Ryokan are traditional accommodations that can be called old-fashioned Japanese inns, and are found all over Japan.
1. You can get that "authentic" Japan experience
Ryokan are rarely seen in the inner city of Tokyo. If you want to stay at a ryokan, the closest ones to Tokyo are generally at hot spring resorts in areas such as Hakone or Izu.
Ryokan come in a variety of different forms, but they all tend to follow a similar kind of style: they offer authentic Japanese-style architecture, a Japanese garden, fantastic cuisine, and often have guest rooms with tatami mats. Depending on location, they may also offer tranquil views of mountains, forest or ocean. Ryokan are where Japanese tend to go in order to escape the stress of urban life and recharge their spirits.
One of the features of a ryokan are female staff called ‘nakai-san,’ who are attendants who take care of guests. They will be in charge of all the services for guests and their rooms until checkout.
Ryokan are a great way to experience the concept of ‘omotenashi,’ the famous Japanese way of hospitality. As a foreigner, you may find it somehow incredible just how naturally and unobtrusively nakai-san will anticipate guests' behavior.
A few examples: when you check in, staff will probably ask when you wish to take your meals, so they can ensure things are cooked and served to you at the ideal timing. When entering your room, you will likely see a low table and perhaps a pot of tea and snacks waiting for you. You might then go down to the dining hall for dinner. And when you return, the staff will likely have prepared your room for bedtime, laying out the futons out for you and even perhaps closing the curtains.
3. Guest Rooms
As opposed to their Western counterparts, ryokan are almost like a small apartment and tend to be more spacious.
At the entrance is a genkan where you would take your shoes off before entering the room. Here, slippers will be found either waiting for you or in a small closet nearby; these can be used when you walk around the ryokan - just take care only to wear socks on tatami mats!
One of the nakai-san or another attendant will likely take you to your room when you arrive, and introduce the various room's features at that time. (Despite this being a lovely service, keep in mind that tips are not necessary - this service is standard!)
After this introduction, feel free to relax with a cup of green tea and snacks that have been prepared for you on the table. The exceptional seasonal scenery right outside the ryokan’s windows is one of the real pleasure of these authentic Japanese inns.
In one of the room's closets you will find a yukata - a kind of kimono - which you are free to put on and wear around the ryokan. You will also likely find a small towel and bag for the public bath.
Many ryokan prepare dinner in the guest rooms, however some will have a dining hall where they will serve guests. In all cases, the delicious meals will be made using local specialty products and savory seasonal ingredients. Breakfast is provided at a certain restaurant or dining hall in most cases, which is available during specific hours for guests to use.
5. Public Baths
Many ryokan have a large bath as well as an open-air bath with a beautiful view of the outside scenery. In these ryokan hot springs, tattoos are generally not an issue since it’s not a public bath but rather a private one, owned by the inn and exclusive to the guests. Some ryokan do have rules regarding body art, however, so make sure to ask beforehand. Wearing a swimsuit is, however, always forbidden.
6. Sleeping on a Futon
Ryokan usually have futon mattresses, a Japanese-style bedding, instead of conventional beds. When dinner is served inside the room, the nakai-san will come after the meal to prepare the futon. If the ryokan has its own restaurant, the futon will be put out during dinner time.
Also, remember that the yukata (casual kimono) may be used as nightwear in the guest rooms. Wearing the yukata with slippers is perfectly fine even for walking around the ryokan itself, for example on your way to the inn’s bath.
Sleeping on a futon is a very unique experience indeed, and a fantastic way to cap off a wonderful time! One hint from a Western perspective: even if you are accustomed to sleeping on your side, you may wish to try sleeping on your back, as there is less padding between you and the tatami mat than with a mattress.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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