Ryokan offer an authentic experience and a glimpse into Japanese culture, cuisine and hospitality.
Kinosaki Onsen Nishimuraya HonkanKinosaki Onsen, Hyogo Prefecture
Rated as the “Best Onsen Town” by Lonely Planet, Kinosaki Onsen is one of the best places to experience a traditional and classic Japanese onsen. Many of the rooms look over private gardens and there are two main onsen areas (indoor and outdoor) for guests to enjoy as well as a private gallery of Japanese art, photographs and historical artifacts.
Images: ©Nishimuraya Kinosaki Onsen (www.flickr.com)
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese-style inn, and is the place to experience what Japan has to offer. Ryokan range from small, family-run inns featuring only a handful of rooms to large, hotel-like establishments with hundreds of rooms. They are popular with both Japanese and international tourists, and some ryokan offer the choice of Japanese-style or Western-style rooms. Prices for a ryokan stay are per person, per night, include dinner and breakfast, and range from ¥3,000 (about $35 CDN) for no-frills budget options to over ¥40,000 (approximately $465 CDN) for luxury choices. Average rates are ¥15,000 to ¥25,000 ($175 CDN to $290 CDN) per person, per night. While some ryokan can be found in busy urban centres, the majority of ryokan are located in more scenic rural landscapes. Ryokan are commonly found in areas where there are hot springs.
Japanese-style guest rooms feature tatami floors, sliding doors and sometimes a small porch or balcony for guests to enjoy. Most rooms accommodate between two and four people, and some ryokan do not accept guests travelling solo, especially during high season.When you rst arrive, there will often be local treats or wagashi (Japanese sweets) and tea waiting for you in your room, on a small table. You might be surprised to see that there is no bed on the tatami floor. Don’t worry—your attendant will come into your room before bedtime and lay out a futon for you to sleep on (futons are rolled up and stored away during the day to offer you more space). Most ryokan follow a similar layout, with guests arriving at a recessed (lowered) entrance hall with a common area containing chairs, couches and sometimes televisions. This entrance, or genkan, is a special area as it is the first impression a guest will have. Shoes are to be left here and slippers are provided for guests to use during their stay. Some rooms will have a sink, private bathroom, fridge and safe, though be prepared for communal washroom areas at some ryokan.
Images: ©Nishimuraya Kinosaki Onsen (www.flickr.com)
Part of an authentic ryokan experience is staying overnight and enjoying a kaiseki dinner and a traditional Japanese breakfast.
Ryokan are more than just places to stay. Enjoying traditional Japanese meals, as pictured here (Nishimuraya’s breakfast at bottom, kaiseki dinner from Nishimuraya on top), is an integral part of the ryokan experience and should not be missed. Mostryokan offer guests both dinner and breakfast that are included in the price of the stay. Kaiseki dinners are multi-course meals that showcase local and seasonal specialities and treat guests to a taste of Japanese high cuisine. While some ryokan have a common dining area where guests can enjoy their meals, it is more common for overnight guests to take their meals in their room. Many ryokan o erWestern-style meals as well for guests who prefer to have that option.
©Nishimuraya Kinosaki Onsen (www.flickr.com)
Bathing areas at most ryokan are segregated by gender, though there are some mixed-gender onsen (hot springs). Baths often rotate gender so that everybody can enjoy the various baths, so pay special attention to the signs—men’s bathing areas are marked with a blue sign, women’s areas with a red sign. Higher-end establishments sometimes offer private baths, which are perfect for couples and families who would like to bathe together. Yukata are Japanese-style robes that are provided in rooms for guests to wear as they relax in the ryokan. Check-in time is usually any time after 3 pm, and dinner is often taken between 6 pm and 7 pm. Guests typically use the onsen before or after dinner or in the morning, before breakfast. Many guests use the baths more than once a day. Reservations for most ryokan can be made online, either through large reservation sites such as Booking.com, Japanese guesthouses. com or Japanican.com, or directly through the ryokan’s webpage. You can also make reservations through a travel agent or by calling the ryokan. It is rare to get same-day reservations, so plan your visit in advance as many ryokan are in remote areas and fill up quickly.
Ryokan Etiquette Explained
There is a lot of etiquette to follow when you are staying at a ryokan that may seem intimidating to the first-time visitor.
No shoes in the ryokan and no slippers on the tatami
All guests should remove their shoes at the recessed entrance and put on the provided slippers to wear around the ryokan. Slippers should be removed for any room with tatami floors.
Do not put your luggage on the tokonoma!
The tokonoma is a decorative display area in your guest room, often featuring delicate artwork. This area is purely for display and should be kept clear of belongings at all times.
¥1,000 per guest is an appropriate amount to tip your attendant. Make sure to wrap your bills in paper or use an envelope!
Tips are given at the beginning of your stay as athank-you to your attendant for the care and good attention you are about to receive. Generally, one attendant will be responsible for looking after you for the duration of your stay. The attendant’s duties include greeting you when you arrive, taking care of your shoes, preparing your futon (and rolling it away the next day), and bringing you your meals and snacks.
How to wear a Yukata
Yukata are provided in your room for you to wear during your stay. Here’s how to get comfy in your yukata:
1. Put your arms through the yukata’s sleeves (keep your underwear on, but feel free to wear nothing else).
2. First, bring the right side of the yukata over your body, and then pull the left side over the right side. Make sure to not do the opposite as that refers to burial clothes in Japan.
3. Wrap the sash around your body and tie at the front. The sash should be over the hipbone for men and around the waist for women. Make sure your yukata is not too loose.
4. For added warmth, you have the option to wear a chabaori—similar to a cardigan—on top of your yukata.
Notable Ryokan not to be Missed
Tsurunoyu – Nyuto Onsen, Akita Prefecture
A three-hour trip north from Tokyo on the bullet train plus a bus ride and either a long walk or a short drive by private car, one can find the Tsurunoyu Onsen, set among the majestic mountains of the Japanese countryside, near the base of Mt. Nyutou. At one point in history, this onsen was frequented by samurai and local nobility of the Akita region.
Mikawaya Ryokan Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture
Nestled in the hillside of Hakone Mountain, located an hour’s drive south of Tokyo and offering stunning views of the Myojingatake, Daimonji and Sengen Mountains, the 124-year-old Mikawaya Ryokan offers guests the option of indoor and outdoor hot-spring baths as well as Japanese or Western accommodations. Another reason to visit: the Mikawaya gardens are spectacular year-round.
Picture ©JTA /©JNTO
Takaragawa Onsen Osekaku – Takaragawa Onsen, Gunma Perfecture
The large open-air bath Takaragawa Onsen is situated along the Takaragawa (meaning “river acquiring treasure”) stream, where melting snow from the mountains meets a raging river. This ryokan is ideal for a family stay, fairly easy to get to from Tokyo, and offers a peaceful visit in a beautiful location with a traditional and rustic feel.