Hostels (ホステル) are lodgings with the bare essentials for the budget traveler. They usually feature shared bedrooms and facilities in return for low rates. Hostels are often good places to interact with fellow travelers since time would inevitably be spent together in common areas. Hostels are found all across Japan. The network of Hostelling International Youth Hostels covers both cities and the countryside, while many independent hostel operators are found in the big cities and can be booked online through sites such as Hostelworld.

Hostels typically charge between 2000 and 4500 yen per person and night. Room layouts differ from place to place, but dormitory rooms with double-storied bunk beds are most common. Some hostels also offer Japanese-style rooms with futons laid on the tatami floor. Rooms are typically shared by four to eight people and are often gender segregated. Some hostels also offer private rooms, but this tends to bring the cost up by a few thousand yen. Expect to have to make your own bed.

Toilets and bathrooms are usually shared, although some rooms may have them en suite at a premium rate. Amenities are limited, and you may have to bring your own soap and shampoo. Approximately half of all hostels provide towels; at the other half you would have to use your own or rent them for a small fee. Some hostels maintain a laundry room with coin-operated washing machines and driers.

Meals, especially breakfast, are included at some hostels or are available at an additional fee. Some hostels allow you to cook your own meals in a shared kitchen which is equipped with simple cooking tools. Vending machines with a variety of drinks and snacks can be found at many hostels, as can be free Wi-Fi and lockers. Almost all hostels also feature a common room for guests to socialize. The room is usually equipped with a TV and a PC for all to use.

Note that many hostels, especially the ones outside of the big cities, maintain strict curfews. It is also not uncommon that hostels have a lock-out period, typically from 10:00 to 16:00, when all guests are required to be absent from the compound.