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Traditional Accommodation in Japan

Ryokan is a traditional type of accommodation in Japan and has been a part of Japanese culture for centuries. Many ryokans are located outside cities, making them good places to relax and enjoy nature. Also, many ryokans feature natural hot spring baths, known as onsen.

The best thing about staying at a ryokan is that it allows you to experience a traditional atmosphere in surroundings unique to Japan. Keep reading below and learn some important things about Ryokan.

Highlights

  • There are many different kinds of ryokan, varying greatly in terms of size, cost and style.
  • During your stay, a yukata (cotton kimono) is provided, you can wear the yukata in your room, around the ryokan, and if you like you can wear it when you take a short walk in the neighborhood.
  • The main difference between a hotel and a ryokan is that a ryokan has traditional Japanese-style rooms with tatami straw-mat flooring.
  • For many visitors to Japan, a stay at a ryokanis often the highlight of the trip.
  • Please follow the basic etiquette as it can be considered rude and inappropriate.

What is a Ryokan?

A ryokan is a Japanese-style inn. The ryokan usually maintains a special atmosphere and appearance because it is more important than providing the latest modern conveniences. A ryokan is for travelers who wish to experience Japanese culture and enjoy the comforts of Japanese hospitality and service.

Unlike hotels, there are no swimming pools or gyms at ryokan, but there are often large communal baths. These are separate for men and women and may feature an outdoor bath, known as a rotenburo. There are often karaoke booths, table tennis tables, or other simple leisure facilities.

Many ryokan owners wish to preserve the traditional atmosphere of their ryokan, which may mean maintaining the traditional architecture, design, and atmosphere of the ryokan. If you prefer to sleep in a room that has carpets, perfect temperature, noise insulation, the latest high-tech gadgets, then a ryokan might not be for you.

Typical Elements of a Ryokan Room

A ryokan room usually has tatami mat flooring, a futon, tables and chairs. Guests sleep on a futon laid out on the tatami. The rooms usually are either 8-, 10-, or 12-tatami mats in size. The size of tatami mats varies slightly by region, but on average a tatami mat is 91 cm x 182 cm (1.66 sqm) or 35.5 in x 71 in (17.8 square feet).

Japan’s ryokan present a contrast to modern business hotels, by offering a classical vacation experience. They are fitted out with washitsu(Japanese-style rooms) with tatami flooring, shoji (sliding paper doors), and tokonoma (decorative alcoves) displaying hanging scrolls or ikebana (flower arrangements).

Ryokan sometimes are equipped with fusuma, which are traditional Japanese room separators, constructed with paper or cloth in a wooden frame.The primary difference between fusuma and shoji is that fusuma are opaque. Although fusuma may be constructed from paper, it is typically a thick, course-grained paper that isn't translucent. Shoji on the other hand are made from a thin waxed paper that lets light through.

Amenities vary from ryokan to ryokan. Guests are usually provided with the following basics: a yukata (a type of unisex one-layer kimono that guests wear when relaxing in the ryokan and while sleeping), towels, and a toothbrush with toothpaste. Soap, shampoo and conditioner are all provided inside the bathing areas.

Wearing Yukata and Geta

The yukata is a casual kimono-like garment worn during the summer. It’s unlined and usually made of cotton to make the fabric more breathable. Yukata-wearing dates back over 1,000 years to when they were worn by the nobility to go to and from their baths in the days before bath towels were used in Japan.

How to wear a yukata: Put on the yukata with undergarments worn below, wrap the right side of the yukata around to your left hip. Then wrap the left side over the right. Make sure the bottom of the yukata comes down to your ankles and is even length on both sides.To hold the yukata closed, wrap the sash around yourself two to three times. Leave enough length to tie a bow. Women: tie the sash at your waist; men: tie the sash at your hips.

Geta are sandals with an elevated wooden base held onto the foot with a fabric flip-flop to keep the foot well off the ground. They are worn with traditional Japanese clothing such as kimono or yukata. Sometimes geta are worn even in rain or snow to keep the feet dry, due to their extra height.

