I’m heading home after a couple of days of customer visiting in Minneapolis. The week before, I’d been in Matsue, a small and remote Japanese city. The prices were about the same, but Japanese hotel was decisively better, and it’s just silly that North American hotels are so crappy in so many ways.

In Minneapolis, it doesn’t matter whether it was a Sharriott or or a Hilyard or a Crowne Suites or an Embassy Plaza, hotel brands are dilute to the point of vacuousness. In Japan, it was the Matsue Tokyu Inn, in a room very much like the “Ladies Twin” illustrated on that page.


A window that opened and a small air conditioner that could move the temperature up or down unobtrusively.

Window wouldn’t open, and the climate control sounded like a 747 taking off.

Really fast wired Internet included in the price of the room.

$9.95 a day and it got real slow before breakfast and after supper when everyone was using it.

Two small elevators and one of them showed up quickly when you needed it.

Eight big elevators and you had to wait too long at “rush hour”.

Provided a nice comfy “yukata” bathrobe-thingie.

Cool high-tech Toto “Washlet” toilet.

Condensation ran off the toilet leaving floor tiles wet.

Generous selection of bathroom amenities, including a travel toothbrush, toothpaste, and so on.

Really slick shower, with independent controls for temperature and volume, both fast and responsive. Shower-head on a hose to facilitate rinsing downward-facing bits.

One control, no control over the volume, which was a pitiful trickle; comfy temperature really hard to dial in.

That shower control really made an impression on me, it was so effortlessly great. It’s at the right of this picture.

Shower controls in Matsue Tokyu Inn

At the left, another truly great thing: large bottles of shampoo and so on with effortlessly readable labels. What a concept. In a North American hotel, the labels look something like this:

Puddleby & Soames
Revitalizing oatmeal-and-seaweed
Hand-made in Patagonia

As a result, like most presbyopic people over 45, I have to approach the shower wearing only my reading glasses, so I can pick out the shampoo.

Let’s be fair; the Sharriott did have a couple of advantages. The room was easily three times the size of the Tokyu’s, but I didn’t care. The desk chair was better; I used the spare bed’s pillow to soften the seat in Matsue. And the bar downstairs at the Sharriott genuinely wasn’t bad at all, with friendly and generous staff and a decent selection of cable-TV channels. Also Japanese hotels just don’t do face-cloths, which has always puzzled me.

Still, the hotels in this continent are a lot lousier than they have to be.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Michael Weisman (Sep 17 2009, at 15:36)

Chain hotels are terrible in North America, but indie hotels tend to have far more amenities (and be cheaper). I only stay in the chains when I travel for work and have no choice.


From: Glenn Vanderburg (Sep 17 2009, at 15:53)

The term "Sharriot" triggers a wince-inducing (but appropriate) association if you've read "A Clockwork Orange": http://www.gradesaver.com/a-clockwork-orange/study-guide/glossary-of-terms/


From: Greg Pfister (Sep 17 2009, at 19:05)

I'm not 100% sure of this, since it seems absurd, but I think the single-lever shower control may be legally required in the US.

That, at least, is what I was told when I tried to replace the handles on an old-style two-handle hot/cold shower. Couldn't do it with any new gear. All the new stuff is one-handle, and I was told "the government" decided we were all too stupid to use two controls.

Or maybe -- my speculation -- the plumbing companies' lawyers decided it was a way to avoid stupid lawsuits about scalding. (Better than a sign saying "water can be hot!" I guess.)


From: Claire (Sep 17 2009, at 20:33)

They don't do washcloths (or "flannels") in the UK, either, nor can you count on relatives to share. Apparently it's some sort of hygiene thing -- who knows what the previous guest might have done with that flannel (my English partner says, "They don't give you underwear, either.").

Of course, you don't know what they might have done with anything else in the room, either, but apparently that's okay.


From: mike (Sep 17 2009, at 21:47)

chain hotels are nearly always bad in various ways (bean counter menatality?), but they are at least consistent, which many travellers want. Also accountancy departments like the *idea* of being able to negotiate "rates".

As someone who spent a few years as a "road warrior" in the UK, i now always try to avoid chain hotels if possible, and also am not that impressed even by high end hotels.

Best Western (in the UK at least) had some interesting places, not great, but nearly always at least interesting buildings/locations, which when you you have stayed at 8 different hotels in two weeks is a good thing.


From: Fabian Ritzmann (Sep 18 2009, at 01:22)

Hotels don't have thermostatic shower mixers in North America? I'm shocked, really.


From: Paul (Sep 18 2009, at 04:48)

The same is true not only of hotel bathrooms but public ones. In japan, the bathrooms are clean and everything works. I flew from tokyo to JFK and felt like I was going from first world to third world. At JFK, the water kept running and could not be turned off. Some of the toilets were broken. The floor was utterly unsanitary.


From: fleers (Sep 18 2009, at 21:51)

Remind me never to use a pillow in a hotel again...for my head, that is.


From: John (Sep 20 2009, at 00:45)

All very true. And then you go to Continental Europe where a lot of hotels are really pretty good on most of the above counts. Except.... where is the iron? How is it that a French road warrior will always look starched and immaculate at breakfast in one of these places, while us Anglos look like a crumpled mess?


From: Mike (Sep 20 2009, at 22:04)

The Japanese hot water controls in baths have a detent or stopper on the temperature handle that prevents it going above 40 degrees centigrade without holding a button down. Of course, American personal injury attorneys could still probably figure out a way to sue.


From: Tony Fisk (Sep 21 2009, at 05:33)

My first experiences of US bathrooms involved spending a jet-lagged hour trying to work out how to use the one handle shower (more to the point, how to divert the flow from the faucet to the shower rose. There was no flow control.

As for the lavatory: I shudder to think how many reservoirs were involved in each flush... and, more often than not, it *still* didn't do the trick!

(The facilities were clean, however)

Anti-spam: <i>What animal quacks and has webbed feet?</i> Ambassador Mollari's answer would have been 'cats'!


From: Brooke Davidson (Sep 22 2009, at 17:17)

The USA could learn a lesson or two from our Asian competitors to be sure.



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September 17, 2009
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