By Bonson Lam
What is your definition of luxury? Four kinds of gourmet bread; the kind that is soft and airy on the inside, flaky and fragrant on the outside? Or homemade Japanese rice with herbs and pickles? Or is it designer magazine like settings, chic monochrome decor, colorful libraries, an in-house bar and cafe? Maybe it is the ability to speak in your own language and being able to be understood?
The Piece Hostel in Kyoto does all that, plus more. While the phrase luxury hostel sounds like an oxymoron, it is a phenomenon that is becoming more popular with independent travelers. This idea of luxury is based on the concept of spending very little on accommodation, and then being able to splash out on culturally rich experiences during the day. The room is just a place to sleep at night, while a chic lounge and reception area give the place a feel that is above the ordinary. Piece Hostel is good value for single travelers with prices from 2300 yen. They also have single rooms from 3000 yen, twin/double rooms from 6000 yen, as well as family rooms for 4 people. However for couples who want their own bathroom, the Toyoko Inn or Dormy Inn may represent better value with ensuite bathrooms, especially with the Dormy Inn which has a luxurious hot spring onsen on the top floor.
The philosophy of Piece Hostel is that it wants to be a piece of your journey in Kyoto. It doesn’t want to represent the entire memory of your Kyoto stay, just a piece.
Admittedly this hostel does not feel like a traditional Kyoto Merchant house. There are no macha green tea colored noren curtains or the smell of a fresh tatami mat, characteristics that are more in abundance at Roujiya or even some of the rooms at Hana Hostel. Instead it has a glam-packing hostel feel, with minimalist black and white lights and concrete walls like a contemporary art gallery, a bit like Khaosan Hostel meets the Hotel Anteroom just down the road in Kujo. On the other hand, if you are prepared to spend a bit more for a private luxury room, but keep the contemporary art feel, check in at the Hotel Kanra near Gojo Station.
The library and lounge area on the other hand has a style that balances comfort and style. Chic art books along with travel guides in the library, and barrel like bar stools in the cafe makes it conductive to catch up with your friends or room-mates. Unlike some hotels where Wi-Fi is limited to the lobby, there is complementary Wi-Fi in all rooms, so the lounge is not filled with people glued to their smart phones or tablets.
In my opinion there are four places in a hostel that are conducive to striking up a conversation with the other guests. They are the dormitory room, shared bathroom, kitchen and dining / lounge area. Here the dorms have black privacy curtains and the beds face away from the entrance like a capsule hotel, almost designed to avoid conversation. On the other hand the communal dining area at breakfast is a great place to meet people. The selection of gourmet bread is a talking point in itself, being better than most business hotels. Do you want some walnut and olive buns? Yes please! The dining tables themselves are quite small, and it seems that every guest is having breakfast at the same time, so with such proximity you can’t help but talk. This is quite a feat for such a large hostel, as generally speaking, the larger the hostel, the more anonymous it gets. In Kyoto if you want to make friends, it is easier if you stay in a small hostel, like Roujiya. Once a place has more than 30 guests, like the Khaosan or pretty much any hostel with elevators, any meaningful conversation is limited to your room-mates. Where larger hostels like the Khaosan come in is with structured activities, like parties or walking tours, as a way of breaking the ice.
Next to the dining area is a big map of Kyoto city on the wall, the type that invites you to talk about where you want to go with your new found friend. It is also next to the reception, so if you need some suggested itineraries, it becomes a handy reference point. Like most Kyoto hostels it comes with spotless facilities, laundry machines as well as bicycle rental. With the intense level of competition between hostels in Kyoto city, anything less would struggle to survive.
It is time to make your own adventure in Kyoto!
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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.