Japanese Ryokan: Introduction
Staying at a Japanese inn, called ryokan in Japanese, is a great way to experience traditional Japan. The oldest ryokan go back centuries, when they were built to serve the feudal lords and their samurai servants who traveled between Edo (present-day Tokyo) and the provinces. These historical relics are like sentinels of the past, made mostly of wood and with long, shiny corridors leading to tatami rooms with intricately carved crossbeams, sliding doors, shoji screens, and a low table with cushions. The futon is arranged only for sleeping.
Of course, today’s ryokan vary enormously in size, price, and ambience, from the many affairs occupied with tourist groups to exclusive enclaves with only a dozen rooms offering the best service money can buy. Although ryokan are found all over Japan, they are mainly concentrated in historic cities like Kyoto, in rural areas, and countless cities and towns with hot springs (onsen).
If you are staying in a first-class ryokan, you can expect rooms with impeccable décor ranging from historical antiques to modern Zen, meals worthy of an emperor, and personalized service. The etiquette dictates that you take off your shoes at the entrance and get into the offered slippers before a kimono clad hostess takes you to your tatami room , where you throw the slippers away before entering.Your room may have a view of a private garden and your bathtub may be made of cypress.
Your room manager will bring you welcome tea and a sweet, but it is the hot water bath that is in your room or in the communal bath .if you are staying in an onsen, you can even have the luxury of a rotenburo (outdoor thermal bath).To make you feel at home, you will wear the yukata (cotton tunic) provided by your ryokan. your kaiseki dinner, served in the privacy of your room or in the hotel dining room, will be a feast of many local dishes and seasonal delicacies, artistically arranged. you will sleep on a futon lying on the tatami floor or, in a contemporary ryokan, on an elevated platform.
The next morning, after breakfast (many ryokan offer Western or Japanese options) , your hostess will see you at the front door, bending over as you leave, feeling rejuvenated and pampered. Although the rates for one ryokan, which are always per person, may seem high, they include two meals and often service charges and taxes.
Although a first-class ryokan is worth splurging on at least once during your travels, there are also moderately priced inns that do not provide as much individualized service, but offer the opportunity to sleep on a futon in a tatami room and dine on local specialties. Many of these are mainly for families and groups, and serve fixed meals or buffets in a communal dining room. Even cheaper are the inns that may or may not serve meals and have shared bathrooms in the corridor.”, “A minshuku is a Japanese style accommodation in a private house, the Japanese version of a small bed and breakfast. Regardless of your budget, staying at a Japanese inn can be the highlight of your trip and an experience you will not forget.
The best Ryokan in Tokyo
1.Hoshinoya Tokyo ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Tokyo has few ryokan: the land is very expensive, most of them were devoured by the developers. But this luxury entrance has bucked the trend, opening in 2016 in the heart of the capital, near Tokyo Station. With only 84 rooms, Hoshinoya creates a relaxing and intimate oasis, with tatami instead of wooden floors running the length of the inn, even in the elevators.There is one lounge for every six rooms, where guests are welcome to serve snacks and provide personalized service. The spacious rooms are decorated in a minimalist style that combines natural materials such as wood and bamboo with high-tech features.Bonuses include an upstairs onsen open to the sky and a restaurant specializing in French cuisine made with Japanese ingredients.
This moderately priced inn is one of the oldest in Tokyo, established about 70 years ago and located in the charming Asakusa neighborhood.It imparts an atmosphere reminiscent of centuries past, from the rickshaw parked outside its door to the staff dressed in period clothing. 20 tatami rooms are decorated with antiques, wood carvings, shoji screens and other traditional ornaments, with some large enough for a family of six.Extensive Japanese meals are optional, but you’ll be encouraged to dine, followed by a swim in the inn’s public bathrooms.
3.Homeikan Morikawa Annex ⭐⭐⭐
Located in a quiet residential neighborhood, Homeikan is the umbrella name for three separate Japanese inns, all purchased by the current owner’s family for more than a century and all with striking architectural details.The Honkan (main building) is the oldest and has the distinction of being a tangible cultural property, while the Daimachi, built as the family’s home after World War II, is probably the most popular because of its Japanese garden and communal mineral bath. Please note, however, that none of Homeikan’s 89 rooms have private baths or modern amenities such as Wi-Fi, and no meals are served. Nevertheless, it is a gem of an inn and offers a unique insight into how the upper class lived in Tokyo in the old days.
