We have found that accommodation falls into three distinct categories. I’m ignoring homestays, B&Bs and apartment rentals here for the principal reason that we haven’t tried them! Booking can be made direct of through a booking agent. Along with the familiar ones we have found Japanican and Agoda to work well.

The first category is what can termed a western type hotel – i.e. western type rooms with the usual bed and bath/shower arrangement - and often referred to as business hotels. These are usually at least ten floors and can be found clustered around the main railway station in most cities. They include a mix of chains including Mitsui Garden, Daiwa Roynet, APA, Toyoko Inn, Dormy Inn, Richmond, JR and Route Inn and independents. They are all very, very similar, only varying on price and room size. Generally the room size is quite small so if there are two of you then sometimes a bit of choreography is needed. They are clean, comfortable and do the job – nearly always offering breakfast but not always a full restaurant. The breakfasts showcase the Japanese mastery of cooking eggs. The scrambled eggs are almost universally superb in the Escoffier style – creamy, soft and unctuous while made to order omelettes are always good too.
Western type hotels can be found near station concourses - this is Nagano 

The second category is what can loosely be described as a resort/holiday hotel often to be found in Onsen or beach/lake side locations. By and large this is where Japanese take their families for a break. The rooms are usually Japanese style (i.e. tatami mats and futons), sometimes western style rooms are also available and sometimes there are rooms that have both styles which mean you only end up using half the space! Either way there is much more space than in a western type hotel.
West meets East in a 'resort' hotel
These places are an absolute hoot and we always try and stay in one or two each visit. There are usually a variety of entertainments on offer and a good proportion of the guests spend their time in the hotel is yakutas, jackets and sandals. The grounds are often floodlit at night to provide diners with a distraction.
The grounds of a hotel at the coastal resort of Shirahama
Waving goodbye to a coachload of guests at Sounkyo!

Eating is either buffet, banquet or private rooms with prices to match. The banquet is a typical Japanese meal with endless courses some of which you cook at the table and generally help is at hand to advise on how to eat/cook, what is edible and what is for decorative purposes only! Finally the hotels have obligatory gift shops stuffed with items to take home to friends and relatives. Some of these items are a mystery to western guests and one we stayed in proudly offered bags of potatoes!
A banqueting room Japanese style

The third category is the Ryokan – a Japanese style guest house where you remove your shoes on entry and it is all Japanese dress, tatami mats, futons and bath houses! You can find Ryokans in town but in the country or in Onsens they will also offer dinner, served in your room (on the floor on a low table which can be quite uncomfortable) which your dedicated member of staff quickly turns into a bedroom once eating is done. If breakfast is offered it is likely to comprise a strange (and unrecognisable) choice of pickled items! Toilette slipper etiquette is more often to be found in Ryokans as house slippers are used around the rest of the hotel but must be swapped for toilet slippers when using the bathroom – easy to forget for visitors!
Fujioto Ryokan in Tsumago
Taking a meal in a Ryokan room
A typical Ryokan room
There is often little to distinguish a Ryokan like this one in Takayama

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