One of the most difficult things about traveling to Japan is deciding where to stay. Should you stay at a hostel? Hotel? Homestay? Capsule hotel!? There are plenty of options. However, if you have a bit of extra change and some time to dedicate to a truly historical experience, the ryokan might be an enticing option for you. Well, assuming you’re not traveling alone – but more on that later.
Ryokan are traditional Japanese inns that really haven’t changed all that much since their creation during the Edo period. Staying at a ryokan is about as close as you can get to traveling back in time in Japan. Everything from the buildings to the food and clothing is in the traditional style. It’s really quite an experience.
How the Ryokan Came to Be
As the Edo-era was the first time in a long time that Japanese people didn’t have to worry about getting murdered due to warring factions, travel became much more popular. Because of this, inns surged in popularity. And thus, the ryokan was born.
Since that time, many ryokan have sprung up all over Japan. Today there are small ones, large ones, cheap ones, and really, really expensive ones. Some are quaint little places that are run entirely by one family whereas others are practically resorts. Regardless of your tastes and preferences, you’ll be able to find a ryokan that suits you.
Where to Find Ryokan
You can find ryokan pretty much anywhere in Japan, really. However, the vast majority of them are located in resort-type areas, such as Hakone. The prices for these ryokan are always per-person, per-night. The price usually includes fancy meals as well, unless you’re staying at a super budget ryokan (and missing out on part of the fun).
Most rooms are designed to accommodate two to four people and most ryokan don’t accept single occupancy bookings. You single folk might want to check out a capsule hotel instead. Kind of a bummer, but that’s just the way it is.
The Elaborate Service and Atmosphere
Ryokan service is second to none. You even get a personal attendant to see to your every need. They’ll be there to greet you, check you in, provide you with tea and snacks, serve your meals, and assist you with any issues you might encounter. Talk about an experience. This is the royal treatment right here.
Ryokan also provide yukata for all guests to wear during their stay. This really adds to the old-timey atmosphere. You’ll be wearing these around the establishment pretty much any time you’re not in your room or chilling out in the bath.
Speaking of baths, ryokan almost always have an onsen available to its guests. Like most onsen, it’ll most likely be separated by gender, so make sure you go in the right side. Don’t be a baka gaijin. The bath may be indoors, outdoors, both, or even right next to your room. Some of the more upscale places have guestrooms with onsen built right in.
The more traditional ryokan will be located in historical buildings whereas the more modern and resort-type ryokan will be located in newer, fancier buildings. Either way, ryokan will usually have a very large lobby area and many of the rooms will have a nice view of a garden of some sort.
The rooms themselves are very traditional Japanese style with tatami flooring, futon beds, and old style furnishings for you to enjoy. Like I mentioned before, some rooms even have a personal onsen and many have balconies as well.
How to Have Fun at a Ryokan
Eat, bathe, drink, and play. That’s pretty much all you need to do to enjoy yourself at a ryokan. Most often, the ryokan staff will serve you your meals right in your room. Meals are traditional Japanese style, and dinners are an elaborate feast. If you’re skipping out on ryokan meals during your stay, you might as well not even be there.
Many ryokan guests will take multiple onsen baths during the day as well. They’re very relaxing, so it makes sense. Also, since you’re not going anywhere and just spending all your time chilling out max at the ryokan, it’s a perfect opportunity to drink. Most ryokan will have bars available for you to get your drink on. At the very least they’ll have some beer vending machines around somewhere.
In addition to bars, large ryokan are likely to have cafes, game rooms, and karaoke for you to enjoy. To get the full ryokan experience, you pretty much want to spend the entire day inside the ryokan. You paid good money for this thing and there are plenty of relaxing activities for you to enjoy so you might as well experience them all to the fullest.
Gaki no Tsukai
And for a nice idea of what some of the rooms might look like, you can check out the above video from one of Gaki no Tsukai’s batsu games i.e. this is just an excuse to include a Gaki no Tsukai video.
If you have never seen one of these before, you’ll probably be very confused, but there’s tons more on YouTube for you to check out, or you can just read more about them here. Either way, they’re hilarious and I highly recommend them. But yeah, ryokans are cool.
So tell me, have you ever been to a ryokan before? What was it like? If you haven’t been, would you want to? Let us know in the comments!