By Bonson Lam
The last time I stayed in Kyoto, I was trying to decide between a luxury resort on the edge of town, or a budget hotel in the center of town. I was tempted by pictures of blissful spas, but I wanted to be in the middle of the action as well.
What do you look for in a hotel? A comfortable bed, clean rooms, and close to everything? Or a luxury resort with spas, five star restaurants, and beautiful gardens? If you are in the former category, the Toyoko Inn could be just right for you.
Toyoko Inn is one of the biggest business hotel chains in Japan, and now with hotels in China and South Korea as well. Business Hotels and Resorts are different. One reason is because they are used for different purposes. Five star resorts, like some ryokans or the Hyatt are a destination in itself, while business hotels are used as a base to see other destinations, as a means to an end.
Many resorts are located in scenic areas, where there are beautiful views. Guests can enjoy their holiday just by looking at the view from their room.
Business Hotels like Toyoko Inn on the other hand, are used as a base. For example, a visitor would leave their luggage in the hotel room, and then spend a whole day sightseeing outside the hotel.
The good thing about a Toyoko Inn is that you know what you are in for. Super clean rooms, pleasant homely beige and striped wallpaper, comfortable but firm beds, a bath/shower, complementary yukata pajamas, your own phone, a bar fridge, a writing desk, individually controlled reverse cycle air conditioning, complementary Japanese tea, and some convenient amenities, like a hot water kettle with a humidifier function, and pay TV on demand.
In the reception area there are a few complementary Internet laptops/PCs, Wi Fi, English and Japanese Newspapers, and a simple but hearty breakfast included in all tariffs each morning, consisting of miso soup, onegiri (Japanese rice balls (actually triangular shape) with seaweed or umeboshi (pickled plum), and sometimes croissants/ bread rolls, mini sausages or scrambled egg and Japanese style salads, like pasta salad with Japanese mayonnaise, or potato salad, plus Japanese or English tea and American Coffee. Of course if you prefer to drink something else, or sleep in past nine thirty and miss the breakfast, there are always the vending machines.
Being a home “base”, they also have luggage storage and coin operated washing machines and clothes dryers. This is a great idea when you are travelling for a long time and you run out of clothes (or socks!) Of course if you have time, you can do your laundry in your own bathroom and pull out the retractable clothes line to dry overnight. If you prefer fresh air, the windows open too.
The great thing about the Kyoto Hotel is that it is super central, just minutes’ walk from the subway or Hankyu line. From Itami airport you can come by bus or train (with transfers), while from Kansai Airport the Haruka train to JR Kyoto is the best bet, with a transfer at JR Kyoto for the subway or a fifteen minute walk.
It is also close to department stores and almost halfway between the Golden Temple (Kinkakuji) and Kiyomizu dera and the Gion district, so it is a perfect place to relax or recharge after a morning of shopping or sightseeing. I had a ground floor room, so I can duck in and out without waiting at the lifts. These lifts can get crowded during breakfast or check out time, so those extra minutes help you pack in more Kyoto sightseeing. The higher floors have a view, but not a great one. The lower floors will a view of the next buildings wall, so I ended up shutting the curtains.
There is parking available for six cars at 1200 yen per day, which needs to be reserved beforehand. As there are a number of Toyoko Inns in Kyoto, it is best to print the map out, whether you are driving or coming by public transport.
As most guests are Japanese, the staff themselves won’t speak too much English. However both the internet booking and check in process is really straightforward. The booking site is in several languages, and you can even change or cancel your booking up to a day ahead. They also provide slightly cheaper rates for single rooms, and discounts on Sundays. Sometimes they offer “Cinderella” plans where you get a discount for turning up with no reservation after midnight. I wouldn’t chance it though, as this hotel is usually full by midnight. With the check in, they hand you a bilingual form to fill in, and if you are a member of their loyalty program, you get a free night after 8 or 10 nights (depending which membership you take up, as well as discounts on Sundays. The card is free or just for a nominal amount for overseas members, like 1500 yen). You only have to stay at their hotels once a year or every two years (for overseas members) to maintain your currency, so it is worth it if you use them a lot. The other plus with members is that you can check in from 3pm instead of 4pm. I haven’t heard of anyone who managed to get a late checkout (after 10am) from them, however, if you have luggage they can store it for you free, either before or after your stay.
So for a first time traveler or someone who wants to use a central hotel to base themselves without needing too much help from the concierge, I would recommend the Toyoko Inn. If you don’t need to see all of Kyoto in a few days, or a repeat traveler who wants to just relax in one part of Kyoto, then some of the more distant ryokans or resorts are for you. On the other hand, if you like chatting with other guests and staff, and also want to share ideas on sightseeing, try the bed and breakfast like Hana Hostel, which is also close to Kyoto Station.
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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.