Being half-Japanese and having lived in Japan for a majority of my childhood, one of my regular trips every year is back to the shores of my homeland. It’s easy enough to find a moderately priced ticket from Chicago to Tokyo at some point in the year, so I’ve made this trip without fail since I started my heavy travel focus several years back. Interestingly, this year seems like it will be the first time I don’t spend any significant amount of time back in Japan due to the relatively high cost of travel on the dates I have available for the remainder of the year.
I did manage to make a trip to the tropical, warm islands of Okinawa a few months back in November though. I secured an inexpensive ticket from Chicago to Tokyo and ended up using some British Airways Avios to redeem for a roundtrip economy award to Naha. My arrival into Tokyo was on the American Airlines flight from New York JFK to Tokyo Haneda, which has a late arrival time that required me to do an overnight layover before continuing onward.
Japanese airport hotel options near Narita and Haneda tend to be relatively inexpensive when compared to many other Asian markets, and I had quite a few choices. My heart was really hoping I could secure a stay at the Haneda Excel Tokyu that’s attached to the airport since it features a few rooms with actual first class seats as lounge chairs within a few of their rooms. The airline dork within me really wanted to kick back in one of those rooms, but unfortunately they were pricing out at over $200 USD per night, which made it a big “no go” on my end.
Instead I booked a night at the nearby Hotel JAL City Haneda, which featured no first class lounge chairs but did come at a much more reasonable $90 USD.
LOCATION & CHECK-IN
Despite extensive experience traveling to and within Japan, this was actually my very first time landing at Tokyo Haneda (HND) airport. I was pleased to find that the typically efficient customs and immigration procedures I find at its sister airport in Narita were still being demonstrated at this new (to me) facility. To get from my seat, onto a bus at our remote stand, and through the entire entry procedure took approximately 40 minutes, which I think is pretty decent. Unfortunately the Hotel JAL City Haneda (HJC) was not attached to the airport and required customers to queue for a shuttle to the property. Shuttles departed the airport approximately twice per hour for the property, though later at night the frequency seems to drop to once per hour.
The airport had very little signage directing travelers to the hotel shuttle pick up area, though I did my due diligence prior to arriving and was able to locate the designated area with a little help from the information desk. Despite being assured by airport staff that I was in the right location, I was still a bit uneasy about whether I actually was in the right spot. The only other shuttles that were parked in the area were for airline crews. I sat there for approximately 30 minutes as crews from Asiana, Delta, and EVA loaded onto their buses and headed off to what was hopefully a restful sleep. My confidence began to grow as a few other folks started gathering in the general area, glancing about for any sign of a hotel shuttle and nervously twiddling their thumbs.
Eventually the shuttle did appear and we loaded ourselves onto the mini-bus to HJC. Overall this process was less than stellar to put it mildly. You can make your way to the hotel using the local train system, but most travelers are likely to see the option for a hotel shuttle and opt for that, particularly if you have baggage. No one likes to fight the crowds on public transit with their suitcase. Plus the shuttle is free and most folks aren’t looking to fork over a few extra dollars simply to arrive at the hotel a few minutes earlier. The signage needs to be improved, both within the airport and at the shuttle pick up location, in order for customers to be comfortable with the set-up. Despite our mini-bus having quite a few passengers, quite a few others folks waited in the area for a few minutes, glancing about with curiosity before heading back into the airport. I can’t say for certain, but I’m confident at least a handful of those folks were looking for the HJC shuttle.
The location itself is about as good as you can get for an airport hotel that isn’t connected to a terminal. A short 5 minute ride was all it took to get us to the front door of the hotel. The neighboring area seemed business-oriented with smaller number of housing units. Directly across the street from the hotel was a Japanese convenience store, which is an ideal situation for keeping costs down while traveling in Japan.
I hopped off the shuttle and queued up with my fellow passengers to check in to the hotel. I was one of the first to board the shuttle which meant I was also one of the last to get off. Consequently I found myself dead last in the line for check-in. There were four couples waiting ahead of me, and things seemed to be going smoothly until it was my turn. Only then did the two check-in agents manning the desk seem to run into issues with the bookings for the two couples they were assisting. Eventually it was my turn to check-in though, and the agent who assisted me apologized for my long wait. I’d estimate the total time it took me from queuing in line to having my room key in hand was approximately 15 minutes, which is far from ideal. I’m going to cut the hotel a bit of slack since it was clear that the two couples in front of me had complicated bookings, thus slowing down the process a bit.
SERVICE & STAFF
The service, in a word, is quite Japanese. Efficient, friendly enough, and ever so polite. Some might consider it robotic, and in a way it is. There’s certainly an element of repetition and consistency to Japanese service that can strike a visitor as a form of choreographed dance. You, the unwitting visitor, grasped by the gentle yet commanding hand of the Japanese service industry and spun in familiar circles throughout your entire stay. Annoying to some, comfortable to others.
My personal opinion comes somewhere in-between. Being half-Japanese and growing up in Japan, it’s a routine that I’m quite familiar with and enjoy. There’s something quite nice about knowing you’re going to be receiving the same level of respectful service regardless of whether you’ve entered a five star hotel or a 300 yen per bowl ramen shop. HJC certainly provided service within this vein of Japanese culture. Consistent, polite, slightly detached. There is a small part of my mind that does wish service industry staff would show a bit more personality when interacting with me.
