Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sakura Hotel Hatagaya

When I went to see Melt-Banana the August 29th weekend, I stayed at the Sakura Hotel in Hatagaya. The Sakura group has hotels, hostels, apartments and guest houses all around Tokyo. I usually stay in Ikebukuro because of the area's easy access to pizza buffets, but that hotel was booked solid so I went back to Hatagaya where I'd stayed a couple times before. Actually, I'm pretty sure the Hatagaya Sakura was fully-booked by the time I arrived, too. I was lucky to get my reservation in!

Hotel Sakura Hatagaya is two stops from Shinjuku on the Keio New Line subway. Just Hatagaya, Hatsudai and you're there, in Shinjuku where you can catch the Yamanote Line to Harajuku, Shibuya or any other ward on its loop; or you can catch the Chuo Line to Akihabara and Ginza. The hotel itself is a quick 2-minute stroll from Hatagaya Station's south exit. It's in a quaint little neighborhood with not much action, just an AM/PM convenience store and a Mos Burger. But I was there on a personal musical mission and didn't have time to do any exploring.

Maybe you can find the hidden gems of sleepy little Hatagaya...

But don't let that put you off. The staff are all very friendly and speak excellent English. They seem to be pretty young and they foster a kind of community atmosphere by not only offering free tours and advertising for lots of fun, artsy activities in places like Harajuku but also maintaining a staff blog full of interesting Tokyo info and cultural notes. I didn't avail myself of any of that, but if you're of a mind to, you can probably make friends there very easily. Just knowing that makes me feel part of something positive, or right at home whenever I stay at a Sakura hotel.

I don't like hostels, so I can't tell you anything about that aspect of the Sakura experience. I imagine if you're a young, go-go backpacking type in search of a nice social experience in Tokyo and a cheap, clean place to crash, the Sakura hostels are tough to beat. I always stay in their business hotel rooms because at the end of a long day of walking around Tokyo and sightseeing, I really just want to be left alone and veg on the bed with a book. The business hotel singles are typically small (it is Japan, after all), but feature just enough amenities-- TV, room refrigerator, a desk, a comfortable bed and a private bathroom/shower, a clean and comfy pull-over sleep shirt. There are vending machines and washing machines available, too.

They even have a free breakfast. It's mostly just toast, coffee and juice but it's a nice way to start your day and mingle a little with the other guests and maybe make some new friends. A year or so ago I had a pleasant morning just hanging out, eating some toast with jam and eavesdropping on a very relaxing and heartwarming conversation as a young guy made an acquaintanceship with a middle-aged married couple and they traded business tips and sightseeing stories.

That's the kind of stuff I need when travelling. Nice people when I want them and a simple private room. I don't mind the cramped quarters, although the shower was a little claustrophobic; the curtain kept intruding on my personal space! There was a funky stain on the rug near the refrigerator, but I assume that's just where someone spilled some food and it wouldn't come out completely. Other than that, the room was more than adequate, especially considering the price.

While I still have fond memories of all my stays at Hotel Kent in Kabuki-cho, I've been making the Sakura Hotels my new Tokyo homes-away-from-home and I've been very pleased each time I've stayed at one. Don't expect luxury or floor space to do your at-home exercise routine. These aren't American Holiday Inns. Small rooms are par for the course in most Japanese business hotels. With the Sakura group, double rooms are within the price-range of a single in some of the more centrally-located hotels, so you can always go that route. I'm very tempted to try that myself and pretend I'm Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.

Sakura Hotel in Hatagaya is a pretty sweet little place to rest your weary bones when you hit that exciting megalopolis we like to call Tokyo. Because that's its name. Tokyo.

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