"BED, FOOD, AND MUSIC"
This is the slogan of On The Marks, a fusion of hotel and hostel in Kawasaki (right near the world's shortest escalator). Unlike normal accommodations, the first thing you'll see when entering Marks is their large bar with old records standing up on shelves, their dining area, and eye-catching wall art underneath the open ceiling.
The front desk, of all places, was actually far in the back. Why? Because they want to welcome not just overnight guests, but locals too.
From what we could tell, it was working. Right next to us was a father and daughter who had met to enjoy a Sunday lunch together.
"We are called On The Marks with the hope that guests will begin or end their journeys in Japan with us, thereby placing us as a 'mark' on their journey or during their travels or by 'marking' us as one of their travel destinations."
"On The Marks is designed and operated by UDS," said Lukas Bonick, the employee who invited us to visit, "and UDS's philosophy is to create hotels that enhance local value. This place was designed with that in mind, to open up the neighborhood and heighten the value of Kawasaki city in Kanagawa. That's why glass panes were installed on the facade, to obscure the boundary between the city and On The Marks."
Kawasaki is not a prime location for tourists, but it's actually very convenient. It's only fifteen minutes from Haneda Airport, eight minutes from two major shinkansen stations (JR Shinagawa and JR Shinyokohama) and seventeen minutes from Tokyo Station. Not bad.
"They chose the slogan 'Bed, Food, and Music' because they try to go local in each of those departments," said Lukas. "For the music portion, Kawasaki is pretty well known for its music. Columbia Records had its first factory in Kawasaki, and Marks' location is close to a popular live music hall called Club Citta'. There is also a well known symphony hall called Muza Kawasaki on the other side of the station. As for the food portion, Kawasaki is famous for meat because it has the Japan Meat Trading Center (JMTC), where all the meat from different parts of the country goes before it's shipped to other places."
"It's still under the radar of tourists, so most of our guests are Japanese and mostly businesspeople," Lukas explained. "We'd like to bring in more tourists though. There are three kinds of rooms, 227 beds in total, and 60% of them are bunk beds, but usually less than half of them are occupied."
It may sound like they are not doing well, but they just embarked on this journey six months before our visit in March 2016. All the staff were full of passion and the hotel had already been accumulating good reviews.
"We are called On The Marks with the hope that guests will begin or end their journeys in Japan with us, thereby placing us as a 'mark' on their journey or during their travels or by 'marking' us as one of their travel destinations," Lukas continued. "So we'd like to make it happen. There are also many upcoming events in the mix to attract those kinds of people."
Apparently they've had tons of events since then, plus I got in touch with Lukas recently and he said, "Our occupancy rates have increased. Our bunk beds are now almost 73% full on a monthly basis." We thought they would be!
One the Marks: Bed
The three types of rooms are bunk rooms, private compact rooms with shared bathrooms, and standard rooms with toilets and showers included. They literally have room types for every sort of traveler, with prices starting from ￥3,000 (about $30 USD) all the way to ￥9,000. (And if you do your research, you can probably find even better prices online!)
After giving us some general information, Lukas grabbed a few keys with metal sticks, which apparently symbolize Kawasaki's iconic industrial area, and took us on a tour of each floor.
First, we went up to the sixth floor to check out the standard rooms. There are semi-singles and doubles here—basically normal hotel rooms, but each one has its own unique art piece on the wall. All the artwork, except for the logo, were done by the same man named TENGU WORKS. They basically gave him free reign and he made some phenomenal Western-style artwork that incorporates Japanese culture.
All the artwork, except for the logo, were done by the same man named TENGU WORKS. They basically gave him free reign and he made some phenomenal Western-style artwork that incorporates Japanese culture.
It's not only his art that mixes Western and Japanese culture. The room designs offer glimpses of this as well. Although they look like Western-style hotel rooms, each one utilizes koagari 小上がり for its bedding area, which is a raised tatami area.
Also all their furniture uses Japanese wood to support local markets and provide customers with handmade craftwork that never sat on a shelf in a big box store.
Next, we went to the second to the fifth floors, which all have the same structure: a main corridor with art on the wall, lockers, and a separate hallway with bunk beds on one side and compact rooms on the other.
Although the fifth floor is the only one that is women-only, there is a separate bunk bed area on each floor that has a separate key for female guests, who are also given a key to the women-only floor so they can use the restroom/shower facilities. Since guests have to move between floors, these rooms are slightly cheaper than the ones that have the restroom/shower facilities on the same floor.
The bunk beds were nice and clean, and looked a little more comfortable than what you'd see at a capsule hotel. It's fairly spacious given that it's a bunk bed. The wooden security box on the wall can store a small laptop and tablet. Your coat and clothes can be hung above your feet and there are two outlet plugs. You can save ¥300 if you don't need a TV. Each bunk has a smoke detector, so no one can smoke in these beds.
