We covered getting your hotels set before you leave home, but it's perfectly reasonable that you might want to change your plans. It's pretty easy to change your hotels if you have a computer and a cell phone, so I hope you picked up a phone at the airport. If you did, head to an Internet cafe and we'll get started.
Scoring a hotel room is an easy process:
1. Make a list of potential hotels
This is why we're at an Internet cafe. Hop on your favorite hotel listing website. I've listed two on the Planning page of the guide if you need someplace to start. Both of those sites work all across Japan, so if you're leaving Tokyo they'll still work. Browse for hotels that fit your price range and write down the hotel's name, price and phone number on some scratch paper. You should make the list as long as possible, especially if you're scrambling for a last-minute hotel on a busy weekend or holiday. I often call 15 or so hotels just to make a one-night reservation for a Friday night.
2. Go call your hotels
If you're in the middle of an Internet cafe, you may not be able to use your cell phone without getting yelled at. This is why we wrote down a list of names and phone numbers. Go to a spot where you can use a phone (you can try asking the Internet cafe staff where's a good place), break out your list, and start dialing. Hotel phone lines will be answered by front desk people in Japanese, so you need to establish a conversation in English. The quick and dirty way is to say "Hello.. English?"
Once you get someone who understands English, you need to get the conversation onto reservations. You can say "I want a reservation," or you can make things easy for the guy on the other end of the line and just say "reservation."
3. Making reservations
The Japanese make hotel reservations using a check-in date and the length of the stay in nights. Also, you need to mention what type of room you want: single, double (two people, one bed) or twin (two people, two beds). So if you just need the room for yourself for tonight, say "single, today, 1 night." If you need it in the future, say just the number of the day of the month (like "April three" instead of "April third"). Ordinal numbers are hard for Japanese learners of English.
If the hotel doesn't have room, the person on the phone will make that clear, at which point you can say "OK, thank you" and hang up. Try the next one on your list.
Find a hotel that's got your room? Go ahead and reserve it. Write down the hotel's information (name, address and phone number) in your pocket notebook.
The hard part's over, because you now have a place to sleep. But you should keep trying the rest of the hotels on your list to try to get the cheapest (or most convenient) hotel you can. It's OK to make multiple reservations, because we'll cancel all the ones we don't want.
Once you've got your hotels set the way you like, you might need to cancel a few reservations. It's easy: just call the appropriate hotel, get an English speaker on the phone, and say "I want to cancel." You'll be asked for your name, and then your cancellation will go through. At that point, you can say "OK, thank you" and hang up.
Fantastic! Now that you can handle all your own business, you're really beginning to travel like a pro expat. In the next section, we'll finish up your training and prepare you for a few worst-case scenarios.