Tokyo has no old, grand hotels in the tradition of the Peninsula in Hong Kong or the Raffles in Singapore; it has hardly any old hotels, period. But what the city's hotels may lack in quaintness or old grandeur is more than made up for by excellent service -- for which the Japanese are legendary -- as well as cleanliness and efficiency. Be prepared, however, for small rooms. Space is at a premium in Tokyo, so with the exception of some rooms in very expensive hotels, rooms seem to come in three sizes: minuscule, small, and barely adequate.
Unfortunately, neither does Tokyo have many first-class ryokan, or Japanese-style inns. I suggest, therefore, that you wait for your travels outside Tokyo to experience a first-rate ryokan. Alternatively, most of Tokyo's upper-bracket hotels offer at least a few Japanese-style rooms, with tatami mats, Japanese bathtubs (deeper and narrower than the Western version), and futons. Although these rooms tend to be expensive, they're usually large enough for four people. There are also inexpensive Japanese-style inns in Tokyo. In fact, if you're on a tight budget, a simple Japanese-style inn is often the cheapest way to go.
On the other hand, if you're looking for luxury, Tokyo certainly doesn't disappoint. First-class Japanese hotels have always prided themselves in providing the utmost in care and service, and the recent infusion of foreign-owned luxury hotels, including The Peninsula Tokyo, Mandarin Oriental, and the Ritz-Carlton, has only upped the ante.
Other trends in the hotel industry include a boom in business-oriented hotels; among my favorites is the Tokyu Stay chain, offering rooms complete with kitchens and laundry machines and reduced rates for guests staying longer than a week. Thankfully, a growing number of hotels are also switching from paid in-room Internet connections to free service, though Wi-Fi is not as ubiquitous as in the U.S. Nonsmoking floors are common in virtually all hotels except for some of the inexpensive ones, particularly Japanese-style inns. All hotels also have air-conditioning (a must in Tokyo) and all but the cheapest also have private bathrooms (most with tub/shower combinations).
Finally, the recent economic downturn has also affected Japan's hotels, which translates into bargain rates once unheard of. Whereas in the not-too-distant past hotels adhered to their published rack rates, today they are just as likely to offer deals, especially on their websites.
Because Tokyo's attractions, restaurants, and nightlife are widely scattered, and because the public transportation system is fast and efficient (I've provided the nearest subway or train stations for each listing), there's no one location in Tokyo that's more convenient than another -- and because this is one of the most expensive hotel cities in the world, the overriding factor in selecting accommodations will likely be cost. I've divided Tokyo's hotels into price categories based upon two people per night, including tax and service charge: Very Expensive hotels charge ¥50,000 and above, Expensive hotels range from ¥32,000 to ¥50,000, Moderate hotels offer rooms from ¥16,000 to ¥32,000, and Inexpensive accommodations offer rooms for less than ¥16,000. Unless otherwise indicated, units have private bathrooms.
Taxes & Service Charges -- Most hotel rates provided in the listings include a 5% government tax. In addition, an additional local hotel tax will be added to bills that cost more than ¥10,000 per person per night: ¥100 is levied per person per night for rates between ¥10,000 and ¥14,999; rates of ¥15,000 and up are taxed at ¥200. Furthermore, upper-class hotels and most midrange hotels add a service charge of 10% to 15% (cheaper establishments do not add a service charge, because no service is provided). Unless otherwise stated, the prices given include all taxes and service charges.
Very Expensive & Expensive -- Tokyo's top hotels can rival upper-range hotels anywhere in the world. Although many of the city's best hotels may not show much character from the outside, inside they're oases of subdued simplicity where hospitality reigns supreme. In addition to fine Japanese- and Western-style restaurants, they may also offer travel agencies, business centers, guest relations officers to help with any problems or requests you may have (from making a restaurant reservation to finding an address), shopping arcades, cocktail lounges with live music, spas, and health clubs with swimming pools. Unfortunately, health clubs and swimming pools usually cost extra -- anywhere from ¥2,000 to an outrageous ¥5,000 per single use; I've noted where extra fees are imposed (if no fee is given, entrance is free). Some hotel chains have membership clubs, allowing you to use pools for free. Best of all, membership is free. Note, too, that outdoor pools are generally open only in July and August.
