Do more than just imagining your life in a ryokan, experience it with us. Excited to sleep on tatami mat floors and Japanese style rooms? Read on.
If you’ve been to Japan, you probably heard a lot about people raving about staying in a ryokan; and how it could be a great experience to stay in one as a way to immerse in the beautiful and rich culture of Japan.
If you’ve experienced the onsen in Japan, it is time to conquer the ryokan accommodations. A ryokan is widely famous in the Land of the Rising Sun, and for a good reason.
What Is a Ryokan?
Before we dive deeper into the fantastic ryokan in Japan, let’s first define what a ryokan is.
A ryokan is a Japanese-style inn where customers experience authentic Japanese hospitality. You can find guest houses throughout the country, especially in hot spring resorts, in which the Japanese usually integrate a ryokan with an onsen. A ryokan would have futon beds, Japanese style baths or onsen, tatami floors, and serve their local cuisine.
Numerous kinds of ryokans vary in sizes, style, and cost. Some of them are small in size and have only a few rooms available, while others are large with hotel-like features that have hundreds of rooms to offer. A few of the ryokans are budget-friendly, while others cater to wealthy people.
Some people, and most first-timers, find ryokan as rigid and intimidating because of its traditional style and atmosphere. These inns offer a relaxing experience that most tourists, and even the locals, should take the chance of trying it for at least one night.
An overnight stay in a ryokan can cost you an average of 15,000 to 25,000 Japanese yen for each person. It may be expensive for some, but it would be worth your stay as they give you world-class services and even provide you with an elaborate supper, then breakfast in the morning. Their meals are usually seasonal specialties. It would also be a huge plus if you can enjoy onsen baths.
A ryokan is part of Japanese culture that started centuries ago. You can find some of Japan’s earliest ryokan at the Tokaido Highway which links the capital city of Edo (Tokyo) and the impressive Imperial Palace in Kyoto. Samurais and traders use the Tokaido Highway to reach their destinations. The Japanese began building ryokans to provide travellers with a place to stay when they get tired from their long journey. Some homeowners also offered their extra room in their houses, while some higher ranks in the government would prefer more elaborate rooms.
What Is a Ryokan Hotel?
Travelling to Japan will give you no worries about accommodations. They have more than 80,000 establishments for you to choose. Japan’s accommodations consist of 10,000 hotels and some 50,000 ryokans. The other places to stay are small inns that have four rooms, capsule hotels, minshuku, and many others.
Hotels are often Western-style structures, equipment, and services that you can find in most parts of the world. A ryokan is a Japanese inn that has authentic Japanese facilities, equipment, and traditional services which you can see in the country.
They feature Japanese tatami rooms where guests can sleep on a futon, which is a traditional style of bedding. A complete futon is made up of a mattress and a duvet, which is flexible enough to absorb air, and you can easily store it in a large closet to give space to the room and serve another purpose other than a bedroom.
Ryokan rooms have tatami features, which is a type of mat utilised as the room’s flooring material. It also serves as a softer base for hardwood or stone flooring. The staff must fold the futons away every day and regularly soak in the sun to avoid any mould build-ups and kill the mites. You can see futons commonly hanging over balconies airing under the sun all over Japan. It is also pretty common to see these accommodations to offer hot springs baths to their guests.
Western-style futons are low wooden sofa beds which are much different from Japanese futons. The size of their futons is based on western mattresses which you cannot fold because it is too thick. These futons are on a slatted frame that makes it heavy to move for air drying outside. Their centrally-heated houses help in indoor air-drying.
These facilities let you experience sleeping on a futon in a Japanese Tatami room style. Hotels are facilities that let you sleep on a bed in a Western-style room. You need to remove your shoes when going inside a ryokan and wear their room shoes, or slippers.
There are large guesthouses in onsen towns and call themselves a hotel and some establishments feature rooms with beds and not just futon rooms. While they also offer hot springs, the experience may not reflect the authentic Japanese atmosphere.
Type of Service Rendered
Ryokans also feature a different kind of service, where they would let you feel an authentic Japanese culture for staying. Hotels, on the other hand, provide services at the entrance and front desk. They also have meals supplied by restaurants, which gives their staff no reason to go to their guest’s room so often.
