Japan has a reputation as an expensive country, but nevertheless it is still possible to travel there without ruining yourself. To reduce the budget devoted to accommodation, I propose a list of four cheap hotels in Kyoto (from 15 to 30 euros per night for low season rates). They are all equally typical, Japanese style, because it is a shame to travel to Japan while sleeping in impersonal hotels that could be found anywhere else in the world. I spent about ten days in Kyoto and I will give you all my visiting advice in a future article. Attention: if you go to Kyoto during the flowering of cherry trees, the hotels are booked well in advance and the prices are much higher.

A capsule and spa hotel

The Centurion Capsule & Spa is one of my favourite hotels in Kyoto. A mix between a designer capsule hotel and a spa with a Jacuzzi and sauna area based on the Japanese onsen model, thermal baths. Very recent (opened in 2016), it is a large and very clean establishment with English-speaking staff at the reception. There are several comfort ranges for the capsules and it is also possible to book family rooms for 4 or 6 people. There are mixed floors, and others reserved for men or women. Rates start from 2,500 yen per night and per person (approx. 21 euros). Common room are on the ground floor with Wi-Fi throughout the hotel and launderette. You can put your valuables in code lockers and leave your suitcase in front of your capsule. Located in the basement with the spa area, the showers are separate for men and women: you have to undress in the changing rooms and go naked, the same for the Jacuzzi and sauna. It is the same principle as in Japanese onsen, thermal baths. The advantages:
  • Very good location on Shijo-dori, between Karasuma and Kawaramachi stations, and very close to the Nishiki market, a district with lots of restaurants and bars to go out in the evening.
  • The spa area is open until 1am. A real pleasure to swim in the evening in the Jacuzzi with massaging water jets. As in the onsens, the water is enriched with radium, which gives it therapeutic properties.
  • A yukata, a kind of light kimono, is provided free of charge for the duration of the stay. We can put it on to go downstairs and take a shower at the spa. Typical Japanese experience guaranteed!
  • Many beauty products are provided, including shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, care oil, toothbrush, hair dryer, and even a smoothing iron...
  • Free luggage deposit. I was able to leave my suitcase there for two days to go to Osaka.
The disadvantages:
  • The capsules are not very well soundproofed. They are closed with a thin sliding wall and you can hear the noises of passing by and the neighbours snoring.
  • There is little room to store your things. We have to leave our suitcase or backpack in the hallway.
  • The capsules lack a little ventilation. It is better not to be claustrophobic, but this is the lot of all capsule hotels.

A ryokan capsule hotel with tatamis

Ryokan Kyoto Capsule is an interesting mix between two types of typically Japanese accommodation: capsule hotel and ryokan, traditional Japanese inns. You can sleep in a capsule with a tatami coating. It is a rather high-end capsule hotel, with very comfortable capsules and a good mattress. There are individual bathrooms and showers. We can also book private rooms with futons for those who want more privacy. Rates start from 3,500 yen (approx. 30 euros) per person per night. The hotel is located next to Kyoto's JR station. It's an advantage if you come and go by train, and it's convenient to take public transport to visit Kyoto and the surrounding area, but it's a bit sad too. The advantages:
  • Very warm welcome with staff who speak very good English and who give lots of information about the sites to visit, the good restaurants in the area, how to visit Kyoto... They even made a guide of several dozen pages that you can consult in its capsule.
  • Capsule with a comfortable and rather well soundproofed bed. I was not woken up by the round trips of the capsule neighbours as is often the case in hotels of this type in Japan.
  • Curiosity of the hotel: there is an android robot at the reception desk to ask and answer questions. Pretty funny and unusual.
  • Free tea and coffee in the common room, which also includes a kitchen area.
The disadvantages:
  • I didn't like the neighbourhood very much. It's a little out of town to go out in the evening in the busier neighbourhoods north of Kyoto.
  • The price. This is a slightly higher budget than the other hotels I propose in this list.

A ryokan guest house for women

Guest House Nanohana is a small family hotel that will suit those, or rather those, who want more privacy, because it is where I found the cheapest single rooms, starting at 3,600 yens (about 30 euros). But beware: this is a hotel for women only. It is a kind of mini ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, with very small private rooms with futons and tatamis. Once you unfold your futon, it takes up almost all the space. But at least it's a real private room, unlike capsule hotels which are closer to the dormitory with compartments. Showers and toilets are shared, but it's super clean and quiet. However, the Staff does not speak good English and therefore cannot give much information and advice on Kyoto visits. The advantages:
  • Very well located just next to the Nishiki market.
  • Free tea, coffee and cakes at will in the small common room. It's almost like a free breakfast.
  • Calm and intimacy in the mini-rooms.
The disadvantages:
  • It feels a little lonely and it's difficult to meet people there because whether it's the staff or the other customers, no one speaks English. It is a good hotel for a solo traveller who wants to rest and have a quiet hotel, but not to meet fellow travellers.
  • The website is entirely in Japanese and I did not find this hotel on the traditional booking sites. There is still an email address (info@guesthouse-nanohana.com) but exchanges in English will be limited. It's better to be able to have the reservation made by someone who speaks Japanese.

A Japanese style youth hostel

Gojo Guest House is a youth hostel located in an old Japanese wooden house. This is the cheapest accommodation I have found in Kyoto with rates starting at 2,000 yen (about 16 euros) per person per night. There are small Japanese style dormitories with futons and tatamis. It's a change from bunk beds! For those who usually travel to a youth hostel, this is the ideal option because it is a good mix between a low price and a typically Japanese atmosphere. There are also private rooms for two people. The advantages:
  • The staff is very friendly and speaks good English.
  • It is the ideal hotel for solo travellers who want to meet other travellers.
The disadvantages:
  • The disadvantage of dormitories: the noise of neighbours and the lack of privacy.
  • Practical tips for booking a cheap hotel in Kyoto:
Personally, when I travel, I always compare offers on booking sites such as Booking (as a priority), Hostelworld (for youth hostels) or Agoda (for Asia) to find a hotel. I look carefully at customer comments and promotional offers. The indicative rates of the four hotels I mentioned in this article are in low season and during the week. If you come to Kyoto on a weekend or in the spring when the cherry trees are in bloom, the prices will be higher. To find a cheap hotel, it is also better to avoid the very touristic district of Gion, where prices are higher. During my trip to Kyoto in December 2016, in the low season, I booked my hotels only a few days in advance. If you come in high season, it is better to book earlier, especially if you are several people or if you want a private room and not a capsule or a dormitory.