By Lisa Wallin
A question many Tokyo travellers ask is, where do I go for a hotel that is central and yet close to the airport line? One suitable for budget travellers yet clean and comfortable?
As you are more likely to be out than inside your room during the day, the Toyoko Inn Otuska may be suitable. If you want to know what you are in for, the Toyoko Inn could be a good choice.
Toyoko Inn is one of the biggest business hotel chains in Japan, and now with hotels in China and South Korea as well. Super clean rooms, pleasant homely beige and striped wallpaper, comfortable but firm beds, a bath/shower, complementary yukata pyjamas, your own phone, a bar fridge, a writing desk, individually controlled reverse cycle air conditioning, complementary Japanese tea, and some nice touches, like a hot water kettle with a humidifier function, and a TV showing Japanese channels with movies 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 vending machines.
Being more like a home base, they also have luggage storage and coin operated washing machines and clothes dryers. 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 beauty of staying in Otsuka is that it gives you a more authentic view of Tokyo life, one behind the stereotypical facades of Shibuya. This is the world that Haruki Murakami inhibits in the novel, Norwegian Wood. From Otsuka you can ride the Toden Arawaka tram line and go back in time to the 1960s, to Waseda University and the old family bookstores portrayed in the novel.
The other great thing about Otsuka is that it is quite central, just ten minutes on the loop line (JR Yamanote Line) to Ueno, where you can catch the Airport train to Narita. JR pass holders go a bit further to Tokyo to change for the Airport express. As Otsuka is a lot quieter than Shinjuku or Shinagawa, it is easy to board a train during peak hours, even if you are rolling a 23kg luggage case.
As there are two Toyoko Inns at Otsuka, be sure you know which one you booked at. But even if you forget, the friendly staff can help you. There are not a lot of high rises in Otsuka, and both hotels are easy to see from the north exit of the station. Kitaguchi (North Exit) No 1 Hotel is the one closest to the North Exit, while No 2 is about 2 minutes walk from No 1.
If you are on a lower level floor, you can easily walk down the fire stairs, so you can duck in and out without waiting for the lifts. These lifts can get crowded during breakfast or check out time, so those extra minutes help you pack in more sightseeing.
As most guests are Japanese, the staff themselves won't speak too much English. However both the internet booking and check-in process are really simple. The booking site is in several languages, and you can even change or cancel your booking up to a day ahead. You should print out the map just in case. 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 stays (depending which membership you take up, which is free or just for a nominal amount). You only have to stay at their hotels once a year or every two years (for overseas members) to maintain your currency. 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.
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