They provide meals and deliver them to their guests’ rooms. Their staff always visit their guests’ rooms, giving their guests more time to communicate with them.
Upon arrival at the front (Choba) and write down your details in a guest book (Yadocho), some of their staff will guide you to your room, serve you tea, and give you tips in enjoying your stay.
Best Ryokan in Tokyo
If you happen to include the city of Tokyo as part of your itinerary in Japan, you may notice that the capital city of Japan only may not have too many ryokans. This is because most of the land in the area is too expensive. Still, you might want to try these highly regarded guest houses in Tokyo:
Built in 2016, Hoshinoya Tokyo is among the very few that were able to buck the luxury trend in Tokyo. Nestled near the Tokyo Station, Hoshinoya is a perfect choice for an intimate oasis in Japan. It has 84 rooms where guests can walk on tatami rather than wooden floors. Yes, even their elevators have tatami flooring.
The staff are approachable and accessible with a lounge placed every six rooms. True to the Japanese culture, the rooms come with Zen style beautifully blending wood and bamboo. But it also comes with few modernities. Perhaps one of the big bonuses that you can experience here is their open-air hot bath.
If you are looking for a moderately-priced Japanese inn, head on to the vibrant neighbourhood of Asakusa and book a room in Sadachiyo.
This particular ryokan offers one of the best traditional Japanese experiences as it allows guests to feel the authentic feel of Japan from centuries ago. Some of the period-specific items you can see when you visit this ryokan is the traditional rickshaw and their staff dressed in authentic Japanese clothes.
This ryokan has 20 guest rooms with a tatami mat adorned with woodblock prints, antiques, shoji screens, and other traditional furnishings that you can only see in old Japanese homes. Each of the rooms can fit a family of six. They also have hot springs and open-air baths that guests can enjoy.
If you prefer to stay in a more quiet neighbourhood, the Homeikan is an excellent option. The Homeikan has three Japanese inns. It includes The Honkan, which serves as the main and oldest of all buildings. It is also included as a Tangible Cultural Property. The second building is the Daimachi, which served as the owner’s family home before it was converted as a ryokan. It is also the most popular of the three buildings because of its garden views and communal mineral bath. The third building is Morikawa, which also offers public baths or onsen.
If you want to enjoy a public onsen hot spring in a traditional ryokan, Homeikan will give it to you.
One of the beautiful Japanese inns in the Tokyo area is the Ryokan Sawanoya. Founded in 1949, the ryokan has been managed by the same family spanning three generations. They have been a top choice for guests coming from the United States and other international areas. You may also expect to see many individuals from the LGBTQ+ community to flock this inn.
Ryokan Sawanoya has 12 tatami rooms, with only two of them having a private bathroom. It also offers two Japanese-style onsen baths that offer locks for added privacy and a lounge and a dining room where you can enjoy free coffee and breakfast.
Best Ryokan in Kyoto
Kyoto is among the cities where most foreigners, particularly those from the United States, enjoy a great time. If you are on the hunt for a Japanese ryokan with onsen baths, here are some that are worth your time:
One of the oldest Ryokans in Kyoto and Japan, for that matter, is Seikoro Ryokan. Established in 1831 a few minutes east of the Kamo River, this ryokan offers the best views and experience. It has a 120-year-old building, with rooms opening onto the garden. They also offer an onsen where guests can enjoy hot spring baths or a Japanese onsen.
Note, however, that Seikoro would offer room rates without meals during the offseason. But, if you want to enjoy the entire experience of eating a kaiseki dinner delivered while you are enjoying the privacy of your home. Do you know what else makes this ryokan truly one of a kind? Their public bath that was made from a 400-year-old cypress tree.
If you want to stay in a famous and best inns of Japan, book a room at Hiiragiya. Again, this is also among the oldest guest houses built in 1818. This 100-year-old inn is famous, not only for its rich history (the inn is owned by the same family for six generations now), but also because it served as the home to many politicians, writers, and members of the imperial family.
