Translated by Tom Brodie Williams
Japanese Ryokan Guide: Room Rates, Manners, And Suggested Lodgings
Written by MATCHA
Ryokan, or traditional Japanese inns, are one type of accommodation travelers should try. With tatami rooms, exquisite food, yukata robes, and onsen, a ryokan is a great way to experience uniquely Japanese lodging. In this article, we introduce what to expect, along with prices and tips on manners.
Spend the Night at Ryokan to Encounter Traditional Lifestyle
Picture from Arima Onsen Day Trip -Top 3 Recommended Hot Springs
With their classic Japanese style, they are ideal for travelers who want to experience something unique. This article provides a basic guide to staying at ryokan, from the cost each night to manners to make your stay as comfortable as possible.
Average Room Prices
The average cost for one night at a ryokan is roughly 15,000 yen per person. Costs can reach upwards of 50,000 yen per night for high-class ryokans or those that established during the Meiji Period. However, there are many reasonably priced ryokans as well, so please choose according to your budget.
Ryokan typically cost more than business hotels in Japan, but they offer first-rate service and delicious meals, creating a relaxing experience for guests. We make reservations on Booking.com, which has a category for ryokan, allowing you to search and find specifically traditional inns.
What Exactly is a Ryokan?
Experience Traditional Style Japanese Rooms
Picture courtesy of Ginzanso
The rooms come with a low table and chairs called zaisu that have only the backs attached. The zaisu come with a zabuton cushion which you can use to relax in the room. Some rooms also come with chairs by the window as pictured above.
The sleeping style is also Japanese. Most rooms are equipped with futon matresses you can lay on the tatami floors to sleep on. Certain ryokan also have beds, so if you wish to sleep in one, please check when you make a reservation.
Rooms are also equipped with TVs, power sockets, and kettles for a comfortable stay. However, some ryokans are in very rural areas and may not have WiFi connection in some cases. Please check the lodging's official website before staying in order to avoid any inconvenience.
Receive Japanese Hospitality
Photo by Pixta
The staff (called nakai in Japanese) at ryokan communicate actively with customers to accommodate their needs. Ryokan provide some of the highest quality customer service and hospitality you can receive.
Relax in Yukata
Photo by Pixta
Instead of regular loungewear or pajamas, you will find yukata available at ryokans. Unlike pajamas, however, you can wear your yukata while taking a stroll around the local area or when going for dinner. Rules for yukata vary depending on where you are staying, so if you are concerned check with the ryokan staff.
Picture from Meet The Snow Monkeys At Shibu Onsen, Nagano! Access, Inns And More (Picture courtesy of Nagano Tourism Association)
When visiting an onsen town in Japan, you will find areas lined with hot spring establishments, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Put on your yukata and explore the onsen district.
Savor Local Cuisine
Basic lodging plans at ryokan include a two-meal option. One of the best aspects of staying at a ryokan is exquisite meals. Dinner is called gozen* in Japanese. It includes an assortment of five to ten dishes made using local ingredients.
The food is served on an array of elegant dishes making it a feast for your eyes as well as your stomach.
*Gozen: an honorific word for a meal. Generally used to refer to a menu of five to ten high-quality dishes served at a traditional Japanese restaurant.
Photo by Pixta
Depending on the plan you have, the staff may bring the dishes to your room along with rice and tea.
It’s common for ryokan to serve a traditional Japanese breakfast of rice, miso soup, tsukemono, cooked fish, tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), and other side dishes. The staff usually serve each dish individually so you can leisurely enjoy your meal.
Manners and Things to Know When Staying at a Ryokan
Photo by Pixta
There are some rules and etiquette that are best to know about when staying at a Japanese ryokan.
1. Please Call Ahead if You are Running Late.
Depending on the lodging, the staff will be waiting at the reception at your expected arrival time, and or will have set preparations for your evening meal for that time. So if you are running late, it is always a good idea to let the ryokan know in advance.
2. Take Your Shoes Off At The Entrance.
Take your shoes at the ryokan entrance. There will be slippers available to wear instead of shoes. Please leave your footwear at the front and change into the slippers provided.
3. Take Care Where You Put Your Suitcase
Please take care if traveling with wheeled suitcases. Tatami mats can be easily damaged by suitcase wheels so avoid rolling them onto the tatami. Also, the area in the room known as toko no ma is considered a sacred space, so please refrain from placing suitcases there too.
Instead, place your luggage away from the toko no ma alcove or leave it near the entrance to the room. Again, if you are concerned about anything, don't hesitate to ask the staff.
4. Restrooms May Be Japanese Style
Western-style restrooms are common, but occasionally you may have a Japanese style toilet where you have to squat. In that case, it’s important to learn how to use one.
5. Check Your Room Before Leaving
When checking out from the ryokan, it’s good manners to do clean it lightly. Fold your yukata and make sure any wet towels are returned to the bathroom. The staff will tidy up the zabuton so it’s fine to leave them as they are.
Stay at an Onsen Ryokan to Enjoy Hot Springs!
Picture from Kusatsu Onsen Guide: Hot Springs, Things To Do, And Access From Tokyo (Picture courtesy of Kusatsu Onsen Boun)
When staying at an onsen ryokan you can enjoy hot springs indoors and rotemburo (outdoor baths). Toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, body soap, razors, and hair-dryers are provided so you need not worry about bringing your own. Towels are provided in your room.
Hot Spring and Bath Etiquette at a Ryokan
There will be other people using the public bath, so it's important to follow certain rules. Wash your body before getting in the bath, tie up any long hair and be polite. This ensures everyone can enjoy the onsen together.
You can always ask the staff if you have any questions.
People with Tattoos May Not Be Able to Use Hot Springs and Public Baths
Since you’re staying at a ryokan, you will, of course, want to experience the onsen and public baths. However, please be aware that in Japan, certain onsens, public baths, and even pools don’t allow people with tattoos to enter or use them. Please make sure to double-check the rules on tattoos before making any reservations. In some cases, they allow tattoed bathers to wear a sticker or seal that covers up the ink.
Recommended Ryokan Spots
Kusatsu Onsen is another good destination, located about three to four hours by bus from Tokyo and ranked as one of the top three hot springs nationally. The abundant hot spring water flows freely through the town like a river and is transported to the area's ryokan and onsen.
For people staying in the Osaka and Kyoto area, we recommend Japan’s oldest hot spring, Arima Onsen. The charm of the onsen district is one of the biggest draws.
Picture from Beppu Onsen Guide - Access, Top Hot Springs, Food, And More! (Picture courtesy of Tourism Oita)
For those on an onsen tour, you can find many famous hot springs located in the Kyushu Region. This region includes well-known onsen areas like Beppu, famous for The Hells of Beppu tour on which you can experience the truly otherworldly colors of Beppu’s hellish hot springs, as well as the abundant in nature Yufuin, located just two hours from Hakata.
There is also Shibu Onsen in Nagano Prefecture, located near the Jigokudani Monkey Park where you can watch snow monkeys bathing in hot springs. Another destination is Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata Prefecture, which is transformed into a wonderland of snow in the winter months. Each onsen area has its own distinct features, so you’ll surely find an onsen area that you like.
Enjoy your trip by staying at a ryokan and rejuvenating in an onsen after a full day of sightseeing.
Original article by Mayu
This is a rewrite of an original article published on August the 15, 2016.