Tokyo is home to literally dozens of world-class hotels, but a room at the Park Hyatt starts to look a lot less attractive when you're trying to keep your budget down to a few thousand yen a day. Help is at hand, thankfully: the capital is home to a broad (and growing) range of budget hostels, guesthouses and hotels, many of which can give you a bed for under ¥3,000 per night. The old adage applies, of course: if you don't fancy sharing a bunk in a dormitory, or spending the night in a thin-walled cell that has barely enough space for your luggage, you might want to take your business elsewhere. Be warned that many of the cheapest places are also found in traditional neighbourhoods like Asakusa and Minami-Senju – not without their charms, but a long way from pop-culture hotspots such as Shibuya and Harajuku. That said, there are some genuinely charming places out there, and they don't all require a trip into the wilds of eastern Tokyo. Read on for our guide to some of the best cheap hotels in Tokyo, plus a few that could rival anything on the Southeast Asian backpacker trail for sheer grottiness.
Backpacker hostels with style
A converted family house provides the setting for this intimate Asakusa hostel, opened in March 2012 by a backpacking owner who dreamed of 'travelling with her whole house'. With just two dorms, it's one of Tokyo's smallest hostels, and the décor – including a small lounge that looks more like a trendy Balinese café – make it one of the more agreeable, too.
Dorms from ¥2,600
Run by a bunch of East Tokyo hipsters, this converted 1920s townhouse north of Ueno offers the sense of staying in a traditional Japanese home at backpacker hostel prices. Then again, you might struggle to find a traditional Japanese home that comes equipped with its own bar and lounge, like Toco. does.
Dorms from ¥2,700, doubles ¥6,500, twins ¥6,800
One of the newer additions to Khaosan's Asakusa-centric hostel empire, this one must be the quirkiest of the entire bunch: a renovated love hotel, World Asakusa offers modern and stylish rooms that still maintain plenty of titillating features – think see-through bathtubs, bedside light controls and mirrored walls.
Dorms from ¥2,200, doubles from ¥8,400
Kangaroo Hotel’s rock-bottom prices attract a mixed bag of guests, from Japanese tourists to backpackers, businessmen and families. The interior is a blend of old and new – the lobby's exposed concrete walls and white furniture give it the feel of a trendy showroom, but they also have some Japanese-style rooms, with tatami mats and futons.
Singles ¥3,600, doubles ¥5,500
Run by the same group behind Iriya's Toco. (see above), this friendly Kuramae hostel boasts some nifty interior design and a stylish ground-floor bar – with grand piano! – that's as popular with local residents as it is with guests. Rooms are ultra-spartan, and while there's no curfew, the common areas close at midnight, making it better suited to early sleepers.
Dorms from ¥2,700, doubles from ¥6,800, twins ¥6,800
Found just a stone's throw from the Skytree, Hütte offers convenient access to the newly-hip surrounding area and both of Tokyo's airports. All dorms are equipped with extra-wide bunk beds and personal lockers, while private Japanese-style rooms are also available. The ground floor hosts a café and co-working space with Wi-Fi and all that jazz.
Dorms from ¥3,000, doubles from ¥7,500
'Bed and breakfast' is the name of the game at this Asakusabashi hostel, where you’ll get a place to sleep and a morning feed for your fistful of yen. Travellers in search of an authentically retro Japanese experience should appreciate the horigotatsu-style recessed seating in the communal lounge, as well as the option of sleeping on a futon in a tatami-floored (washitsu) dorm.
Dorms from ¥2,600, twins ¥6,800
It bills itself as ‘Tokyo's first designer ryokan’, but you'd do better to think of Andon as a high-end backpacker hostel. Designed by architect Masayuki Irie, the chic-but-cramped interior incorporates traditional Japanese features while showcasing owner Toshiko Ishii's collection of antiques (even the breakfasts are served on vintage tableware).
Singles from ¥6,300, twins/doubles from ¥7,450
It's only 10 minutes' walk from one of Tokyo's main transport hubs, but this Shinagawa guesthouse is set in an area with a distinctly old-school feel – including shrines, temples and a Showa-era shopping street. The traditional vibes continue past the front door, with mainly tatami-floored washitsu rooms on offer. Just watch out for all the extra fees.
Dorms ¥3,300, singles ¥3,800
One of the few ryokan in Tokyo to cater almost exclusively to foreign visitors, the family-run Sawanoya has a small library of English-language guidebooks and provides its own map of the old-fashioned Yanaka area, plus cheap bicycle rentals. Rooms are small but comfortable, and there are signs in English reminding you how to behave and how to use the bath.
Singles ¥5,184, doubles from ¥9,720
This Asakusa ryokan started life as a traditional house, and it's kept the inner garden and ornate circular windows – as well as the tatami floors, rickety old staircase and indifferent insulation. Some guests complain that it's shabby, noisy, and freezing cold in winter, but when you're paying ¥3,000 for a single room it's hard to complain too much.
¥3,000 per person
From travellers on tiny budgets to salarymen toiling deep into the night – Kabukicho's most convenient capsule hotel welcomes everyone in need of a dirt-cheap (but clean and comfortable) stay. Both men and women are welcome, the capsules are generously sized and the comfy bathing area is a real sight for sore eyes, the strange decor not withstanding.
This informatively named Iriya joint isn't exactly located in the middle of the action, but does have free Wi-Fi and decently comfy beds. Rooms are actually available for the advertised price at most times, but higher rates may apply during peak times and around holidays.
