By Bonson Lam
Does the thought of brushing your teeth in front of total strangers make you blush or smile?
Staying at the hostel is a bit like living in a submarine, a share house or a summer camp, depending on whether your preference for communal living is a 1 or 10. If your preference dial is turned up 10, then you can be making friends at a hundred miles an hour. If your preference is a 5, where you want to make friends, but find it hard to break the ice, then the optional organized parties and activities at Khaosan Guesthouse would suit you to a tee. On the other hand, if your preference is a 1, then feel comfortable reading a book in the lounge or close the curtains around your bunk for some personal space.
It is a logistical and emotional challenge to run a big hostel, keeping everyone happy, making sure that all the processes working efficiently, so that no one is fighting for the best dorm bed in the room, or is so lonely that they are not enjoying their holiday.
The captain of this tight ship (I mean guesthouse) is Mr. Takahiko Kase, who despite his big responsibilities, is always smiling and have everything down pat. Mr. Kase has been to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, USA and China; which pretty much mirrors the top six nationalities visiting here, making him suitably qualified to fine tune the accommodation to best meet the guests’ needs. They have thought of everything here, with individually assigned beds and lockers with keys, rows of wash basins, an elevator and rows of computers, plus wi-fi on every floor. At the same time they have maintained a sense of intimacy, with the more expensive dorms having just three beds in the room, a beautiful Japanese tatami floored guest room that is more spacious than any that I have encountered in Kyoto, and a program with local university students to run local sightseeing tours and classes. Like other hostels here, they also run regular weekly parties to get guests to mingle with one another. With most guests in the twenties to forties, you are bound to learn something new with each encounter. This guesthouse does not cater for children under ten, however Hana Hostel is a good alternative.
Being a recent addition to the Kyoto guesthouse scene, the showers and toilets still retain the shiny new look and are immaculately clean, and better still there are private changing areas next to each cubicle, the changing area being bigger than the shower stall itself. Pity there isn't as much room to put your toiletries in the wash basin. It is not like there is no room, but it is not like you can spread out like at home.
While it may be daunting to talk to everyone in such a big hostel, it is worth it, especially in your dorm. At least you can work out what the others are like and their preferences, like do you want the air conditioning on at night and so forth. It is like being thrown in a share house for a few days. If you embrace the communal spirit, of when to socialize and when to leave people alone, you will like it here.
Like J Hoppers and Hana hostel, they run a program where longer term guests can stay for free in return for volunteering a few hours’ work each day. I caught up with Akira who is helping out this week, and he is full of enthusiasm about the place and Kyoto. Actually looking at the photos and testimonials on the wall, I am amazed at the depth of affection of the guests here have for Kyoto and Japan. Akira is actually from Taiwan, but likes Japan so much he has taken on a Japanese name, at least on his Facebook page. Another share mate in my dorm came all the way from Indonesia to experience anime and manga, and with the Kyoto International Manga Museum close by, I am sure he is going to have a good time. Other guests from Spain, Canada and all around the world look comfortable here, even though it will take you a long time to chat with all hundred guests!
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I knew my future was destined to be with Japan the moment I flew from Sydney to experience the atmospheric lane ways of Kyoto last century. From the skies above Sapporo to the old charm of Naha's alleyways, I have been enchanted by the beauty and variety on every island. I am humbled to have met many distinguished people in my role as Regional Partner, especially the national living treasures of Japan, such as the doll maker to the Imperial Family. From sushi cooking classes to Ninja training grounds I welcome your ideas on what you like from JapanTravel.com. Please visit us in Kyoto or Osaka and have some green tea or sake with us.