Sunday, August 30, 2015

Japan trip Summer 2015 part 7 - Airbnb & accomodations
My friend introduced me to Airbnb for another trip we have upcoming at the end of the year. I've heard about it before, but I haven't personally known anyone who tried/trusted it before, so I had never considered it a serious option. Since S and I were paying for this trip entirely ourselves (previously when we traveled with my parents, they'd foot some of the bills like lodging or some meals that we'd eat together but not everything either obviously), we decided to check out what our options were in our price point with Airbnb since the hotels we usually stay at were a bit out of our price range, and our stay would be a bit longer which would mean higher accommodation cost in general as well.

We had a lot of discussion about where we wanted to stay and what our priorities were, but these options were all easy to assess and view with Airbnb's search features. They don't give you the exact address of the apartment (I think for safety reasons), but you do get a circle on a map with the location contained inside of it which is reasonably good enough. The listings usually give you an idea of how far away they are from the station as well.
The reservation process is pretty simple and it might vary with different hosts. The site isn't complicated though, and you can easily figure it out without having any prior experience with it. We picked one apartment in Tokyo and one in Osaka. Both hosts contacted us very quickly after making the reservation with more instructions specific to their listings, and prior to leaving for Japan, we felt well prepared and comfortable with the choices we made.

Osaka Airbnb apartment -

Sorry, I know I didn't take very good pictures wtf. We were just so eager to get in and take a break lol. And S unloads his stuff so fast, it's hard for me to take pictures that don't have his stuff in it.
This was where we were staying directly after getting off the plane. We decided to pick this apartment in particular because we liked the price and the location of the apartment in relation to the station. There were other options that we looked at in Umeda and Tennoji, but since we were definitely planning on catching the shinkansen and wanted to deal with luggage as little as possible on the trains, Shin-Osaka wasn't a bad choice for the price. It also worked out because we were able to catch a Haruka express train straight to Shin-Osaka from the airport and there was plenty of space for our bags.

The host had provided detailed instructions with pictures for how to get to the apartment from Shin-Osaka station. It wasn't very complicated, but I'm glad I had them printed out because we were not in the mood to get lost after a long flight, a long wait in immigration, a long train ride and then melting in the heat. We were able to find the apartment quickly and followed the instructions to retrieve the key from the mailbox. That took two or three tries to figure out, but it was probably because we were trying to rush it lol.

Inside the apartment was as described, although I think the pictures made it seem bigger than it is. That's not really anyone's fault though, and I think if you're familiar with the average hotel room size in Japan, this apartment size shouldn't be a surprise to you. The entrance hallway was a bit narrow though, and we weren't sure where to put all of our bags. We ended up having one in the closet, one in the entranceway and one in front of the washing machine. Thankfully we didn't have many things at that point.

We wanted to try and use the pocket wifi immediately. For some reason, we had a lot of trouble connecting to it. I don't think it was a typo error because we literally each tried it at least ten times and neither of us could get it. I ended up trying to connect to wifi in a 7-Eleven down the block to try to contact the host to help troubleshoot us. The host responded pretty quickly for it being almost midnight but he wasn't able to help us because the information provided is pretty much all there is. In the meantime, I restarted my phone because I accidentally started an app update. When I tried the pocket wifi password again, it miraculously worked on the first try. Wtf.

I think the bed is supposed to be a double, but it's a small double by American standards. S and I both fit on it, but it ended up being more comfortable for me to sleep on the side on one of the extra sets of bedding from the closet for most of the nights lol. Thankfully, that was an option. I think there was actually bedding for 3 people total (including the bed). 

During our stay, the host definitely made us feel welcome and asked if we had any questions. We were only staying for four nights, but everything we needed, we pretty much had. The only thing I could use more of was counter space but that's probably specific to me. I'm not sure how other people deal with it but there was no place to put anything in the bathroom because it's essentially a large shower room with a sink. I guess you just have to bring your things out and in with you when you need it. That's also where the only mirror is in the room as well and it's pretty small. If we had stayed longer, I would have considered buying another mirror.

