Traditional accommodation in Tokyo’s ritzy Minato Ward doesn’t get much cheaper than this…but there’s a catch.

“Stay in a Japanese-style room in the heart of the city! ‘Defect Plan’ at an old-fashioned ryokan inn where you can feel the atmosphere of Japan at a super cheap price!”

This is the ad that caught the eye of our reporter Masanuki Sunakoma when he was browsing accommodation sites online recently. Investigating further, he discovered that the special plan was being offered by a long-established inn that’s been in business for over 100 years in Minato Ward, Tokyo, and the price really was super cheap, costing just 6,000 yen (US$40.10) per adult per night.

Minato Ward is home to a large number of celebrities and foreign embassies, leading it to become known as one of the most glamorous neighbourhoods in Tokyo. Stays here don’t come cheap, so 6,000 yen was a bargain that Masanuki couldn’t resist, even as a “wakeari” (“defect”) deal. In his experience, “wakeari” deals denote a product or plan that’s heavily discounted due to it not being 100-percent perfect, but with Japan having such a high standard of service, he’s always been satisfied with what he’s received.

▼ So he booked a one-night stay and made his way over to Kasuga Ryokan.

Before he arrived, he’d described the price to us as “so cheap it’s scary”, but as it turns out, that wasn’t the only thing that would be scary about this stay. Starting from the front of the inn, with its dying ivy out the front, this ryokan had an eerie atmosphere, but that was partly due to it being such an old, longstanding inn in such a glamorous, built-up district.

▼ The ryokan was in a fantastic location on Sakurada Street, with a view of Tokyo Tower from the doorstep.

The inn is just a seven-to-eight minute walk from JR Tamachi Station or Mita Station on the Mita Line or Asakusa Line. Akabanebashi Station on the Oedo Line is even closer, about a five-minute walk away.

Masanuki arrived just after 8:30 p.m., and as soon as he stepped inside, he was whisked away from modern-day Tokyo to traditional Japan, with the ryokan retaining a lot of traditional design features, making it feel like a countryside inn. Kasuga Ryokan has been in operation for over 110 years, run by four generations of one family since 1907.

▼ As is usually the case with ryokan entryways, you’ll need to take your shoes off and put a pair of slippers on before checking in.

Masanuki was immediately wrapped up in a sense of nostalgia, with everything from the neatly arranged vinyl slippers, the national railway-designated inn sign, and the old public telephone taking him back decades.

The retro vibe made it feel as if he was worlds away from Minato Ward, and he felt he much preferred to stay in a quiet inn like this rather than a soulless business hotel.

After checking in, Masanuki was given a tour of the building, where he was shown to the public bath and shared washroom and toilets on the first floor, and the back entrance, which guests can use to enter and exit the building after 9 p.m.

▼ With his bearings now sorted, it was time for Masanuki to head to his guest room, which was located up the stairs right next to the entrance.

The dark wood panelling made the staircase look eerie at this time of night, but the halls were brightly lit so there was nothing to really be afraid of.

However, when he went to open the door to his guest room, he realised why this was the room for stays on the “defect plan”, because…

▼ …there was no key to the room!

According to the fine print in the plan, this stay comes with a super special price because there is no outside lock to the room. Because of this, staff advise that valuables should be left at the front desk.

However, as is often the case with wakeari deals, this wasn’t too bad, as you can still lock the door from the inside, so you don’t have to stay awake all night staring at the handle in fear that it might turn by the hand of a ghost or stranger wanting to get into your room.

▼ Turn the inside lock and you can sleep safe and sound.

The only time you have to worry is when you leave the room to go to the toilet or shower or otherwise pop out for a short time during your stay, as you’ll have to leave the room unlocked in order to get back in.

While that might be a dealbreaker for some, it wasn’t for Masanuki, who didn’t have any valuables with him and felt confident that he would be able to defend himself if he happened to find someone in his room after returning from his pre-bed bath.

As a wakeari deal, those who take up the offer know not to expect the same standards as full-fee paying customers, and it’s a pay-off that some customers, especially those on tight budgets, will be happy to make do with. Masanuki was happy with what he got for 6,000 yen — the knocks on the walls and slightly worn tatami mats didn’t faze him either — as the room had a TV, a low table and cushion, a clothes rack, and a cosy looking futon and yukata already laid out for him.

▼ He thought the sakura wood on the tokonoma alcove area was a nice touch as well.

The room is equipped with an air conditioner, which is an important thing to have in Japan during the sweltering summer months and freezing cold winters. When he thought about it, a room without an air conditioner would be worse in his eyes than a room without a room key, so he was grateful for this convenience.

The ceiling was as traditional as the room, with reeds creating an even cosier feel than a room in a business hotel.

Towels and a toothbrush were also provided, so all in all, Masanuki was happy with this cheap ryokan stay.

It was now time for Masanuki to take a bath, and that was another perk of staying here, as not all cheap accommodations have a public bath on site, meaning you have to visit a local one outside the facility and pay extra if you want to enjoy a good long soak.

As he made his way down the dark corridors, the old floorboards creaked under every step, reminding him of his grandma’s ageing house in the countryside. For him it was strangely comforting, and he loved the way the history and character of the building remained intact, but for some people, especially children, this scene would be like something out of a scary movie.

Exploring the inn late at night was like a secret adventure, and Masanuki wondered what stories these old walls would be able to tell.

Even the back entrance, with its old sliding doors, had a special rustic charm that’s incredibly rare to find in the heart of Tokyo.

Despite being old, every nook and cranny was extremely clean and well maintained so it didn’t feel run down to Masanuki at all.

After walking around the inn, Masanuki headed to the larger of the inn’s two public baths, and it looked to be a modern marvel within these old surroundings. It was sparkling clean and big enough to accommodate around 10 bathers, with six shower areas in front of it.

Guests can reserve the public bath if it’s free at the right time so they can have it all to themselves and Masanuki was able to do just that. After showering and sliding into the hot water, Masanuki felt like a wealthy daimyo lord, despite staying on a super cheap budget.

▼ Baths can be used until 11 p.m., and showers can be used in the morning.

When Masanuki thinks of a ryokan inn, he thinks of firm pillows, and when he returned to his room and got into bed, he was pleased to find that his pillow was firm, like he remembered. It was so firm that if he were to have a pillow fight with someone they’d likely get injured, but the feeling of a tight fit around the head and neck turned out to be really refreshing, and it made for a great night’s sleep.

When he woke in the morning, Masanuki felt rested and happy, and because his stay didn’t include any meals, he took a shower and checked out just before his checkout deadline of 10 a.m.

Stepping outside, Masanuki was taken aback by the image of Tokyo Tower so close by, amidst all the morning traffic and high-rise buildings. It was like being pulled back into reality from a time Tokyo forgot, and as businessmen and students from the nearby Keio University walked by, he began to yearn for a taste of traditional Japan again.

There’s something different about staying at a ryokan in the heart of the city as opposed to one in the countryside — perhaps due to their relative rarity, they seem all the more special here. It was a unique experience he’d definitely like to try again — with or without a room key — so it’s now earned a spot on his growing list of places to stay in Tokyo, along with the $14-a-night 1980 hostel.

Ryokan Information

Kasuga Ryokan / 春日旅館
Address: Tokyo-to, Minato-ku, Shiba 3-43-18

Photos © SoraNews24
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