Traditional Japanese hotels, Ryokan, are so much more than just a place to sleep. They can be a rewarding cultural experience and are often a traveler’s favorite part of their stay in Japan.
Ryokans are usually set in tranquil surroundings and are designed to be a place of rest, relaxation, and respite. The rooms are beautifully simplistic, and it can feel like time stands still after stepping inside.
There are so many reasons why travelers choose a Ryokan over a hotel when exploring beautiful Japan, but here are a few of the top ones!
10 Japanese Baths
One unique part of staying at a Ryokan is the traditional bathing facilities. Whether onsen (natural hot spring) or sento (man-made), these baths are a unique and traditional Japanese experience. Some offer tubs in private rooms and others have large communal baths, and nearly all have beautiful views to enjoy while relaxing in the steamy water. Larger Ryokan will have a range of indoor and outdoor pools, and while most will be partitioned into male and female sections, some do also offer mixed-gender baths. The most luxurious will be outdoor hot spring baths with sweeping views over the Japanese countryside. Whether big or small, private or communal, onsen or sento, Japanese baths are not to be missed!
9 Japanese Style Room
Although many Ryokans offer Western-style rooms or Japanese-style rooms, the latter are often more expensive but offer the full traditional experience. The Japanese rooms are beautifully simplistic, with straw mat floors (tatami) and sliding shōji screens. When guests first arrive the room will likely be set up with a small wooden table and chairs, which will later be moved to make room for the futon beds. It is polite to remove your shoes before entering the room and it is important to remember that most Ryokans do not have central heating or air conditioning!
8 Sleeping On A Futon Mattress
Another traditional feature of a Ryokan is the Japanese-style futon bedding. After dinner is served, the attendants (nakai-san) will prepare the bedding on straw mats (tatami) for guests. This unique sleeping experience can feel a little strange at first but most find futons strikingly soft and supportive and it will certainly be a memorable night’s sleep! A hint for a good night’s sleep – try sleeping on your back rather than your side, there is less padding than a Western mattress.
7 Multi-Course Dinner (Kaiseki)
Some visitors may be tempted to skip the food on offer to cut down on costs, but a meal at a Ryokan is an experience that should not be missed. They typically offer dinner as part of the cost, and this will be served in the guest rooms on small tables and legless chairs. Expect many small courses and each will be a work of art, both visually and in the subtle balance of tastes. Many start with miso soup, followed by several courses of raw, boiled, simmered, and grilled dishes. Each plate may be small but prepare for a multi-course culinary journey.
Similar to Kaiseki (dinner), many Ryokan’s offer breakfast as part of the package. After the host comes to pack away the futons, they will be served in the guest room. For those who have never eaten breakfast in Japan, it might not be a typical breakfast! Much of the food will be similar to dinner and will include multiple courses of fish and rice. It might not be for everyone, but it is certainly an experience!
5 Getting To Wear A Kimono
Part of the traditional Ryokan experience is getting to wear a kimono (yukata) along with slippers to wear in the guest rooms and to sleep in. Often intricately patterned, the kimonos are beautiful and help guests to embrace the traditional atmosphere. It helps that they are also very comfortable!
4 Japanese Gardens
Many Ryokans will have a traditional Japanese garden to explore filled with pretty wooden bridges over serene carp ponds. Even in a city-center Ryokan, these gardens provide a space to walk and enjoy the tranquility and slow pace of Japan.
3 The Hospitality
One of the most memorable things about traveling across Japan is how friendly everyone is. No matter where you are, everyone is always happy to help you in any way they can, regardless of whether they can speak English or not. The warm and generous Japanese hospitality is perhaps most clear when staying in a Ryokan. Although some might not speak English, from check-in to check-out, the hosts will be there to helpfully guide first-time guests through their stay. Usually, green tea and snacks will be served to guests on arrival, the beds will be made and put away, and dinner will be served in the guest rooms. This warm and generous hospitality makes any Ryokan stay a truly wonderful experience.
2 Reconnect With Nature
Stepping into a Ryokan feels like taking a step back into ancient Japan. The world slows down and becomes simpler amongst the tranquility of hot springs and bamboo. Each water feature and flower has been designed specifically to encourage guests to relax and recharge. For travelers with a hectic schedule, a night in a Ryokan can be a moment of peace and respite.
1 Embrace Japanese Culture and Traditions
Perhaps the most compelling reason to stay at a Ryokan is that it is a true insight into Japanese culture and tradition. Many smaller Ryokans are family-run, and although they have become more popular, they were designed to provide guests with a sanctuary where they can relax and focus on the simpler things at a slower pace. These unique stays are so much more than a hotel and give travelers space to unwind and connect with Japanese culture.