If you are asking this traveler, an overnight at a ryokan is a must! These traditional Japanese hotels offer a unique experience that I will not soon forget.
While you can find ryokans scattered throughout all of Japan, the best and most authentic are located in more scenic areas, such as the experience I had, staying in Hakone. There are a few key elements to a ryokan that are fairly consistent regardless of where you stay:
- The Room: Walking into your ryokan room is different than walking into any other hotel room you have stayed – I guarantee it. To start, there will be a table, low to the ground, with fresh hot tea that will constantly be replenished as needed throughout your stay. Near the table will be chairs that are missing the legs, allowing you to sit comfortably on the ground at the table. Sliding doors will be located throughout the room leading to different closets, bathrooms, entryways (to leave shoes) and if you’re lucky, a balcony or backyard. Finally, the most shocking difference will be the lack of a western bed, in fact, lack of a bed at all!
- The Bed: After your dinner, while you are out, the staff will come and make your bed for you. This consists of a thin futon mattress, sheets blankets and a pillow, placed on the tatami floor (additional futon mattresses available if you would like to ‘double up’. For the very finicky sleeper, this will be an adjustment to say the least. Fortunately, after a day of trekking in the mountains, I was able to sleep like a baby. Additionally, some ryokans do have hybrid western beds, but travelers should request this ahead of time.
- The Food: Staying at a ryokan is a full service experience. Breakfast and dinner are included in the price of your room and as you can imagine, this too will not be a typically hotel meal. The food served is Japanese kaiseki, a sumptuous meal consisting of multiple dishes and seasonal ingredients. Meals tend to lean heavy on sea food, offering several delicious options. Soup, salad and rice are also included in every meal. As authentic as it gets, there are no substitutions and no menu selections, simply an abundance of mouthwatering food.
- Onsen: Japan is home to over 100 active volcanoes – nearly 10% of all active volcanoes in the world! While they can be terrifying at times, they also offer relaxation in the form of hot spring baths or as they are called in Japan, Onsen. Most ryokans will have an onsen built into the property. Depending on the ryokan, some will offer public, private or both. Rules and etiquette will be consistent across the board including bathing yourself before and not wearing a swimsuit.
Ryokans are an exceptional way to spend your time in Japan, however I would recommend staying 1 or 2 nights at most. I have a list of my favorite ryokans and would be happy to share, but what I cannot share is the experience of actually staying in a ryokan. That, my friends, you will have to go and live for yourself.Destination Asia, Japan
Categorized in: Trip Reports