The 28 rooms in the main building and the new wing feature tatami mat flooring. Each of these rooms comes with unique adornments that perfectly encapsulate the true Japanese tradition and culture. One of the must-experiences in this Kyoto-style kaiseki dinner that you can enjoy at the comforts of your room. They also have a public onsen where guests can enjoy a hot spring bath.
Hotel Kanra Kyoto
If you are on the hunt for a “ryokan hotel,” this hybrid inn of Hotel Kanra Kyoto is a must-see. It comes with a modern design that radiates the architectural highlights that you would commonly see in merchant houses or machiya, which used to populate the neighbourhoods of Kyoto.
It features 68 rooms with Japanese-style rooms that have lattice doors that come with modern styles, granite floors, shoji screen, tatami areas, and raised platform beds. They also have soaking tubs from cypress woods that aim to provide their guests an onsen-quality relaxation.
They are perfect for guests coming from the United States and many international areas for their English-speaking staff. If you want to experience Japanese cuisine, you may have to experience it elsewhere since they don’t offer meals with their rates.
If you have a business in the downtown area of Kyoto, one of the best guest houses you can stay at is the Nishiyama Ryokan. It is only a short walk from the busy area. Despite its convenient location, it remains one of the moderately-priced inns with a rich history spanning 50 years. Don’t be fooled by the exterior look of this ryokan because once you get inside, you will see that this five-story building aims to preserve the authenticity that you can expect from a traditional inn.
Its public bath comes with a waterfall, and it also features a courtyard garden. Perhaps one reason you would enjoy your stay here is that they often host public events, such as a tea ceremony, origami sessions, and even koto concerts. The rooms do not disappoint as well, as the 30 rooms come stylised in traditional Japanese style. They also serve kaiseki meals if you book your room in advance.
Best Ryokan in Other Areas of Japan
Arai Ryokan (Izu)
One of the popular weekend getaway destinations on the Izu Peninsula is the Arai Ryokan, which opened in 1872. This inn hosted many Japanese celebrities, including writers, artists, and kabuki actors. Arai Ryokan has 15 structures, which are all recognised as a natural, cultural asset. The main building features a covered bridge made from wood that leads to the rooms and their century-old onsen bathhouse.
Arai Ryokan offers 30 rooms that are sprawling through a number of wooden buildings, erected between 1899 and 1935. Some rooms feature views of the pond and Katsura River. They also serve traditional kaiseki meals and change the menu every month in which they serve in your room. You also have several choices for onsen bathing, such as a rotenburo surrounded by boulders.
Gora Kadan (Hakone)
Gora Kadan is among the top-rated Japanese ryokans in the country, with a concept showcasing Japan’s simplicity with elegance. Situated in the woods and gardens in Hakone, visitors will have a treat experiencing the restorative capabilities of both indoor and outdoor onsen baths that also provide spa treatments. They also have a heated indoor swimming pool and a gym for the fitness buffs. In fact, they are often regarded as among those that feature Western-style rooms and hot springs.
Aside from offering great guest rooms, this Japanese ryokan also has that luxury feel to it where guests enjoy the water of their private open-air baths or a private onsen. Their rooms have minimalist modern interior design, which all have access to the gardens or balconies, and also the rotenburo. Gora Kadan also serves traditional kaiseki meals and an Elizabethan-style half-timbered structure that used to be the Imperial family’s summer residence.
Ryokan Kurashiki (Kurashiki)
The Ryokan Kurashiki is an exclusive ryokan, surrounded by shops, museums, and restaurants in the historic old town of Kurashiki. This ryokan occupies an old mansion with three restored warehouses, which has eight suites with separate bedrooms. Ryokan Kurashiki features a Western-style double bed fitted in the bedrooms, and there are also tatami rooms that have perfect views of the scenic canal. They serve your kaiseki dinners in your private room and breakfasts in the ryokan’s tea lounge that has a small garden.
A historic ryokan, the Minamikan is a 132-year-old structure surrounding Lake Shinji with 300-year-old pines inside their highly-ranked garden. There are plenty of room choices for guests, including tatami rooms and a combination of ordinary rooms with beds and tatami areas. They all provide a majestic view of the lake and garden.
