Wednesday, 7 May 2014

J-Hoppers ~ The Hostel Experience

For many years, I’d always equated staying in a hostel to staying in a cheap, shoddy little establishment with complete and usually unwashed strangers, who would move between other hostels on their cross country adventures. And don’t get me wrong, moving on from place to place and creating memories through actual experience is great. Travelling across the globe and getting a glimpse of other cultures is something that I’d relish doing if ever given the opportunity, but I’d always considered that I’d take my rest in a hotel somewhere. Hotels are safer, usually cleaner – I don’t have to share my bathroom facilities with anyone - and I certainly don’t have to worry about cooking for myself when I’ve got a breakfast buffet or dinner circuit waiting for me on the ground floor – all inclusive.

But now that I’ve actually joined the work force – albeit in another country – and I’m paying for bills and taxes off my own back – as much as I want to see as much of this country as possible, I’m well aware that my pocket can only stretch so far. What’s more, hotels are bloody expensive because you’re not just paying for a place to sleep but your also paying for the service that comes with tax most probably. So I started to look at other options for a short getaway. I looked into capsule hotels again but even they can get a bit pricey so I finally bit the bullet and sought out a hostel.

Now J-Hoppers wasn’t the first hostel I stayed in. I actually had my first experience in a hostel in Beppu, Oita called Khaosan. They have a few branches across the country and while the room was adequate and the bed was the most comfortable thing I’ve ever slept on, the shower was disappointing (and ice cold I might add) and it really was only a bed I slept in. So I’ve decided to review my second hostel experience instead considering that I spent my vacation period staying at two separate branches.

J-Hoppers Kyoto
Like Khaosan, J-Hoppers has branches across Japan. Myself and a friend stayed in their Kyoto and Osaka branches. I think the Kyoto branch is a little bit older but staff were really friendly and informative when I had questions and the location was near Kyoto station which was ideal for sightseeing. For the first couple of nights, I stayed in a Female Dorm. There were three bunk beds – each a decent size – with curtains for privacy. I spoke briefly to another girl staying there but for the most part, everyone in my dorm was really quiet, considerate and pretty much kept to themselves.  Contrary to this however, if I saw someone in the hallway I would try to say hello. There were pictures all over the walls of past guests and it made me realise that hostel culture has a real community spirit. I would see perfect strangers gather in the communal areas for a meet and greet, or just hanging out watching television. What’s more, the shower was hot this time and there was a separate toilet on nearly every floor. I was worried about potential queues for the showers but this was never an issue and I often just walked right in.

I stayed in a private dorm during my time in Osaka however and felt that this branch was either newer or more modernised. The showers here were awesome and generally clean; the toilet too. Staff were once again friendly and I spoke briefly to a guy about Kyoto. The sense of community seemed much stronger at this branch however as the hostel often ran events whether they involved drinking at an izakaya or sightseeing at a museum. Recommendations for places to eat were hung on a noticeboard as was a map containing any and all nearby stations, noteable locations and the cost of the ride to get there. The Kyoto branch had its recommendations as well but I felt the Osaka branch possessed more information – I was even able to find folders containing information about popular tourist hot spots which I had a flick through at one point.

J-Hoppers Osaka
Both branches contained wifi and onsite PCs. Both had kitchens, utensils and laundry facilities. In actuality, it was fundamentally the equivalent of a university dorm or giant house. The great unwashed weren’t unwashed at all. They were all just regular people seeking cheaper options of travelling as was I.

The downside I found however was the noise. You can’t control what other people do and even though my roommates were quiet in Kyoto, other guests weren’t always so. Even in Osaka, we encountered a couple of Spanish speakers who couldn’t quite turn down the volume of their voices as well as some drunken stragglers who’d rolled in at around 5am in the morning after a night out. One particular morning, I had the unpleasant experience of finding a few very long black hairs trapped in the shower drain. I found a couple of strands of the same hair on the floor of the toilet not too long after followed by residue of toothpaste stuck to the sink bowl. Some folk just aren’t house-trained unfortunately.

Despite this however, my experience with J Hoppers was overall quite positive. The price was fair; both locations had good transport links and there were restaurants and convenience stores within walking distance. I would certainly look at using them again in future and it’s certainly altered my perspective on hostels a little. I’m just unsure as to whether I would opt to spend a night in a mixed dormitory (with men) as that’s something I’m not comfortable with. What’s more – this was in Japan. I’ve seen the inside of a hostel in the UK before and I have to say that I wasn’t impressed at all.

As for J-Hoppers, I’d give it 3 and a half out of 5 stars.

P.S Don't make the same mistake I did and mistake the owner of J-Hoppers Osaka for some weird old guy. I felt quite embarrassed when I realised that the only reason why he was waving at us was because he'd recognised us from the hostel.

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