Photo by Toby M

My strangely enjoyable experience staying in Japan’s Henn Na Hotel

Many readers will sympathize with my predicament. It’s the day before an early morning flight out of Haneda Airport. My place is located centrally enough in Tokyo, the world’s largest mega city, to have assumed 24-hour transport to the airport is available nearby me. Never assume.

The earliest train or bus from any of the stations nearby would get me to the airport a mere 15 minutes before my flight. With a hefty suitcase and woeful levels of physical fitness, I can already feel the epic perspiration and failure promised by a mad dash through the airport. My other option is a $100 taxi ride, certain to leave my wallet malnourished. This in itself was a lesson to comrades amongst you who also believed the economic ramifications of our diet of good whisky and pizza extended no further than a full gut and an empty wallet.

Turning to, I frantically search for the cheapest hostel near the airport. And this is when I am presented with an unmissable opportunity. Amongst the reams of a-few-thousand-yen a night rooms, I find one of Tokyo’s infamous Henn na Hotels located a mere 13 minutes from Haneda Airport. With Tokyo’s Go To Travel campaign still in effect, the price of the hotel for me and my partner is a heavily discounted ¥3000. Chronicler of Tokyo that I am, it would be sinful of me not to stay and report on the experience of a night in Japan’s most unusual hotel. And that’s exactly what I did. Read on to find out all the details of a stay which was unsurprisingly full of surprises!

Eccentric executive summary

Hen Na Hotel is like a Japanese salaryman - as I have come to know them. It looks perfectly ordinary on the outside. Clean, organized, and efficient. On the inside, however, it’s totally nuts, fun, and quirky in equal measure.

How was the location?

Tokyo has a grand total of 10 Henn na Hotels, conveniently located in popular areas such as Ginza and Asakusa. The Henn na Hotel I stayed in was the Haneda branch, located 10 minutes away from Haneda Airport by bus or train. This makes the hotel ideal for travelers wanting to stay close to the airport before traveling, or for visitors to Tokyo in need of recuperation after a long flight. Be warned though, any rest you have planned will be disturbed by Henn na Hotel’s charmingly bizarre interior.

But first, the exterior. The 5-minute walk from nearby Ootori station to the hotel itself is filled with restaurants, convenience stores and even a supermarket, making the surroundings very convenient. From outside Haneda’s Henn na Hotel looks like any other business hotel: modern and clean. I arrived at night and the glass front was lit up, beckoning my weary, luggage laden body like a lighthouse. A lighthouse filled with dinosaurs and robots.

What strange wonders awaited inside?

Any veneer of normality quickly falls apart upon entering Henn na Hotel and seeing the front desk which is staffed by a velociraptor and reception droid. I peered in bewildered amusement from behind a chunky fake tree, itself a peculiar feature that “fits in” with the first floor’s Jurassic themed decor. Though saying anything “fits in” in Henn na Hotel does disservice to the name which literally translates as “Strange Hotel” in Japanese.

Photo by Toby M

The robo-reception staff are Henn na Hotels biggest quirk. The velociraptor and the automaton receptionist bow and greet customers. They chatter away as you check in and out through the touch screens in front of each “staff member” while guiding your input. A fully automated front desk is interesting enough, but the unbridled joy that comes from being served by robots and dinosaurs cannot be overstated.

Photo by Toby M

I gawked at and frantically photographed the unusual scene along with other first timers. Around us, frustrated regulars simply went about their check in business, apparently accustomed to the service of dinosaurs and droids.

There was greater cause to stop and stare than usual when I checked in because of the hotel’s interesting Christmas decorations. The velociraptor was disguised as Rudolph, the onlooking brachiosaurus as Santa and the robot receptionist was fetchingly attired in a red blazer and fashionable Christmas hat. It was like peering at a scene from an alternate universe where someone more imaginative had created the Christmas mythology.

Reception aside, the first floor also contains useful amenities including vending machines, a canteen where you can enjoy a breakfast buffet and luggage storage space. It’s spacious so you can take a seat in the community seating area and take in the interesting scenes at check-in. Or, if you run into any malfunctions, say an unexpected rampaging robot velociraptor, a human staff member is available 24 hours to assist you.

Is it a comfortable stay?

Photo by Toby M

The rooms are located across several floors above. Mine sported a modern design with bright walls, a large wooden storage cabinet and some Tokyo themed art hanging next to the big double bed. For a business hotel, it was very comfortable.

Photo by Toby M

In addition to a pleasing design the room, like reception, is automated in a number of convenient ways. Coolest feature first: instead of a television, an in room projector displayed TV shows on the wall facing the bed. This was controlled not by a remote but by an in room tablet. This was undoubtedly the heart of the room, also operating as the light switch, a browsing device and communication device with the front desk. All in all, the tech was satisfyingly practical, much more than just gratuitous frills for the sake of the hotel's name.

Photo by Toby M

The elephant in the room is the bathroom, and typical for Japanese business hotels, it was a pigmy one. It was filled with amenities however including toothbrushes, razors, soaps, shampoos and everything you need for a few nights stay. The more spacious than average bedroom size (for a business hotel) also took away some of the disappointment that Japanese hotel bathrooms normally induce in their guests. I hope at least they provide something a little bigger for the Brachiosaurus....

Final verdict?

Henn na Hotel is much more than just a gimmicky robot reception experience. It’s comfortable, conveniently located and kitted out with amenities that make your stay feel thrillingly futuristic. All for affordable business hotel prices. But let’s face it, even if it was none of these things, it would still be worth staying to experience being checked in by a dinosaur. Final verdict is: a must stay (at least once). You’re guaranteed to leave in veloceraptures.

Henn na Hotel Haneda Website

All photos are originals taken by the author

By - Toby M.