Categories: The Good, the Bad, and the Interesting
If you get a chance, spending a night at a Japanese ryokan (traditional inn) can be a great addition to your adventures in Japan. I have been to two separate ryokan and had very different experiences, but they were both fantastic.
If you go to a ryokan, you can expect to…
- …be impressed by the level of service.
- If you let them know the time that you will be arriving, some ryokan will make preparations so that when you arrive you’ll be greeted by name and there will be slippers already laid out for you.
- Many ryokan don’t have English speaking staff, but are still willing to help in any way they can. It’s a good chance to practice your Japanese; or bring along a Japanese friend to help you!
- …have a tatami mat room.
- Traditional bamboo flooring ❤ This means that you’ll have to take your shoes off immediately when you enter the building, and then take your slippers off when you enter your room. During the day there will be a low table and chairs set up in the middle of the room with the tools to make tea laid out.
- …wear a yukata (if you want).
- Light, cotton kimono. Easy to put on and take off (for when you go to the onsen), and very comfortable. If you go to an onsen town, it is not uncommon to see people walking around the town in their yukata, visiting other onsen and just relaxing.
- …eat traditional Japanese food.
- If you’re afraid of Japanese food, this might be a problem for you. At my first ryokan, dinner was a seemingly endless procession of food, where as soon as one plate was empty it was replaced with something else. I’m not even sure what half of the food was (even though it was delicious), but there was nabe, tempura, and a whole fish which I ate a little bit of and that was it… There are some ryokan that serve Western food for breakfast and dinner, but don’t plan on there being that option unless you specifically find a ryokan that offers it.
- …have access to an onsen.
- Yay onsen!! I will always and forever promote the onsen. The onsen at ryokan are especially nice and usually offer great views of the surrounding nature. There will usually be around 4; 2 indoor and 2 outdoor, separated by gender.
- …have a staff member enter your room while you’re not there and set up your futon.
- The first time this happened it freaked me out a little because I wasn’t expecting it. Most ryokan include dinner and breakfast with the price, and since both of those are at specific scheduled times, the staff will enter your room while you’re eating and either set up your futon or put it away depending on the time of day, and set up or put away the tables and chairs. Just one of the perks of not needing mattress frame and such.
- …sleep on a futon.
- Some ryokan do offer Western style sleeping arrangements, but I feel like you miss out on part of the experience if you opt for one of these. Regardless, unless you specifically research and book a ryokan with a bed, you can expect a futon.
- …spend a lot of money.
- This kind of getaway doesn’t come cheap. Most ryokan charge per room, and they usually don’t have rooms for one person, so you have to either pay the full price or find a buddy to go with and split the cost. The price varies, with some charging $100 a night and others more like $3-400 a night.
Ryokans I’ve been to
- Takamine Onsen — Located on top of a mountain, this ryokan is inaccessible by car during the winter due to snow — so you have to take a snow cat up! Highlights of this trip included star viewing at night, snowshoe tours in the morning, and a wonderful outdoor onsen with fantastic views.
- Kamesei Ryokan Nagano — A great ryokan, located in the middle of an onsen town! Highlights of this trip included being entertained by geisha, a very comfortable yukata and futon, and delicious breakfast.