booking a hotel - just a little different...

This post is my entry for the July Japan Blog Matsuri, hosted by mokudekiru. The theme is ちょっと違う (Chotto Chigau) or “Not Quite the Same.

 Booking a hotel is relatively straightforward. You would think. Enter some dates, choose the number of nights, number of people, smoking or non-smoking and check your preference in the list of results – maybe a standard or regular room, or something fancier like a deluxe room or a suite. All very typical for what I am accustomed to as an American. (Can’t say I know much about booking hotels in other countries, as I haven’t had that experience yet, unfortunately).

My first few times attempting to book a hotel in Japanese left me a bit baffled, and not because of the language. While some Japanese travel and hotel sites offer standard choices, a good number of Japanese hotels I’ve checked out online (especially smaller and less Western types) present the process in what I might consider an unnecessarily complicated manner: a list of plans.

Some of these plans offer great discounts and deals, but reading through them is a test of patience (which is fine if you have nothing better to do – but most of us have something to do besides reading through a novel-length list, especially if we need to translate it). This is probably why so many people use travel agents… Smart folks! (The reason I don’t, if you’re wondering, is because I generally have had better luck doing my own research than going through an agent, but I am by no means dismissing the advantages of travel agencies).

So I might start a hotel search on Rakuten or Trip Advisor. When something looks good, I go straight to the hotel’s web site to check for better deals (Rakuten rarely offers better deals from my experience). I click through to reservations (or plan types), enter in some dates or click days on a calendar, and choose a few parameters, such as non-smoking. (The number of parameters varies widely).

And then, there they are - a page that scrolls endlessly with boxes and boxes of possible plans to choose from. Be warned: these lists are not for the indecisive. Titles are riddled with hearts and stars and musical notes, as if at any moment some cutesy character will appear on the screen and sing the description to me. I'm surprised cheerful music doesn't start playing in the background - those pleasant tunes that cling to memory, whether I want them to or not.

I sigh and place my chin in my hand as I begin scrolling. Ladies plan, business plan, family plan, meal plan, breakfast plan, summer plan, party plan, enjoy plan, pick your best plan, special plan, good price plan, best value plan, golf plan, relax plan, no-meal plan, early bird plan, romance plan, single plan, student plan, viking (buffet) plan, couple plan, rental notebook (laptop) plan, happy plan, strawberry picking plan, spa plan, underwater basket-weaving, and on and on they go. Particularly if in a hurry to finish, I might feel as though the list is stabbing me in the chest, sucking the air out of me, while taunting me with hearts and musical notes in a cheery voice, “Choose me! Choose me! I am the best plan! No I am the best plan! We can sing and dance and be happy with this plan!”

And that’s when any sane person would pick up the phone and call a travel agent. Or just call the hotel. They wouldn’t press on, battling it out with the list and singing imaginary characters. They wouldn’t stubbornly decide to read through each of these plans until they found what they wanted, even if they did end up in tears, with a broken computer.

Just an fyi, it is possible to just pick standard options, if the website allows you to. The other option would be to call the hotel directly and book over the phone – many hotels have one person that speaks (some) English (although, not guaranteed). This may be the better way to go if you’d rather avoid reading through a novel-length list of plans, usually all in Japanese (though you can use a web translation tool). I can say that I’ve now mastered the plan search and I can navigate it quite easily; so, try, try and try again until it becomes normal. Well, or just a little bit strange.

And don’t even get me started on tour packages…

If this process is actually normal in your country, or you have had other experiences, please share in the comments! I'm curious to know.

For more, check out: how to make a reservation online (in Japanese)

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