All in all, we considered our stay in the Osaka Airbnb apartment pretty successful. We had a bit of a bumpy start with the pocket wifi, but that was through no fault of the host and he did try his best to help when I messaged him. The check in and check out process was easy and clear, as were the general instructions. Our host was enthusiastic without being annoying, and we felt welcome in his apartment which was in a good location at a great price.

Tokyo Airbnb apartment -
Sorry so few pictures again. I swear, we are always just drenched in sweat by the time we get in and I can't be fussed with the photos before all of our stuff is sprawled everywhere.
The apartment we rented in Tokyo was in Shinagawa. We stayed in Shinagawa during our two previous trips at the Prince Hotel and really liked the location in Tokyo. We knew this apartment was perfect for us when we saw the listing, and I already had a general idea of where it was located before we even got there because we were familiar with the area and the station. It was a little pricier than the Shin-Osaka apartment but also in a better location imo. We were planning to arrive a little early, so I had messaged the host to ask if we could check-in a few hours early knowing that no one had booked the room before us based on the listing availability, and he allowed it.

The instructions the host provided to us upon reservation were brief but effective. The location is fairly straightforward anyway, so you don't need lots of instruction. The actual apartment guidebook was printed in hardcopy inside the room with specifics about sorting trash, using the AC, water temp and tv remotes, etc etc. Our host also had signs posted inside the apartment with extra reminders about smoking and things like that. I actually liked that there was so much guidance because I didn't have to guess about whether I was doing something right or not. He also had English labels on the shampoo, conditioner, body wash and hand soap which would be really useful if we weren't able to read Japanese.

This apartment is actually a bit bigger than the Osaka one, and we preferred the layout of this one better as well. We had more luggage by this point, but there was still easily space for everything. There was also more counter space in the bathroom and flat storage areas throughout the apartment (although same in the mirror being only in the bathroom). It also came with pocket wifi which we were able to connect to with no problem. We had a slight blip on Day 8 when it died, but I doubt that that was the wifi's fault and definitely not the host's fault. It was probably user error in some way or just a glitch.

Like in the Osaka apartment, the bed was on the small side. Instead of being squished during the night, I decided to use the extra bedding and the convertible lounger and sleep separately lol. I really didn't mind it too much, and we did so much during the day that I usually slept pretty well at night.

This host definitely had a slightly different style than the previous host, but still effective, and we still felt welcome. We didn't run into any problems, and he had good communication and response times. We had asked if it would be possible to get items mailed to the apartment during our stay, but unfortunately we could not. Apparently, he had some bad experiences with guests and mail before. (I'm sure this varies by host.)

I would definitely look to stay in this apartment again if I wanted to stay in Shinagawa. I really liked the location. It was close to the station, but we didn't have to deal with train noise. There was also a 7-Eleven immediately downstairs which was incredibly convenient. The only downside (and this isn't necessarily mentioned in the listing) is that there's one flight of stairs that you have to use in order to access the elevator which starts from the second floor. This isn't a problem if you're able bodied, but it could be an issue otherwise. It's also an issue if you're like me and have a hard time getting two unwieldy 50lb suitcases up and down since they're not exactly ADA compliant and actually slightly steep lol. S was able to help me, but otherwise, I might have ended up taking 10 minutes to get down them carefully to avoid falling. (Going up and down was hard actually because the weight is so unevenly distributed when I'm carrying them and the steps are so small and steep.)

The Westin Osaka (again) -

For our last night in Japan, we chose to stay at the Westin Osaka. We stayed there for the first time during our spring trip for 3 nights and really enjoyed it. The location is not the best, but the shuttle to and from Osaka station makes up for it. Well actually, the room size is what makes up for it lol. The rooms are huge. I was able to take better pictures in this room because S has enough space to start taking up himself, and I still have the opportunity to take photos before he gets his things in them because there's so much space available lol. Our room had a king bed and a bathroom with a tub and a shower. It's such a dramatic change from the apartments we stayed in, but also ofc, there's a price difference as well.

Besides having a great experience last time, the main reason we picked the Westin over any other hotel in Osaka is because of the airport shuttle. KIX is pretty far from Umeda, and we definitely didn't want to hassle with our luggage in a crowded train or station, so we knew we would want to catch a shuttle. The Westin is the first stop that the airport shuttle makes so it's not hard for us to get a seat and we don't have to worry about there being room for our baggage underneath. Plus, we knew we would be able to leave our luggage in the lobby after checking out. There are other hotel stops along the way but those hotels were either expensive or already booked, so even more reason to go with the Westin lol.