The only downside I can see is the partition. It's just a curtain, which will block out light pretty well, but not sound. Capsule hotels usually have quality partitions so that you won't be bothered by other people's snoring. But don't worry, On the Marks offers earplugs at the front desk for free!
The compact room was basically the same, but you are given a bit of standing space so that you can change your clothes easier (or partake in some quiet dancing, if you prefer). On these floors, you aren't allowed to eat or drink, but they will avert their eyes if it's just a bottle.
By the way, there are slightly bigger compact rooms that go for the same price due to the way the building was constructed to integrate nearby emergency exits. Now, only Tofugu readers know this secret. Ask for room 353 or 453 for a little extra space!
We mentioned their existence before, but at night (or in the morning) you'll want to take a shower. Let's take a walk inside!
There's not much to say, actually. The shower rooms were clean and bright. It was convenient that there was a locker right beside them, but you can also lock your shower and changing room. I came across a review that complained about the shower rooms being wet, but apparently the reviewer took a shower late at night.
One the Marks: Food
Speaking of craft beer, they have eight taps, seven of which are craft. They are partners with Kyoto Brewing Company, who utilize 1–2 of those taps.
If you want to have a drink or snack at night or chat with your friends, just go down to the basement lounge. It has a microwave, a little library, and even a coin laundry in the next room. Surprisingly, we found a Portland book in the lounge space and Lukas told us that Portland was used as a reference when designing the hostel and restaurant in general.
Of course, you can go to the cafe/diner and enjoy their delicious meals too! Their specialty was smoked meat and craft beer, so we got craft beers, craft beer curry with a pork cutlet on top, homemade bacon, and an onion flower!
The curry is called craft beer curry because it uses leftover craft beer, so you can enjoy a different flavor of curry almost every time.
At most places, the menu pictures are much better than the actual food, but at Marks it was the opposite: the real food looked much better and, probably most importantly, also tasted delicious. Apparently, one of the chefs used to work at a four star hotel restaurant.
Speaking of craft beer, they have eight taps, seven of which are craft. It started out mostly featuring beers of Kanagawa specifically, but about a month before our visit, they started introducing other craft beers from all over Japan. They are partners with Kyoto Brewing Company, who utilize 1–2 of those taps.
For some variation, they have a craft beer selection that changes monthly too. It's an awesome place for beer enthusiasts. You can enjoy them and then go pass out right on your bed.
You'll want to check their hours before you go, but as of now their cafe is open:
- Breakfast: 7:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
- Lunch: 11:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (Last order for food 1–2 hours before closing)
- Dinner: Weekdays 6:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. (Last order 30–60 minutes before close)
After the restaurant closes, customers have to leave and On the Marks is accessible only to hostel guests.
Wait, what did I just say? YES! The restaurant area on the first floor is open to hostel guests after it closes. After 11:15 p.m. you can start partying with your friends or just enjoy this Portland-style cafe space without extraneous people. It's nice and exclusive, isn't it?
Technically this place is open twenty-four hours and you can hang out until breakfast starts at 7:00 a.m. It's also great for those who wake up really early. The hot dog on the wall was put there in homage of their original breakfast menu.
As you now know, one part of On the Marks' idea for this place was to incorporate some Western influence, and, luckily for customers, that meant that the only item on the breakfast menu was hot dogs. At some point, someone came to their senses and now they have morning medicinal curry (yakuzen kareー 薬膳カレー).
You can thank/blame baseball star Suzuki Ichiro for the rise of curry for breakfast in Japan. But I can't lie, I've done it too and it's great.
One the Marks: Music
While we were at the front desk where all the records are (sorry, that's as close to music as we're going to get in this travel review), we got comments from the staff named Sanocchi, who said: "On the Marks is open to everybody and our customers vary a lot. They could be foreigners, business people, athletes, or even entertainers. Many kinds of people come here and have various experiences."
Shizuka, who was born and raised in Kawasaki, added, "At On The Marks, there are many tricks. You can find some in the art in the lobby, as well as in the art in the guest rooms. It's enjoyable to find such things and the staff will try and help you to be aware of those things to help add to your enjoyment."
During the interview, they all had big smiles on their faces. We could tell they were all good friends and that's possibly the best ingredient for making On the Marks so inviting and fun.
It certainly is a great place where you can stay without having to pay a high price. Why don't you drop by and let them make a mark on your journey too?
Stylish, reasonable, convenient, and they have good food and craft beer. And the workers were very friendly. This seems to be a great spot.
Very clean and thought-out hostel. Food was great, and staff was friendly. Only con is this place is out in Kawasaki, which may be too far away from the Tokyo center for some people.
Especially if I was traveling with a group, I could see this place being very fun. You would get the cafe space to yourself after hours (with other guests), and although the beer selection was small, it was interesting.
On The Marks
Ogawachō 17−1 Kawasaki-ku
Kawasaki, Kanagawa 210-0023