Japan offers international-style hotels of all standards, from excellent value business hotels to the finest five star accommodation. However, we recommend that at least one night be spent sampling the unique hospitality offered at a traditional ryokan (pronounced ree-oh-kan) inn. These can vary from homely guesthouses to the sublime sophistication of Kyoto’s finest establishments, but all share the same devotion to excellent service and warm hospitality. A stay at a ryokan is far more than just a place to lay your head for the night – we guarantee that it will become one of the cherished experiences of your stay in Japan.
When you arrive at the ryokan, you’ll enter through the main door where you will be greeted with a bow by the attentive staff. You’ll notice a raised step at the entrance and a set of shoes neatly stacked by the door. It is customary to remove your shoes at this point and you will be provided with a pair of slippers to wear around the ryokan. Let your host show you what to do – they won’t be expecting you to be experts in ryokan etiquette. You will be escorted to your room and served a cup of green tea and a small snack by your kimono-clad hostess.
Sleeping & Bathing Arrangements
Fundamental to the ryokan is the elegant tatami-mat style of room where your futon bed is carefully laid out each night. The beauty of Japanese accommodation is that every inch of space is used wisely, and the futons will be kept out of the way to give you maximum space during the day. Your futons will be laid out at bedtime for you by your maid so do not attempt to roll them out yourself. Your maid will also clear away your futons for you in the morning. Extra pillows and blankets are available on request. You will notice a cotton yukata robe, over-coat and small toiletries bag next to the low table in your room or in the futon cupboard. These are provided for relaxing in and to take to the shared bathing facility known as the ofuro. Although most properties have en suite bathrooms, it is highly recommended to take a soak in the ofuro before bedtime, as the hot, thermal waters will soak away any aches and pains and help you sleep.
Japanese breakfast consists of several small plates of food including miso soup, rice, grilled fish, pickles and dried seaweed. This sort of meal can be quite filling for those used to a bite of toast and quick coffee in the morning, but is very nutritious and satisfying.
Dinner is a grander affair, typically consisting of up to seven or eight small courses. The meal starts with an assortment of appetisers, followed by sashimi (sliced raw fish), a cooked fish and/or meat dish (sometimes on a hot plate or bubbling nabe pot), tofu, pickles, rice and fruit.
All the ingredients will have been chosen according to the season and you will receive a different variation on the meal each day of your stay. Often you won’t know what it is that you are eating as some things seem to be untranslatable, but rest assured that it will all be local and fresh. If you do not like something, then please don’t feel obliged to eat it; your hosts are used to foreign guests not being quite ready for some of the more unusual Japanese dishes. Special dietary requirements can be catered for in most cases.