Japan has a few very heavy traveling seasons (Obon, Golden Week in May, New Year’s, and school breaks), and if you’ve ever traveled during those times, you know that Japanese people make their travel plans far in advance.
My husband and I once made the mistake of traveling to Kyoto during cherry blossom season with no hotel reservations, and when we asked the tourist office for help finding accomodations, we were able to grab the last room available. At that point, individuals weren’t even being considered for rooms, and the tourist office was frantically turning away travelers who had assumed that somewhere in Osaka, Kyoto, or Nara there would be room for at least 1 person to fit in. No such luck.
The Welcome Inn Reservation Center (WIRC) is the answer to the foreign tourists who don’t speak Japanese, but would like to have a little control over their accomodations when traveling. It’s actually the same system that the Kyoto Tourism office uses when you go ask for them to help you find a hotel.
The WIRC features business hotels, ryokans, minshuku, capsule hotels, and other forms of accomodation (confused? — WIRC explains types of Japanese accomodation). The accomodations must be priced “affordably”; they can’t charge more than 8,000 yen per single room or 13,000 yen per double room for most of the year. They also have to be welcoming to foreign guests.
The website has recently been redesigned, so it’s more visually appealing and easier to use. Just choose a region you’re interested in traveling to, then search through the accomodation options. (Be sure to note if you’ll be traveling during the ON, REGULAR, or OFF seasons, as that can really affect pricing!) Many of the listings include maps, photos of the rooms, and other important details to help you make your decision.
When you’ve decided on a place you like, click the “Apply Now” button. You’ll need to fill out some details about your check in/check out time, as well as who will be staying with you. If you’ve never used this site before, you’ll need to sign up for an account in order to make the reservation. When you confirm your details, they’ll send a request to the hotel for you to stay there. Within 3 days you will receive an email saying if your reservation has been arranged. You can make your payment to the hotel when you arrive.
**Important: When you sign up for an account, you need to give them your credit card number. Your credit card will not be charged when you make a reservation (you’ll pay when you get there). However, if you have to cancel your reservation, most accomodations have a cancellation fee and you may be charged. Since there’s a potential 3-day wait to hear if your reservation has been accepted, be sure to give yourself plenty of time when making travel plans through this website. Always double-check your travel plans to be sure you won’t need to cancel!
Also, for those of us in Ishikawa, you can see that there’s a pretty sorry selection of accomodations for our region. This doesn’t reflect the truth of the number of affordable accomodations out here (nor does it mean they’re all foreigner-phobic!). If you happen to know someone who runs a small ryokan or affordable accomodation, recommend that they add their accomodations to this website! It’s a great resource and a great way to get their business known to more foreigners.