OK, so you can get a cheap stay in a capsule hotel anywhere in Tokyo, right? Sure, if you're a bloke. The great thing about Capsule Inn Komagome is that anyone can join in the boxed fun. And women needn't fear the drunken attentions of the more brutal sex, either, as there's a rare women-only floor available to keep the louts at bay.
Cheap accommodation and Shibuya simply don't seem compatible, so it's a case of the tallest dwarf for this male-only establishment, equipped with clean but smallish capsules and a bathing area with sauna and massage chairs. Rates also include a highly underwhelming 'breakfast' – you'll be better off just getting something from the convenience store next door.
Catching an early flight or arriving late in the night can be a pain when it comes to Narita Airport. Fortunately enough, summer 2014 saw the opening of this 24-hour capsule hotel right next to Terminal 2 (albeit in a less-than-glamorous parking garage basement). Those who just want to take a shower and sit down for a bit will be admitted as well.
Cheap hotels (with real beds!)
Bilingual staff, a well-stocked beer fridge and easy access to Ikebukuro Station make this budget hotel a favourite among travellers looking for a warm bed for the night. The hotel has a shared kitchen, while you can grab a bite or sample a few of the 60 different world beers on offer at the Sakura Café, which stays open 24 hours a day.
Dorms ¥3,300, singles ¥7,000, doubles ¥9,300
Of all the budget hotels and guesthouses in Tokyo, this is the most central, located just a mile or so north of the Imperial Palace. Rooms are tiny but scrupulously clean, and all are non-smoking. Staff are on duty 24 hours a day and speak good English, and guests can hang out at the on-site Sakura Cafe, also open 24 hours.
Dorms ¥3,300, singles ¥6,300
Palace Japan opened in early 2011, and seems to be catering towards the backpacking community. It's cheap and still in good nick, with all the necessary extras (read: free Wi-Fi). Guests share a coin laundry, a small kitchen and shower rooms, and the whole place is designed to be barrier free – something that's still rare in Tokyo.
Dorms ¥3,200, singles ¥3,800
Hatagaya’s addition to the Sakura Hotel family is popular with businesspeople, presumably because it's just a three-minute train ride from Shinjuku. As with its siblings, this budget hotel has bilingual staff and a 24-hour café where sociable types can mingle, though the lack of dorms or communal bathrooms means that it feels less like a backpackers hostel.
Singles ¥7,150, doubles from ¥9,300
Backpacker hostels in Asakusa
Other Tokyo hostels should probably start taking notes. Khaosan Tokyo Kabuki has a plum location, but it's the attention to detail that sets it apart from many competitors. If you're a sucker for Japanese-style touches, you'll probably appreciate the red, green and black colour scheme (kabuki's traditional colours), as well as the option to sleep in a tatami-floored room.
Dorms ¥3,000, twins/doubles ¥3,400 per person
A laid-back atmosphere and predictably tiny rooms await at this hostel, just south of Asakusa. Facilities include a large living room (with free Wi-Fi) and shared rooftop space, as well as a communal kitchen and coin laundry. Choose from dormitories, singles, doubles, twins and a family room that can squeeze up to four people, and has an ensuite bathroom.
Dorms from ¥2,900, twins/doubles from ¥3,600 per person
This renovated hostel sits just around the corner from the creaky old Asakusa Hanayashiki, so once you’re done relaxing in its ‘Zen style’ surrounds, you can get your adrenaline up again with a roller coaster ride. If theme parks aren’t your thing, you could always just enjoy the free tea and coffee in the 24-hour lounge instead.
Dorms from ¥2,950, twins/doubles from ¥4,600 per person
Tokyo's largest backpacker hostel is as functional as you'd expect. Fluent English speakers dispense tourist information 24 hours a day, and the early check-in and late check-out times are a plus. The kitchen area and 24-hour bar/café bring a little sense of community to what's otherwise a slightly impersonal (though scrupulously clean) facility.
Dorms from ¥3,000, twins ¥8,500
Ultra-cheap backpacker hostels
The oldest member in Khaosan's mini-empire of Asakusa hostels has the best location – right on top of the subway station – and one of the lowest rates. It's been overshadowed by some of its successors, mind you: while you can expect the same friendly service and free Wi-Fi, the rooms are unusually cramped and the facilities are really starting to show their age.
Dorms from ¥2,200, twins ¥2,500 per person
While most of Khaosan's hostels are clustered around the Asakusa area, this outlier lurks in the backstreets of Bakurocho, within easy walking distance of Akihabara. The design is a little fancier than you'd expect in an average hostel, with quirks including dormitory 'cabin beds' that do a passable imitation of what you'd find in a capsule hotel.
Dorms from ¥2,200, twins ¥3,000 per person
A night’s stay at this dormitory-style hostel will set you back just ¥2,200, making it one of the cheapest options in Tokyo. The rock-bottom price at Tokyo Backpackers doesn’t mean you’ll be slumming it, though – rooms are clean and modern and there's free Wi-Fi, a shared living room and kitchen, plus an entire floor that's women-only.
If you're looking for a cheap hostel somewhere other than eastern Tokyo, your options get more limited. The DIY-till-I-die Yadoya Guesthouse in Nakano offers a welcome change of scenery, though it's not without its caveats. Expect to find plenty of long-term residents amongst the backpackers, and be warned that the management is a lot less hands-on than at other hostels.
Aizuya Inn offers a laidback atmosphere, eclectic music and multilingual staff who can even give advice on opening a bank account or getting medical care. Guests sleep on futons in tatami-mat rooms, and the price includes free Wi-Fi, a teeny kitchen and a lounge with complimentary soft drinks – though not the coin-operated showers.
Dorms ¥2,550, singles from ¥3,750, twins from ¥6,550