Rooms in upper-range hotels come with such standard features as minibars, cable TVs with international broadcasts such as CNN and on-demand pay movies, high-speed Internet or wireless connections (the more expensive the hotel, the more likely you'll have to pay extra for it), clocks, radios, yukata, duvet-covered beds, hot-water pots and tea (and sometimes coffee, but you usually pay extra for it), hair dryers, and private bathrooms with tub/showers (very expensive hotels usually have separate tub and shower areas, as well as small TVs you can watch from the tub). All also have washlet toilets, a combination toilet and spray bidet. Because they're accustomed to foreigners, all upper-range hotels employ English-speaking staff and offer nonsmoking floors. Services provided include 24-hour room service, same-day laundry and dry-cleaning service, and complimentary English-language newspapers, such as the Japan Times, delivered to your room. Many hotels also offer executive floors, which are generally on the highest floors and offer such perks as private lounges with separate check-in, more in-room amenities, free continental breakfasts and cocktails, extended check-out times, and privileges that can include free use of the health club. At just a few thousand yen more than regular rates, these can be quite economical.
Hotels in the Very Expensive category charge ¥50,000 and up. In addition to the recommendations we've listed, The Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo, 1-8-3 Marunouchi (tel. 866/565-5058 in the U.S., or 03/6739-7888; www.shangri-la.com), opened in 2009 adjacent to Tokyo Station as Tokyo's newest luxury property, with 202 rooms, two restaurants, a health club, pool, and spa, with rates beginning at ¥60,000 for a single or double.
Prices for hotels in the Expensive category range from ¥32,000 to ¥50,000.
Moderate -- Moderately priced accommodations vary from tourist hotels to business hotels, with business hotels making up the majority. Catering primarily to traveling Japanese businessmen, a business hotel is a no-frills establishment with tiny, sparsely furnished rooms, most of them singles along with a few twins (double rooms are in the minority), with barely enough space to unpack your bags. If you're a large person, you may have trouble sleeping in a place like this. Primarily just a place to crash for the night, these rooms usually have everything you need -- minuscule private bathroom, TV, telephone, radio, clock, yukata, Internet connections (either charged or free), hair dryer, hot-water pot with tea, and usually a minibar or an empty fridge you can stock yourself. There's usually no room service, and sometimes not even a lobby or coffee shop, although there may be vending machines that dispense beer and soda. There may be same-day laundry service as well, if you give up your laundry by 10am (no laundry service is available Sun or holidays). Some business hotels may not offer nonsmoking rooms, though this is increasingly rare, especially in Tokyo. On the plus side, they're usually situated in convenient locations near train or subway stations. If you're interested simply in a clean and functional place to sleep rather than in roomy comfort, a nondescript business hotel may be the way to go.
Prices of hotels in the Moderate category range from ¥16,000 to ¥32,000.
Inexpensive -- It's difficult to find inexpensive lodgings in Tokyo; the price of land is simply prohibitive. You can, however, find rooms -- tiny though they may be -- for less than ¥15,000 a night for two people, which is pretty good considering that you're in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Inexpensive accommodations include a bed or futon and (usually) phone, TV, heating, air-conditioning, and usually Internet connections (either in-room or via lobby computers, usually at no charge). Unless otherwise indicated, units also have private bathrooms and are generally spotless. Inexpensive Japanese-style rooms account for about half in this category; they're described in more detail under "Japanese-Style Accommodations."
Many foreigners find Japan so expensive that they end up becoming youth hostel regulars, even though they may never consider staying in one in other countries. There's no age limit at hostels in Japan (except children younger than 4 may not be accepted), and although most require a youth-hostel membership card, they often let foreigners stay without one for about ¥600 extra per night. However, there are usually quite a few restrictions, such as a 9 or 10pm curfew, a lights-out policy shortly thereafter, an early breakfast time, and closed times through the day, generally from about 10am to 3pm. In addition, rooms usually hold many bunk beds or futons, affording little privacy. On the other hand, these are certainly the cheapest accommodations in Tokyo.
Hotels in the Inexpensive category charge less than ¥16,000. In addition to the recommendations we've listed, Tokyu Stay Higashi-Ginza, which, despite its name, is actually near the Tsukiji Fish Market at 4-11-5 Tsukiji (tel. 03/5551-0109; station: Tsukijijo), offers single rooms starting at ¥9,400 and twins at ¥14,700, all with TVs with DVD/video players, microwaves, combination washers/dryers, and free Internet; all but the cheapest rooms also have kitchenettes.