The Super Hotel chain has been a regular part of trips back to Japan for many years.
While H had used them regularly for work travel, I got my introduction the night we were supposed to sleep in our new apartment in Tokyo.
My memories of that place, seen several months earlier for about 12 minutes, had grown exponentially. We would be moving into an exquisite abode on a quiet street. One room had deliciously new and fragrant tatami mats. The kitchen was sparkling. The place smelled like pine trees and lemons. Home!
In reality, the place was cramped at about 300 square feet (27 square meters). There was an orange ring of mystery around the base of the toilet. The curtains were drawn and the place had been locked up through a hot and humid summer. And the lovely tatami? A blanket of newspaper conveniently concealed a bonus mat of green fuzz.
H called the Super Hotel in Shinbashi.
Once checked in, we headed over to the breakfast nook near the entrance to make an urgent call to H’s dad. He immediately laughed heartily about our “moldy” tatatmi story and said not to worry. Tatami are alive and a little love and cleaning power would bring them back to the state of my dreams.
I fell asleep exhausted that night, not knowing that this would be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Circuit #1 – four hotels in a Westerly direction
Planning our first trip back to Japan after moving to Canada, we thought of Super Hotels as a cheap place to stay. H and I don’t really care about fancy digs. As long as we’ve got a clean place to sleep that’s reasonably quiet, we’re happy. Throw in a free breakfast and we’re over the moon.
We came across spacious rooms and tiny rooms, elaborate breakfasts and simple ones, windows that opened onto walls and windows that afforded views of roof-top laundry. The one in Hiroshima had folding bicycles to borrow and H gave me a focused and careful demonstration of how to use the pants presser in Kobe.
We were free to choose a special pillow after checking in along with a yukata and amenities. Women got to choose five among things like cotton balls, special shampoo and hair clips. Men got a pre-made kit of two items.
The best part of the Super Hotels were the bonuses. After a certain number of nights, you got a free night or cash back, depending on the hotel. If we returned the provided toothbrush in the room to the front desk, we got a cookie or candies. If we declined daily housekeeping, we got a bottle of water.
Circuit #2 – Kyushu, Shikoku and Kansai
On our next trip back to Japan, we stayed for a month. Half of that time, we planned to travel through Western Japan and thought it would be hilarious if we planned the trip based on where there were Super Hotels.
We also wanted to take full advantage of the free night bonuses, figuring we’d save about 1/3 off our accommodation bill.
Starting in Ikebukuro, the next stop was Super Hotel Hakata in Fukuoka. The staff were incredibly friendly and we wanted to stay forever. There were several shrines and temples in the area and my favourite was one where you felt your way through a dark cave to emerge reborn.
Next was Kumamoto. This place had a gas dryer that crisped our clothing in ten minutes or less. The breakfast area was set up like a restaurant with an incredible selection. Trying one of everything meant our breakfasts turned into marathon munch sessions.
Then the real fun started.
The Super Hotel in Yawatahama looked almost brand new, there was an onsen and our window looked out to a charming view of the treed mountainside. The pictures of mikan (kind of like tangerines) floating in the onsen filled my dreams until I found out it was the wrong season. The front desk staff offered to sell us a bottle of the local mikan juice instead.
Our room at the Niihama Super Hotel was enormous with a loft-style bed. We liked watching people heading out for the day in their cars while eating breakfast and it was especially fun to see the local touches that each of the Super Hotels added to their meals.
The anti-climactic stop was Kyoto. By this time, the heat and constant travelling had sapped us of our sanity. This Super Hotel felt crowded, breakfast kept running out and we just wanted to be back at the family home.
Circuit #3 – with kids!
After our first child came along and we headed back to Japan for a third time, we didn’t think we could handle Super Hotel. We stuck with apartment style accommodation in Kyoto and Tokyo.
Planning our fourth trip back to Japan, we had relaxed as parents with two kids under our belt and returned to our old ways.
We knew what we were getting into with Super Hotels… small rooms, step up unit bathrooms where our heads barely cleared the ceiling, and usually a fair walk from train stations.
Most, if not all, have strict limits on the number of people who can stay in a room. While kids 6 and under aren’t usually charged extra, they still count as a person in the room and this meant we had to book two rooms at each place. We tried to get one room with a loft bed for more space and one basic room.
The first stop was Super Hotel Otsuka in Toshima Ward in Tokyo. Ikebukuro was no longer a good fit for us. We wanted something smaller and quieter. Otsuka fit perfectly with a small train station on the Yamanote Line and a streetcar that accessed Sunshine City in Ikebukuro. There was a nice courtyard outside the train station, a few small restaurants and takeout spots in the area, and a full grocery store across the street from the hotel. It was easy to guide two kids with one in a stroller wherever we wanted to go.
Our original plans also included a couple of nights at Totsuka in Yokohama to visit friends. We’d booked months before and had arrangements that fit us. Unfortunately, one of our kids was super sick and we had to change our plans at the last minute. Trying to book anything new in the peak of summer travel season did not leave us with many options. We ended up at Super Hotel Shin Yokohama.
This time we were travelling by car and had to figure out parking. As is the norm, the Super Hotel had limited stalls and all the spots were taken. The lot next to the Super Hotel was too expensive but the one a few blocks away worked.
Food was also an issue. We arrived late and hungry. There were no restaurants that fit us, the little grocery store down the street was almost empty and the convenience store had been cleared out of bento. We managed to round up enough bits and pieces to last us until the big buffet the next morning.
While this hotel wasn’t the greatest for us with little ones, this location would have been fine with older kids.
Changes over time
Ten or so years ago, Super Hotel catered to business travelers in Japan. As the years went by, we saw more couples, the odd family and more travelers from outside Japan. The website also continued to evolve and the site now has info in Chinese, Korean and English. These pages are still not as full as the Japanese ones but they make it easier for travelers who don’t know Japanese but want to try Super Hotel.
While free breakfast was the standard before, a few of the places we stayed at now have only a paid breakfast option.
Some hotels have different branding such as Lohas, Premier or JR. And the overall brand has definitely been spiced up from the basic business hotel and unmistakable blue on yellow signs.
Will we be back? Absolutely!