The best Ryokans in Kyoto
1.Seikoro Ryokan ⭐⭐⭐
Established in 1831, this is one of the most atmospheric inns in Kyoto.Located east of the Kamo River, it is full of antiques and character, especially in the 120-year-old main building where the best rooms open onto the garden (rooms in the annex, built just before the 1964 Olympic Games, overlooking the rooftops).During the low season, Seikoro offers the option of room rates without meals for the same price you would pay at a mid-priced hotel, but frankly, it would be a shame to miss out on the experience of a kaiseki dinner served in the privacy of your room.
2. Kanra Kyoto Hotel ⭐ ⭐
The Kanra Kyoto Hotel is a modern hybrid between a hotel and a ryokan, with an elegant design that nevertheless borrows architectural details from the many machiya (merchant houses) that once adorned many Kyoto neighborhoods.Its 68 spotless rooms, hidden behind latticework doors and distributed between the main building and an annex, are modern and stylish, with wood or granite floors, shoji screens, raised platform beds, tatami areas for relaxing, and cypress tubs (and separate showers). English-speaking staff are especially helpful and always seem to be waiting just for you. Because meals are not included in the rates, this is a good option for travelers who want to experience the atmosphere of a contemporary ryokan but want to dine elsewhere.
3.Nishiyama Ryokan ⭐⭐⭐
Located just a few minutes walk from the city center, this moderately priced inn was founded about 50 years ago by the grandfather of the current owner.Although it occupies an undescribed five-story building, the inn strives for authenticity with an interior that includes traditional Japanese touches in the lobby and courtyard garden, a public bath with waterfall, and free public events such as a tea ceremony demonstration, an origami session and concert koto.
The best Ryokans in the rest of Japan
Arai Ryokan – Izu ⭐⭐⭐
Located in the center of Shuzenji, a popular onsen weekend getaway from Tokyo on the Izu Peninsula, this inn opened in 1872 and has since hosted many Japanese celebrities, including kabuki artists, writers and actors.Its 15 structures, all registered as national cultural property and centered on a pond fed by the river, include the majestic main building, a wooden covered bridge leading to the rooms and a century-old onsen bathhouse.30 rooms are spread across several wooden buildings dating mostly from 1899 to 1935, the best of which overlook the pond and the Katsura River (not all rooms have private baths).’, “The traditional kaiseki meals change monthly and are served in your room. there are several options for the onsen bath, including a rotenburo surrounded by pebbles.
Gora Kadan – Hakone ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This first-rate ryokan, located among forests and gardens in Hakone, exemplifies Japanese skill at turning simplicity into striking, understated elegance.Guests check in here to go out, where the emphasis is clearly on the restorative powers of indoor and outdoor spring baths and various spa treatments, with a heated indoor pool and a small gym for those inspired to work out.the rooms are modern and minimalist, all with direct access to balconies or gardens and the most expensive with rotenburo.their kaiseki meals are celebrations of the season.For lunch, there is also a restaurant, an Elizabethan half-timbered building that once served as the imperial family’s summer residence.
Ryori Ryokan Tsurugata – Kurashiki ⭐⭐⭐
The historic centers of the old city of Kurashiki are located on a willow-lined canal and in centuries-old, old barns that are now converted into shops, restaurants, museums and this unique ryokan, which occupies three renovated warehouses and an old mansion.Its eight rooms are actually suites, with separate rooms equipped with two western-style double beds and traditional rooms with tatami, some with views of the picturesque canal. Kaiseki dinners can be served in your room or in a private room overlooking the canal, while breakfast is served on the charming tea room terrace overlooking the inn’s small garden.
Kurayado Iroha – Miyajima ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This contemporary accommodation is ideally located on Miyajima’s main pedestrian shopping street, a jewel of an island famous for its Itsukushima Shrine (a World Heritage Site) and views of the Seto Inland Sea.Relaxed but with a meticulously efficient staff, it offers several types of rooms, from Japanese-style tatami rooms (the cheapest, but facing only an inner courtyard) to combination rooms with beds and tatami areas, the best of which offer panoramic views of the sea.Guests are asked in advance about food allergies and preferences for the seemingly endless kaiseki food served in the dining room, certainly the highlight of a stay here along with the outdoor rooftop bathroom and impeccable service.
Kannawaen – Beppu ⭐⭐⭐
Beppu is one of Japan’s most famous spas, and although Kannawa-en is in the world of tourists, it is a world apart, hidden from view.In fact, Kannawa-en is like a village in itself, with ponds, beautiful gardens, and a number of buildings that house Western-style rooms, rooms combined with private rotenburo, and even independent suite-type villas.Because the inn has its own natural hot springs, its healing waters run through all the rooms and the indoor and outdoor community bathrooms. Dinners, which are served in the main building, include Japanese black meat, seasonal organic vegetables and fresh seafood. In addition to a spa, the inn also has a thatched tea house and even its own Noh theater, where plays and music are performed.