Our check-in time was 02:00pm, but we were able to get into our room about 20 minutes early which was really great. We had forwarded our luggage from Shinagawa and it had arrived one day before us, but the hotel was able to receive and store it without issue. Also sent in the mail was S's fishing rods that he purchased in Tokyo. Instead of having to deal with it himself, he elected to have the store ship it to the Westin as he had done previously. These were all waiting for us when we arrived and were brought up to our room by an employee.

There wasn't really anything extraordinarily different than our last stay except that we had a room with 1 king bed instead of 2 double beds lol. I've never slept in a king bed before. It's so huge lol. We received great customer service again from every employee, and we took full advantage of whatever we could for only staying one night lol.
Full length mirror ++++
After a good night's sleep in a huge bed, we checked out a bit early, left our stuff at the bell desk and was able to explore for our last remaining hours carefree. Familiarity is really a huge feature for me, and I know I can trust the Westin Osaka.

Pros and cons of Airbnb based on our experience. Some of these might be specific to apartments in Japan though, especially in comparison to getting a room at a hotel. It's not meant to be an exhaustive list for all Airbnb lodgings.

Airbnb pros:
  • Price - Cheaper than hotels we usually stay at but still has similar features.
  • Amenities - Washing machine and kitchen appliances. The washing machine in each place was a life saver because our clothes were a mess at the end of each day with how much sweating we were doing. We didn't use the kitchen areas as much, but it was really nice to have them as options. I used the microwave once or twice. 
  • Pocket wifi - This is technically an amenity but very important to us so it gets its own bullet point. On our previous trip, we rented a pocket wifi from a company and paid X amount of money for it based on how many days we used it. For this trip, we made sure each apartment had pocket wifi included in the reservation. That was a cost and detail that we no longer had to worry about or deal with. Since we were already happy with the price of each apartment on their own, the pocket wifi being included was like the icing on the cake.
  • Location choice - While we were doing our initial search, we noticed that there were a lot more choices because they can be in any residential area, whereas hotels are usually more just in major hubs. There's nothing wrong with that, but that usually means they're more expensive as well. Locations is less "popular" areas tend to be cheaper.
  • Personal interaction - Both hosts were extremely receptive, easy to reach and apologetic if they took more than a few hours to respond. I think this is because a lot of reservations rely on reviews, and they want to do their best so you leave them positive feedback. And that's great. Hotels tend not to care as much in my experience. One negative review out of a thousand isn't going to make a lot of difference to them but it's not the same for many Airbnb hosts. I also knew that both hosts had good English language skills (ahead of time) based on their listings (Airbnb usually has some indication of language proficiency). At some hotels, it can be hit or miss depending on what staff is working.

