Japan Travel

What are the Japanese ryokan inns?

Discover the best of Japan's traditions in the ryokan inns, walking on tatami floors, resting on futons and soaking in the in-house natural spring bathhouses.

A ryokan is a Japanese-style inn, where generally the traditional atmosphere and appearance is more important than providing the latest modern conveniences. However they are all different, and range from modest guest houses to highly luxurious ryokans where you’ll experience the best in Japanese hospitality. For travelers who wish to experience Japanese culture, it is a must!

Ryokan are typically smaller, family-run businesses, sometimes going back generations. The buildings can be old wooden houses but also more modern ones. A typical ryokan room will include a little entrance area to leave your slippers, sliding paper doors, tatami floor matting, low wooden tables, sitting cushions or ‘zaisu’ low chairs, a decorative ‘tokonoma’ alcove for flower vases and calligraphy scrolls, as well as a closet that contains the futon and bedding. 

It also means that you may not have access to modern comforts such as central heating (in winter you would get a portable heater), air-conditioning or sound-proofing!

Baths and food in the ryokans

If the ryokan offers hot spring bathing, you will also get a ‘yukata’ cotton kimono to go to and from the bath. In some onsen towns like Kinosaki Onsen, you will see guests shuffling from bathhouse to bathhouse in their yukata robes and slippers.

Most ryokans are inclusive of breakfast, and sometimes dinner as well – make sure to ask what is included in the price. The more elegant places will serve kaiseki-style dinner, which typically features a beautifully-presented and colorful array of local and seasonal specialties. Breakfasts are just as colorful: at breakfast you’ll usually find a selection of traditional Japanese dishes – fish, rice, miso soup – as well as egg, toast on occasion, and tea and/or coffee.

How much do ryokans cost?

Ryokans often charge per person rather than per room. The average price of a one night stay is about 15,000 yen per guest plus tax. If you are staying at a ryokan with an “onsen” (hot spring baths), then there may be an additional onsen fee per night.

Some history…Some of the earliest ryokans were (and some still are) located on the Tokaido Highway which connected the capital city of Edo (current day Tokyo) and the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. It was a very busy highway as samurai, traders, and others made their way between the two cities. Ryokans were built to welcome these weary travelers who needed to rest before continuing on their long journey. Some were very simple and offered extra rooms in their homes while more elaborate ones served the higher ranks of the government.

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