The only major service issue I had during my stay was with the shuttle bus driver on my return trip to HND. Full of piss and vinegar, this guy was. Lots of yelling and hand-waving at guests to hurry up and get on the shuttle, almost no assistance with their baggage unless it became clear his lack of help would slow down the boarding process. No announcement on the way to the airport about which terminal he was going to be dropping people off at first. He simply pulled up to a building and opened the mini-bus’ door. This type of service is extremely rare in Japan so I was a bit taken a back by it. I ended up shouting out to the driver in Japanese to ask him where we were. Once he clarified which terminal he’d pulled up to, some folks began to hop off the shuttle. Certainly not an asset to the hotel and a pretty poor way to end my experience with the property.
In terms of English language ability, the staff rated about average for Japan. Just enough to squeak by but not nearly as capable as hotel staff in cities like Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, or Bangkok.
In typical Japanese fashion, the room I was given was quite tiny. I’m guessing it was only a foot or two larger than your standard issue Pokemon ball.
Immediately to my left was the door to the modular bathroom. Most low to mid-tier Japanese hotels feature the same standard bathroom featuring a toilet, sink, and bathtub all molded into a raised area within the bathroom.
The toilet wasn’t quite as fancy as some others in Japan but did provide the basic “bidet/lady bidet/stop” buttons as well as a water temperature control.
The bathtub/shower combo was also in the traditional Japanese-style and featured a deep tub. Amenities were provided in large pump dispensers, making it difficult to determine their quality. I’d heard previously that JAL City featured Mikimoto hair and body products in some of their hotels, but it doesn’t seem like this HJC was one of those.
The bathroom also contained a toothbrush, comb, q-tips and assorted other overnight stay products. Japanese hotels generally provide these types of products to all guests free of charge.
The remaining portion of the hotel room was taken up by the bed and desk.
The television featured several Japanese television stations, though nothing international. This seemed a bit odd for an airport facility, but foreign language programming isn’t always the easiest to locate in Japan. The TV also contained a pay per view card slot. Each floor of the hotel had a machine where customers could insert money and purchase cards programmed with a set amount of cash. You’d return to your room with these cards and insert the card into the television and then gain access to paid content above and beyond the standard issue television stations. I didn’t bother to use this feature though I can tell you without a doubt that 100% of the programming was porn. Some things don’t change in a hotel, no matter what country you’re in, right?
Internet was free of charge in the room but there was no wifi available, only wired service. This was quite annoying considering most Japanese hotels will provide wifi, either free of charge or for a nominal fee, to all guests. I did a bit of checking and it appears that the property now offers free wifi to all guests and that this change was instituted about a month after my visit. Nice improvement, but it didn’t help me on this stay.
The bed provided was sufficient for a single person to sleep in, and like most beds designed for an Asian customer was a bit firmer than most Americans would find in the US. I can’t help but wonder why the headboard is larger than the actual bed in this room? If they could just upholster that plank of wood and stick a mattress on top of it, we’d be in business!
Inserted into the headboard was the room’s alarm clock and lighting controls. It’s not exactly the Clapper but a nicer feature to have in a hotel room. You can turn off the lights without leaving the bed, or turn on just enough lights to get to the bathroom without tripping and killing yourself in the middle of the night. It seems like a bit of an antiquated system but I’m a big fan of hotels that offer one stop control of lights in the room.
Yet another traditional Japanese hotel feature that HJC stayed true to was the offer of pajamas for all guests. This sleeping suit was left on top of my bed with a nice note (though not exactly the best English language translation). While I’m half-Japanese I’m definitely 100% American-size, so there was absolutely no way those pajamas were going to fit me. They’d make a nice bandage in case I skinned my knee though.
In the hallway near the door was a pant press attached to the wall. Sadly, like most low to mid-tier Japanese hotels there was no iron in the room. I simply used the pant press to press out the wrinkles in the shirt I pulled from my luggage to continue on to Okinawa the next day.
Next to the door (across from the bathroom) was a small closet with a few hangers. It also had a pair of packaged slippers for use within the room. While my body is American-sized, my feet are Japanese-sized, so I did use these in the room and found them to be quite comfortable.
HJC was definitely not one of my favorite hotel stays in the past two years. That being said, it got the job done and definitely provided a decent value when compared to the rate I paid. If you’re expecting a Western style hotel experience, this really isn’t the hotel for you. It definitely falls more into the traditional Japanese mid-tier business hotel model. Space is tight, amenities are relatively sparse, and service is best described as efficient. I would definitely stay here again though I’m not 100% sure I’d be comfortable recommending this property to someone who isn’t a bit adventurous or at least familiar with Japanese-style hotels.
Good value for money paid when compared to other properties in the area
Location is only a 5 minute shuttle ride from the airport
Convenience store located across the street provides an easy avenue to secure cheap food and drinks and avoid the pricey hotel options.
Space is likely to be tight for Western guests, though is average for a Japanese style business hotel.
The hotel’s shuttle service is not clearly signposted at the airport and is rather infrequent.
Staff has a limited grasp of English.