A ryokan is an only Japanese type of hotel where everything is in Japanese traditional style, and of course any of you is a guest in a ryokan has to live with and respect the various rules and customs, starting from the entrance, where you have to take off your shoes and wear slippers to walk the corridors of the ryokan.
the entrance of a ryokan in Kyoto
The rooms in a ryokan
Obviously the "luxury" of a room depends on the level of the ryokan and the price.
Common elements of any room are the tatami floor, sliding entrance doors made of wood and paper, where you enter strictly without shoes or slippers, and a little low table. Futon
beds are prepared in the evening, thus sleeping "on the floor". The next day the beds are stacked in sliding closets and the whole room is free.
The TV is not always present, to ensure maximum tranquility within the structure, and the decor is essential. The most sought ryokan typically should have a window overlooking a garden, but often they haven't.
Accessories "Standard" as strongbox and small refrigerator are usually present, as well as a kettle and tea bags.
For each guest is also provided a yukata
, a kind of kimono that can be worn during the stay inside the ryokan for example to go to public baths.
a single and a double room in a cheap ryokan
a room in a luxury ryokan
Toilet and bathroom
Most of the rooms in a ryokan has its own sink and toilet inside, and special slippers in order to enter in the specific room; common to all guests and divided by sex is instead the typical Japanese bath (ofuro). Some ryokans have a small Japanese style shared bathroom that can be used privately, for those that don't like to stand naked while bathing with other people.
Some particularly cheap ryokan may have all (including toilets) out of the room shared with other guests of the structure, such as in hostels.
Other very luxurious ryokans may have rooms with private traditional Japanese bath, inside the room or even outside in a piece of garden / terrace which is also private, but now I'm talking about prices comparable to a western 5 stars hotel.
a quite large ofuro
typical wooden bathtub in a ryokan which often can also be used privately
If you are staying in a ryokan I recommend you try at least once both breakfast and dinner served, if there is this possibility.
Breakfast is in traditional Japanese style
, is a bit heavy in my opinion but it is a beautiful experience. It usually costs about 1000 yen.
Dinner is served in kaiseki style
, is usually very expensive but at least once it's worth, you will keep certain memories forever.
Both breakfast and dinner are usually served directly in your room by a very kind lady in a kimono, who will be the waitress.
In addition to water and green tea, typically there are no drinks in the course and must be ordered separately. With a kaiseki meal is traditional to order sake of which the best ryokans have a wide selection to offer.
kaiseki dinner in a ryokan in Kyoto
The best ryokan
In a ryokan, the quality of it is very important. Staying in a high level ryokan means to have more services that are the most memorable experiences as an onsen or a kaiseki-style dinner.
Generally in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, there are no high-level ryokan, with few exceptions. Most of hotels, certainly in Tokyo (in other big modern cities I really don't know) are very small structures, family-run, don't offer many services, often quite "old" but above all cheaper. But I must say that I stayed in a ryokan like these and it was a very interesting experience anyway (I stayed at Homeikan Morikawa annex
The best ryokans are surely located in Kyoto
and in general in all Japanese towns famous for their spas and onsen or their history.
The Japan Ryokan Association
brings together many ryokan throughout Japan with a guarantee of quality. You can visit their website here
You can find a list of many ryokan in Tokyo (and hotel), the majority not of high-level (as I described above), at this link