Airbnb cons:
  • Keys - There's only one key. This may be different for other lodgings, but for the apartments we stayed at, there was only one key and that was the only way to access the room. This isn't a huge deal if you're traveling alone. However, if you're traveling with a companion or more people, then you have to all be together in order to access the apartment. We were unable to split up very much because our fall back plan (if someone gets lost) is to meet back at the hotel usually because you can just sit and relax in the room and wait - no big deal. But with only one person having access and it being really hot in the summer, you don't want to go back to the apartment and wait downstairs in the heat for an hour or something until the other person potentially comes back. This might have been a specific problem for us because we also only had one pocket wifi and if we were separate, only one person would have it and the other wouldn't have a way of contacting them without international charges. This may not be an issue for other people, but it was definitely something that affected our stay. We were able to work around it a few times, but in comparison to staying at a hotel where you can easily get two room keys for two people, this was definitely an inconvenience worth noting for us. Also, if you lose the key, that's a HUGE problem lol.
  • Extra careful - I mean, we're not assholes or anything when we stay in hotels, but I just feel like we have to be extra considerate when we stay in the Airbnb rooms. There's lots of instructions that the hosts would like you to follow and you, as a visitor, get feedback too, so you likely feel extra pressure to be a respectful guest. We always did our best to make sure we turned off electrical appliances, locked up, etc before leaving.  
  • Trash - In Japan, you have to sort your trash. In a hotel, there's staff to do that for you. When you stay in an apartment, you have to do that yourself. One host's instructions mentioned that it was very important to do this correctly or he could receive a harsh penalty for it. I'd say that this is a very small grievance compared to others, but we did stress a little about making sure we'd get it right.
  • Larger parties - When we travel with my parents, we usually stay in two different rooms in the same hotel. If we wanted to rent two different apartment rooms, it might be kind of hard to get two in the same building. It's not impossible, but it's not as easy as just getting two rooms from a hotel. An alternative would be for us to rent an entire house or something, but then that brings a different price and for Japan, it probably wouldn't be as convenient. 
  • Strict cancellation policy (varies by host) - Both hosts had a strict cancellation policy where once we reserved, the most money we'd be able to get back if we cancelled was 50%. Hotels usually offer more leniency. 
  • Luggage - Because our flights leaving Japan are late in the day, we usually ask to leave our bags at the hotel past check-out until we come back. This is precisely why we felt the need to get a hotel for the last night. If we weren't able to leave them at the hotel, we would have had to either drag them around with us or put them in lockers. Neither of those are good options for us because we have so many bags and a number of them were heavy and big. You can't do this with Airbnb unless you book an extra night. Once you check out, you're done.
The cons list seems a little long but I think it's because it needed more explanation. But the factors in the pros hold more weight imo (like price). Honestly, all in all, we had a good experience with Airbnb and our specific hosts. I do definitely see Airbnb as a valid option for travel accommodations in the future, and I would recommend that others at least check it out to see what their choices are regardless of where you're traveling to. I don't think I'm ready to give up hotels completely, especially because there are definite perks to staying in one, but I'm really glad we tried it out and don't have any regrets with how we booked. Based on what my personal needs are, in the future, I would likely do something similar where we stay the bulk of the trip in an Airbnb apartment and the last night at a hotel for convenience.

Tips: Print out your instructions from your host (one copy per guest in case you get separated for some reason)
Restart your phone if you can't connect to pocket wifi, especially if you're trying to connect when you're first entering the country
Download the Airbnb app (at least during your stay) because it's easier to communicate with your host that way
Take note of the address & phone number of your first accommodation (regardless of Airbnb or hotel) for the customs/immigration form that you have to present upon entering the country. I usually save it on my phone in my calendar in the notes for the dates that we stay there or something. It's also good to have besides filling out the form, just in case.

  Japan trip Summer 2015 posts:
Part 1 - Osaka & Kobe: Day 1 - 2
Part 2 - Kyoto & Namba: Day 3
Part 3 - Tokyo-based: Day 4 - 6
Part 4 - Sendai: Day 7
Part 5 - Tokyo-based: Day 8 -9
Part 6 - Osaka: Day 10 - 11
Part 7 - Airbnb & accommodations
Part 8 - Liz Lisa purchases
Part 9 - Other shopping
Part 10 - Travel notes

  Japan trip Spring 2015 posts
  Japan trip Summer 2014 posts


  1. Omg, trash is definitely a con when staying in an apartment in Japan - my friends and I thought the same thing. It also sucks cause Japan using lots of cute packaging to make you buy stuff but when you get home - you just have to sort through it all and throw it away. We literally had to take trash out every other day (there was 4 of us tho, but still!)

    1. Lol yeah it's an inconvenience to think about but I'm glad Japan does it I guess bc it must have some environmental benefits? And it's cool because everyone is so respectful of the rules lol. But it's a bit hard to get the hang of at first I think.

  2. Oh ahahaa I thought Airbnb was a wifi brand!
    We're staying in an apartment using a similar service to Airbnb, and I'm wondering how it's going to go. It sounds almost exactly the same, just a different company I guess. It'll be our first time not staying in a hotel, but it's so much cheaper so I hope it works out!

    The places you were staying looked lovely!

    1. Hope your trip is fantastic! If you're still looking for a pocket wifi brand, we used Pupuru last time and liked the service and the price.

  3. Wonderful! I have used Airbnb this summer and I can see how it would make sense for it to incorporate a company like Osaka!