Staying at a Ryokan

Staying at a Ryokan


2020.09.12

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

Staying at a Ryokan

The Japanese tradition of omotenashi means giving all effort to please the customer and make them feel welcome, and staying at a ryokan (Japanese inn) is the best way to experience that in practice.

  • There are many different levels of accommodation in Japan, from the cheapest business hotels to high-end international brands like the Four Seasons, but the ryokan exists on another level apart from these options. While you will receive fantastic service at a 4-5 star hotel, a ryokan is more like being a personal guest, and the nature of the facilities is much more about staying around the local area and coming back for a bath and dinner, rather than just having a place to sleep. Prices can range from 15,000 yen to hundreds of thousands depending on your budget, and that includes meals.

  • 02

    Checking in

    Generally, a ryokan has a check-in time at 3pm, but you are welcome to arrive early and leave your bags, especially if you aren’t coming by car. From there it’s ok to relax in the main areas, or go out to the surrounding area and enjoy the day in nature or local points of interest. Pay close attention to what the staff explain about dinner and bath times, as there are set times for these and you don’t want to miss them.

  • 03

    Relaxing

    Depending on the level of ryokan they may have large gardens and other facilities for you to explore, or simply have inviting spaces inside with traditional Japanese design. Lots of wood, paper, and other elements that are more reminiscent of a grand Japanese home than a hotel necessarily. However, all ryokan are different, and usually feature design and inspiration from the local area’s sights and culture.

    If you are interested in massage or other similar services you’ll be able to make appointments for those as well if they are available, generally in the evening around bath time.

  • 04

    Bathing

    While you can choose which order you do it in, most Japanese come back from a day out, have a bath at the ryokan, and then settle down for dinner while wearing yukata. You’re certainly welcome to do it in either order, but there’s something very satisfying about having dinner after a relaxing bath!

    All ryokan have a central, gender-separated, bath where anyone can go. These usually have set hours, often starting at 3pm and going late before opening again in the morning for a few hours. The type of bath depends very much on the local environs, but can be anything from a simple indoor facility to a more sprawling complex with indoor and outdoor baths of different sizes, temperatures, and even additives to the water. If you’re an onsen fanatic, be sure to check out their facilities in advance to get what you want.

    Many also include private rotenburo baths (open-air baths) that you can rent as a couple or family, and experience without gender separation. These may need to be reserved in advance, sometimes with a bit extra payment.

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  • 05

    Dining

    While some ryokan do allow you to choose whether you have dinner included or not (many don’t) there is usually very little reason not to enjoy their own meal preparation. It’s not just about the meal, but also the service that comes with it! Sometimes you can choose between having your meal in a main hall or in your room, so that’s a matter of preference for you. While it may seem strange to eat in your room, the staff will fully prepare everything, often while you are out as to create a more seamless experience. Generally both dinner and breakfast the following morning are included, meaning that lunch is up to you.

    Most often you’ll enjoy traditional kaiseki dining with multiple small dishes and featuring local delicacies ranging from seafood to vegetables, always in-season. You can choose some options (fish, meat) and if you have any dietary restrictions please communicate this to your hosts, ideally in advance of your visit if possible.

    All ryokan have a central, gender-separated, bath where anyone can go. These usually have set hours, often starting at 3pm and going late before opening again in the morning for a few hours. The type of bath depends very much on the local environs, but can be anything from a simple indoor facility to a more sprawling complex with indoor and outdoor baths of different sizes, temperatures, and even additives to the water. If you’re an onsen fanatic, be sure to check out their facilities in advance to get what you want.

    Many also include private rotenburo baths (open-air baths) that you can rent as a couple or family, and experience without gender separation. These may need to be reserved in advance, sometimes with a bit extra payment.

  • 06

    Sleeping

    In most ryokan you will have your bedding prepared for you while you are out of the room, generally with futon on the tatami floor. If you haven’t slept on futon before it’s certainly different from a mattress, but you will find that it creates a much more intimate atmosphere and connection with the ryokan experience. This can also mean sleeping many people in a single room, depending on the size of your party, but this is a great experience for some bonding and peace and quiet. You’ll find that in the later hours the ryokan itself is incredibly quiet, and the experience lends itself to an early bedtime and early rise for breakfast. Very little late-night partying in most cases, and a chance to relax.

    Japanese inns are very different from their more international counterparts, but are something that you really need to experience when spending time in Japan, particularly when visiting areas outside of the major cities. They’re a chance to connect with traditional culture, nature, and especially to get an understanding of a high level of customer service regardless of your price point.

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