Bathing

There are some onsen ryokan (hot spring inns), that include private-use hot spring baths and rooms with private open-air baths. This kind of room and hot spring should be booked when you reserve the ryokan.

The main bathhouses are gender-segregated at all inns. Packed with attractive features such as beautiful views, great therapeutic benefits, and spacious, relaxing bath tubs, the baths are often one of the biggest selling points of the ryokan. Occasionally there are some mixed gender baths as well.

Most ryokan baths are open during afternoons, evenings and mornings, and some may be open 24 hours a day. Before dinner is a good time to take a Japanese style bath. You may use the bath in your room or you may use the large public bath in the ryokan.

Garden Visit

After a visit to the onsen bathhouse, many people enjoy taking a walk around the ryokan's garden or neighborhood.It is a common sight in the evenings to see ryokan guests strolling around the neighborhood in their yukata and geta, enjoying a walk after a good bath.

For those less inclined to quiet pursuits, larger ryokan are usually well equipped for revelers. The large mega-ryokan in particular are known for being accommodating to groups and events. They often include additional restaurants, bars, karaoke rooms, game rooms, shows and shops on their premises that operate into the night.

Dinner Arrangements

Most ryokan have their set dinner, awashoku, and many of them have the kaiseki ryoriKaiseki ryori originally used to be dishes to enjoy with drinking sake. It consists of various side dishes, such as soup, sashimi, grilled, boiled, fried, steamed, or marinated meat, fish and vegetables. At the end you will be served some kind of rice and soup which is called tomewan(finishing bowl).

Dinner typically starts around 18:00 - 19:00. If the ryokan does not have a fixed dining time, then you will be given a range of times to choose from. Guests usually dine in either their own guest room, in a separate private dining room or in a communal dining area.

Breakfast Arrangements

Breakfast varies widely. Some ryokan serve a whole feast, others just simple and basic one soup and three dishes, and some offer western style breakfast.There are also many ryokan, which serve in buffet style.

Usually a ryokan offers a Japanese-style breakfast, which has lots of local ingredients, such as local miso, fish, salad, tofu, and Japanese rice gruel, also freshly baked bread, and coffee as well as tea. The time and location of breakfast will be confirmed the night before by your attendant, but it is typically held in the same place that you were served dinner.

Arriving and Checking Out of a Ryokan

Check-in time is usually from 15:00 - 18:00. If you want to have dinner, please make sure to check in before 17:30. If you check in after this time, there is a chance that the ryokan will not be able to serve you dinner. Please note that you will be charged extra for the dinner.

When entering a ryokan lobby prior to check-in, you must take your shoes off and then directly step up into the Genkan (entryway to a Japanese home). Entering a ryokan with your shoes on, or walking in the shoe area barefoot or in your socks, is inappropriate because your shoes are considered dirty.

Check-out time for the ryokan is usually 10:00 or 11:00. This leaves just enough time to have a morning bath and to linger over breakfast. A staff member might come into your room while you are away eating breakfast to put away the futon. Please keep in mind, you should try to leave the room tidy and clean before checking out.

Staying at a Minshuku

Minshuku are the equivalent of family-run guest houses. They are usually farms in the countryside or mountains, or fishermen's houses by the sea, sometimes in very remote places, but mostly near hot springs. Sleeping in this kind of family-run establishment offers the opportunity to live in a typical Japanese home and make contact with Japanese people.

Meals (dinner and breakfast) are generally taken together with other travelers, and sometimes one or more family members, at a fixed time. They serve delicious and hearty family cuisine made of local produce. A room in a minshuku costs between 6,000 and 9,000 yen (between US$55 and 80). Staying in a minshuku is a good experience to explore an area like a local.

Staying in a Ryokan with Asia Highlights

As ryokan are usually located in remote areas, it will be difficult to arrange the itinerary. Travel with Asia Highlights and experience a night or two in a ryokan that will suit your demand. Please contact us if you have any questions!

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