Making Yourself At Home: Vacation Rentals Are a Plus With Kids in Japan

Finding “Home”

Accommodation in Japanese cities is ridiculously expensive.  No matter how far out you stay or how low-budget you try to go, prices are high and space is minimal. If you’re not careful you’ll find yourself in a hotel room where you can’t even turn around, let alone squeeze your kids on the floor to sleep. Finding spaces that work for families is easier outside Tokyo, and even more so in smaller cities and town, but our most recent trip was only to big cities. We had no choice but to dig deep for good options for our family with two kids under 4.

After much investigating we opted to rent an apartment for our time in Tokyo.

Tokyo apartment kitchen

The tiny but functional kitchen in our Tokyo rental apartment. The front entrance is visible just beyond the kitchen.

We did find several hotel options that could have worked, such as the Citadines Aparthotel. However for a similar price to the hotels, with an apartment rental we could get a little more space plus a kitchen and washing machine.

We rented a tiny, 7th floor apartment labeled a “1-bedroom” by the rental company, Live in Asia. It would would barely pass for a studio apartment in New York City. The “1-bedroom” moniker only worked because of a sliding door through the middle of the space. Nice for privacy, did nothing for sound.

The bedroom in our 1-bedroom Tokyo apartment.

The tiny double (twin plus?) bed in our 1-bedroom Tokyo apartment.

We paid about $260/ night and this was after negotiating down the price as visitors to Japan were very few due to the tsunami earlier in the year. No, Tokyo is not cheap.

One pro of renting an apartment vs. a hotel is that we found ourselves in a residential neighborhood rather than a tourist district. This meant we were close to a large grocery store and pharmacy, as well as many restaurants and a train station. Two other big plusses for us in an apartment were having a kitchen, albeit a tiny kitchen

Anna's bed

Anna (1) slept in her Peapod bed in the closet while Grace (4) slept on the floor in the kitchen.

(think RV trailer kitchen), and a washing machine. We still ate most meals out but had breakfast at home each morning. As for washing clothes, we have never seen a public laundromat in Japan so when traveling with kids it was essential to us to have easy access to a washing machine and avoid hotel laundry expenses.

In Kyoto we also rented but a private house called Koto Inn through VRBO. The home was located in a residential neighborhood but very close to the subway, busses, restaurants and a number of tourist attractions including the Heian Shrine. We loved feeling part of a neighborhood yet being able to quickly access public transportation, food and activities.

Front of machiya

Steve and Anna out front of the lovely machiya, The Koto Inn, near the Heian Shrine.

The rental house was very small, although significantly larger than our Tokyo digs and for a slightly lower cost. The Kyoto house, a traditional machiya, consisted of two small bedrooms with a small sitting/ eating area between them, plus a small but well-stocked kitchen and a good-sized bathroom/ laundry area.  The English-speaking owners provided an excellent orientation to the home and neighborhood, as well as written instructions in English for how to work everything in the home.  We found the home suitable for our needs and we loved the traditional old machiya style, which is a small old-fashioned wooden house.

Kids in Machiya

Grace and Anna hanging out in one of the machiya's bedrooms. Note the fragile paper screens in the background. Fragile but beautiful.

However “traditional” in Japan equals “fragile.” Think paper walls and delicate glass doors. Combine that with two small children and a few rainy days, which we had, and we discovered that renting such a home can be a little stressful with little ones. Our kids loved sleeping on the tatami floors and sitting on the floor to eat but given the delicate nature of old Japanese homes we would rent something more modern if we did it again, at least with such small children.  VRBO offers many good options in Kyoto, both modern and traditional. A machiya is a great option with older kids or non-mobile babies, a more modern/ less breakable home could be more restful for worried parents.

Note: For our full review of the Koto Inn in Kyoto visit the home’s site at VRBO and scroll down to the review entitled “A Lovely Place to Stay in Kyoto, A Little Difficult With Children.”

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One response to “Making Yourself At Home: Vacation Rentals Are a Plus With Kids in Japan

  1. You are so right on the rentals. We rented an amazing machiya in Kyoto when we were there last spring. It is definitely the way to go. So much cheaper (under $150 a night!) and a whole lot more room. We were worried about all of the rice paper too. Thankfully when we arrived the rice paper was not as thin as we thought it would be and our 2 year old pretty much ignored it. He was more interested in the door that separated the bathroom area from the kitchen :-)

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