel descriptions.