Minamikan offers meals with seasonal catches from the Sea of Japan and Lake Shinji. They also have a restaurant, popular with the locals because of their one-pot rice meals. Their onsen is also a must-experience.
Kurayado Iroha (Miyajima)
Kurayado Iroha is a modern ryokan, famous for its location on the shopping street of Miyajima, with scenic views of the Seto Inland Sea. Miyajima is well-known for its Itsukushima Shrine which is already a World Heritage Site.) This ryokan has a relaxing atmosphere and a meticulously efficient staff. Their rooms also feature tatami rooms and combination rooms that have a vast view of the sea. They take good care of their guests most especially when serving their kaiseki meals.
Kurayado Iroha requires all its guests a declaration if they have allergies and food preferences. They take pride in their endless supply of kaiseki meals in the dining room.
Kannawa-en has beautifully landscaped gardens, ponds, and a variety of structures that have Western-style rooms, combination rooms with their own rotenburo and suite villas. This inn has its own natural hot springs that connect all rooms and the outdoor baths. Guests can have their dinner in the main building, where they serve Black Japanese beef, fresh seafood, and seasonal organic vegetables. Kannawa-en also has a thatched-roof teahouse. They also showcase plays and music performances in their own Noh theatre.
Best Ryokan in Japan on a Budget
It is a common misconception that everything in Japan is expensive. If you look hard enough, you can see tons of budget-friendly items and experiences in Japan, and among them are these inns where you can find good value:
If you are in search of a foreigner-friendly and pocket-friendly Japan inn where you can stay with your family and friends, head on to Ryokan Shimizu. A word of caution, though, do not expect that you would receive sumptuous meals, enjoy garden views, or lavish rooms. What you can get are literally basic rooms with futons and mat floors. However, they are an excellent option if you want to be near Kyoto station.
More than that, the staff are welcoming and helpful. They can be a great source of information if you wish to explore Kyoto and nearby areas. Consider this ryokan if you want to try Japanese-style inns and not a luxury ryokan. They also have a public bath where guests can relax after a long day.
If you are on the hunt for a more private Japanese inn where you can stay during your visit to Japan, go to Uemura Ryokan. It is beautifully nestled in a pedestrian-only lane of Ishibei-koji, guests can enjoy a peaceful night in one of the tiniest lodgings in Kyoto with its three rooms. Uemura only serves breakfast, and it is perhaps the reason why their rates are easy on the pocket even if they are located in one of the streets known for high rental rates. They may not be among the luxury ryokans that you are looking for, but the experience is definitely worth it.
The Matsubaya Ryokan is another perfect choice for foreigners who want to experience Japanese-style inns where they can sleep in a futon on tatami mats while still being near the Kyoto station. However, do expect that you would get a quiet night here because of the constant noise in the area. But most do enjoy their stay, specifically the rates. They also have an onsen that guests can enjoy.
If you are a traveller from the United States who wants to enjoy the woods and sleep in an exciting location, you should check out Kyoto Yoshimizu. It is beautifully located at the top of Maruyama-koen Park, where you can sleep while being surrounded by the incredible views of bamboo and maple trees. With a calm and peaceful night, it would be one of the most enjoyable nights you can have while staying in a Japanese inn. For an affordable price point, gorgeous views and an onsen, there is nothing better than this traditional ryokan in Kyoto.
Another one of the budget-friendly inns in Japan with the best room offerings is the Hanakiya. This Japanese-style guesthouse is located at the heart of the Southern Higashiyama sightseeing district, near the Kiyomizu-Dera Temple. Take note, however, that the owner of this traditional Japanese inn requires guests to stay a minimum of two nights. They also serve the best kaiseki dinner in the area.
If you want to sample how lovely it is to live in a traditional Japanese house some centuries ago, staying in Tanaka-ya is your best bet. This wooden guesthouse is only a short walk from the Southern Higashiyama sightseeing district and Gion, right at the main drag of the Miyagawa-Cho geisha district. They are the best ryokan in the area that offers the quality rooms, a clean dining room, and hot spring baths or onsen.
