Booking in Japan has a few tricks to make your planning better and sometimes safer.
Due to the great internal tourism, it is usually good to book early, specially during high-season. A good rule of thumb is to book your stays about 3 month early to guarantee the best cost/benefit. You can book later, obviously, but the closer to the trip, the less likelly you will find a good deal or the best place. For the best cost/benefit in high-season, it is highly suggested to start looking for your stay 6 month in advance.
Aside from booking early, other good advice is to choose places close to a metro station, specially in Tokyo, so that you save on cab fares and time. In Tokyo the best places are 5~10 minute walking distance from a station from Yamanote Line. In Osaka 5~10 minutes walking distance from a Osaka Loop Line or Namba station. And from Kyoto a 5~15 minute from Kyoto Station.
AirBnB - the grey area.
(except in Osaka and Ota-ku)
Because of that, Hosts are often on the lookout for any signs that the neighbors or the Police is on to them, and will cancel all bookings without any notice if they feel threatened. Since they cancel to prevent being found out, they often also avoid even accessing AirBnB site to notify customers of the cancellation, which means cancellations without notice can happen.As of 2016, around half of the tourists prefer AirBnB's over Hotels. However, when planing AirBnB in Japan, you must be aware that it is not regulated and actually illegal (to Japanese to be hosts), so Hosts can cancel without any notice at all. The only areas in Japan where AirBnB are regulated, and therefore are stable and not likely to have this issue, is in Osaka and Tokyo's Ota-ku district.
While still rate, you should be aware it can happen. That being said, don't shy away from AirBnB if you like it, but instead, have a plan B: Most Hotels accept cancellations with no extra fees up to one day before the date, so you can book a simple backup Hotel. A couple of days before your arrival, contact your AirBnB host (if possible directly by mail) and inquire if the reservation is ok. If it is, you can cancel the Hotel and get to your AirBnB with no cost. If the Host doesn't answer or report it will have to cancel the reservation, then you can just go to the Hotel.
So, in short:
- Book early, at least 3 month before expected date. Prices will keep going up the longer you wait.
- On High-Season (Hanami / Cherry Blossoms), book even earlier.
- Have a backup plan if you choose AirBnB outside Osaka or Ota-ku (Tokyo)