Translated by Greg
Stay at a Ryokan and Experience Traditional Japan in Tokyo
For visitors from abroad who would like to have a truly Japanese experience, a traditional ryokan is the ideal place to stay. In this article we'll introduce you to the attractive features of a ryokan and also tell you about prices and rules of etiquette.
Written by Mayu
A Japanese Ryokan
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn that has existed since olden times and is often found in hot spring resort towns.
Ryokans are typically built in old Japanese houses and have rooms in traditional Japanese-style, meaning that they feature tatami floors and shōji sliding doors. When one stays at a ryokan, a futon and bedding is placed over a tatami floor where one sleeps. Meals served at a ryokan are also Japanese-style and typically focus on locally grown ingredients.
One of the attractive features of a ryokan is being able to directly experience a traditional lifestyle that has long been forgotten by many present-day Japanese people. If you would like to experience this traditional Japanese lifestyle then by all means please stay at a ryokan.
As was explained earlier in this article, you can stay at a ryokan when you travel to a hot spring or rural area, but if you look they can also be found in Tokyo, so please check the accommodation reservation sites for them.
Average Prices at a Ryokan
For single occupancy a ryokan costs about 6000 - 25,000 yen for one night, with the average room price being about 15,000 yen.
While a luxury ryokan can cost in the tens of thousands of yen per night, if you look around there are also reasonably-priced versions. Ryokan with a long history dating from the Meiji period can cost as much as 50,000 yen per night.
Compared to a business hotel, ryokan can feel expensive, but in return they have luxurious meals and polite and courteous first-class service (the Japanese concept of omotenashi, or hospitality).
A room in a ryokan is more spacious than a hotel room and some rooms can even accommodate up to five guests at a time.
In hot spring area ryokans there are facilities that are shared with other guests such as karaoke, ping pong tables and massage rooms. After relaxing in a hot spring, playing a game of ping pong with friends is one of many enjoyable activities to take part in at a hot spring ryokan.
Rooms Come Fully Equipped
Each room comes with a futon (traditional Japanese bedding), a table, zabuton (floor cushion), zaisu (*1) among other things.
There's also a TV, wall outlets and a hot water pot. Generally speaking, anything required for staying the night is usually available. At a ryokan, instead of a chair there's usually a zabuton and zaisu. If it's difficult to sit on a zabuton feel free to ask the ryokan staff whether or not there's a chair available.
*1 Zaisu: a legless chair that is used on a tatami floor. It has a seat cushion and a backrest.
Rooms are supplied with a full range of amenities such as shampoo and conditioner, soap, shaving razors, towels, a hairdryer and so on, so guests don't need to bring anything.
Instead of bathrobes or other clothing, every guest is supplied with a yukata. Different from a western-style hotel bathrobe, a yukata can be worn outside as well without the slightest bit of inconvenience.
While wearing a yukata you can go for a walk outside and it's no problem to go directly to dinner without changing. If you're not sure how to put on your yukata please ask the staff for assistance.
Ryokan Internet Service
Recently, the number of ryokans with wi-fi access has increased, however at ryokans in remote places such as the mountains, wi-fi is often not available. So in order to ensure a worry-free stay, please check into wi-fi availability ahead of time.
One of the attractive features of a ryokan is the magnificent meals, in which Japanese food is predominantly served. Their main characteristic is that they use seasonal ingredients such as locally grown vegetables and freshly caught fish.
Breakfast at a Ryokan
A ryokan breakfast is a traditional, Japanese-style meal that includes rice, miso soup, grilled fish, tamago-yaki (a rolled omelette) and pickles. The meal often comes with nattō, or fermented soybeans, and also raw egg, each of which can be poured on top of and eaten together with the rice.
This is different from a buffet at a western hotel because breakfast is delivered to your room dish by dish by the ryokan staff, allowing you to sit back and enjoy a relaxing and leisurely meal time.
Dinner at a Ryokan
A ryokan dinner is a luxurious event called gozen (*2). Locally picked vegetables and freshly-caught fish are served and guests can choose from a selection of 5-10 different gozen dinners from the menu. The food is served in various small containers and dishes and is not only delicious but also visually appealing.
Depending on the plan, the staff will deliver dinner right to your door and they can also serve the food and tea to you inside your room.
(*2) Gozen: a polite expression meaning "meal". Usually refers to a luxurious, Japanese-style menu at a restaurant that offers 5-10 different set meals.
Services At A Ryokan
At the ryokan, the staff enthusiastically go out of their way to communicate with all the guests and respond to all their needs; Nakai-san at Sadachiyo Ryokan is an especially helpful and friendly worker. For that reason we recommend Sadachiyo Ryokan in Asakusa for those people who would like to have top-notch service and hospitality.
Etiquette at a Ryokan
When staying at a Japanese-style ryokan, there are a few things you need to take note of.
Take Off Your Shoes at the Entrance
At the entrance to the ryokan you'll need to remove your shoes. Then you can put on the slippers that are waiting there for all the guests.
Though western-style toilets appear to be on the increase, you will occasionally encounter Japanese-style toilets as well. In that case you'll need to know how to use them properly so please refer to the following article.
Hot Springs and Large Public Baths
In the case of a hot spring or large public bath, the pool is shared with the other guests. So it's important to follow the rules.
- Remove your clothes in the dressing room and place them in the basket.
- Do not wear a bathing suit in the bath.
- Women with long hair should tie their hair up with a clip or rubber band.
- Do not wash your body inside the bath. First take a shower and wash yourself thoroughly before entering the bath.
- Do not remove the plug (stopper) in the bath, and so on...
If you're not sure how to use the bath, please ask a ryokan staff member.
Public Baths and Tattoos
If one has come all the way to a ryokan, chances are they would like to enjoy the hot spring or bath, but here we have one note of caution.
At hot springs, public baths and pools in Japan, there are instances where people with tattoos are not allowed to enter the water. Presently in Japan, the government and local municipalities are working together with hot spring owners in order to try allowing more visitors from abroad who have tattoos to use hot springs and public baths without discrimination. However, if you have a tattoo and are not allowed to enter the facility, you will have to use the bath or shower in your room instead.
Who are Ryokan for?
Finally on a closing note, we would like to recommend ryokans to the following people: those of you who would like to have a sense of what Japan is all about, those of you who would like to experience Japan's heartfelt hospitality, and those of you who would like to give a hot spring a try.