How to Book a Ryokan
Before you even start booking a ryokan, there are some things you should know about staying in one. First, ryokans in Japan often run on tight schedules. Since Japanese are strict with their time, expect their meals to start on time, with breakfast early and dinner even earlier. Note, also that most Japanese people who stay in a ryokan would often spend their day in the area. Rarely do they go out and explore the city.
Second, you should factor in what you want to experience in a ryokan. At best, you should go for a ryokan with an onsen for an authentic Japanese-style relaxation. Additionally, ryokans would most likely include meals, such as kaiseki dinner as part of the room rates. Do check out what meals they offer, especially if you are among those who would not stay the whole day in the ryokan.
Note that most rooms would have thin walls, so expect to hear even the slightest sound next door. If all of these are acceptable to you, you can now proceed to start booking your ryokan of choice.
The best way to make reservations for a ryokan is via reservation websites. For foreign travellers, these websites have the best rates and provide English catalogues:
Booking.com is one of the most reliable reservation websites that cater to foreigners visiting Japan. They have a wide selection of Japan inns with the best kaiseki dinner options.
If you are among the clients of JTB, the largest travel agency of Japan, you may also inquire about their many ryokan inns through their English website. What’s great about this website is that you can also choose from a wide range of onsen ryokans.
Among the best online reservation sites that you can encounter is the Japanese Guesthouses. They are great in the sense that they are the specialists when it comes to booking ryokans. They will be the ones to call your ryokan of choice and see whether there are available for your preferred date. While their catalogue may be limited, you can get comprehensive info about the best ryokans in the area, particularly in places where a good command of the Japanese language may be necessary.
You can also choose to directly make your reservation through the websites of the ryokan if they are available. If you have a travel agent, you can reserve through them as well. You may also choose to book your room via phone, but it can be challenging if their staff cannot understand English.
Plan on when you intend to stay because it is highly likely that your same-day reservation would not be accepted. Since ryokans in Japan prepare elaborate meals, the staff would need to make food preparations. Remember also to inform your ryokan if you have any dietary restrictions.
Hotel Management Games to Play While Staying in a Ryokan
Once you are staying in a ryokan, you would realise how efficient they are in doing their tasks, from the way they keep the rooms spotless to how they prepare the Japanese cuisine. Staff work day and night, that’s why you can expect the highest form of cleanliness from them.
While tucked in the ryokan, you might just want to try your hand if you can be an efficient and responsible hotel manager. That said, here are some of the hotel management games that you can play while you are in a hot spring bath of your ryokan.
Resort Tycoon is a mobile game available for download in Android is an entertaining game that would allow you to relive your dreams of creating your own holiday resort while relaxing. This hotel simulation game is perfect for those who want to spend their downtime building recreation complexes and advertising them to make it among the most popular.
If you enjoy detective games and hotel management games, Hidden Hotel game is perfect for you. The gameplay of this mobile game requires scouring for hidden objects while repairing the entire hotel to bring it back to its former glory. This would be an exciting game, especially if you are living in one of the oldest ryokans in Tokyo.
Vacation Hotel Stories
If you are travelling with your kids in tow, let them have a good time with this hotel management game, Vacation Hotel Stories. The game starts with a family living in a five-star hotel that comes complete with amenities. It allows your child to expand their imagination with the mini-games that are truly enjoyable for all.
Hotel Story: Resort Simulation
One of the most enjoyable games that you can play while you are staying in a ryokan is this installment from the Happy Labs Studio, the Hotel Story: Resort Simulation. In this game, you will act as the hotel owner, and you have to work to expand your hotel. It starts from being a quaint hostel where the only features are a reception desk, a vending machine, and the rooms. The goal is to create a world-class hotel.
How to Live Like a Samurai in a Ryokan?
Simple, you just allow yourself to immerse in the beautiful experience of sleeping on a futon bedspread over tatami floors. If you want the authentic Samurai feeling, you should enjoy your kaiseki dinner in your room, and enjoy the public baths or onsen that your chosen ryokan has.
Now, are you ready to make your reservation?
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