A Complete Guide to Ryokan: How to Enjoy Traditional Stay in Japan

ryokan Accommodation
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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.

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If you want to make the most out of your time in Japan, what kind of accommodation to choose is very important. While Japan offers a wide variety of accommodation options, including modern hotels, reasonable B&B, and cozy guest houses, Ryokan is something unique and a perfect way to enjoy your stay in Japan. Ryokan refers to a traditional Japanese-style inn that can be spotted in any tourist spot in Japan. Staying at a Ryokan is just more than spending nights, and could even be the highlight of your trip to Japan which offers you unforgettable guest services with great hospitality. Here you can find a complete guide to Ryokan with some helpful tips to enjoy your Ryokan stay!          

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1. Brief History of Ryokan

The origin of Ryokan is said to date back to the Nara Period (710- 794). The first Ryokan which appeared in Japanese history was Fuseya, a free guest house founded by a Buddhist priest known as Gyoki. During this period, a number of Fuseya were established all around Japan for the purpose of providing accommodations for travelers.

 In those days, traveling was much more difficult than today due to the lack of accommodation and the poor road network which was not well-developed. Travelers had no choice but to spend nights sleeping outside on the dirty streets. Fuseya played a significant role in offering a safe and comfortable shelter for people, where they could stay overnight without worrying about possible dangers or unexpected weather changes! 

2. Hot spring/ Onsen experience at Ryokan

One of the best ways to enjoy a Ryokan stay is definitely taking onsen hot springs! Most Ryokan features luxury hot springs which offer unforgettably refreshing experiences with a traditional atmosphere. 

Some Ryokan boast hot spring facilities which are generally shared by all guests. In this case, each room doesn’t have a private hot spring, and guests need to use public hot spring facilities. This type of hot spring is typical of Ryokan, which is relatively big and affordable. If you are planning a family trip or low-budget trip with your friends to Japan, these Ryokan could probably be a perfect option. 

If you want more privacy and want to enjoy luxury hot spring experiences in your own room, choose Ryokan which offers rooms equipped with private hot springs! Staying in these rooms will enable you to soak in a spacious hot spring bath without caring about others.    

10 Best Private (Tattoo Friendly) Onsen in Japan 

There is also something that you should remember when staying at a Ryokan with hot spring facilities. If you travel to somewhere including famous hot spring resorts, it means that you can probably expect 100% natural hot springs at Ryokan around the area. On the other hand, Ryokan which are not located near hot spring resorts alternatively use ordinary tap water for their hot spring facilities. If you want a real hot spring experience, make sure to stay at Ryokan which is close to famous hot spring resorts!
Onsen near Tokyo
Onsen in Kyushu

3. What to wear while staying at a Ryokan?

Although technically there is no dress code that you have to follow at Ryokan, they often offer guests Yukata and Geta that you can wear during your stay at Ryokan for free! Changing into these traditional Japanese clothing will allow you to enjoy your stay at Ryokan more comfortably. 

Yukata

Yukata is a traditional Japanese clothing that is often described as a casual cotton Kimono. It’s a traditional summer garment and it’s relatively thin and perfect for the hot summer weather. The origin of Yukata was worn as a bathrobe dating back to the Heian period. It can be worn for summer festivals, but at the same time, it can be worn as pajamas like you do at Ryokan. 

Geta

Geta is a traditional type of Japanese wooden footwear. The unique shape resembles a flip-flop. 

4. Ryokan meals (Kaiseki)

In many cases, you can choose either to book a room with meals or without meals when you make a reservation at Ryokan.They generally offer a wide range of plans and deals which match everyone’s needs depending on their budget and itinerary.

Therefore, if you want to try local restaurants rather than having meals prepared by Ryokan, book a room which doesn’t include meals. It will help you save money and explore the hidden spots around the area on your own. On the other hand, if you want to spend a relaxing night in your own room, choose a Ryokan with a package plan which includes dinner and breakfast. At some Ryokan, dinners are delivered and served in each guest room. We recommend you try some meals at Ryokan if possible since it’s often a great set of meals prepared with seasonal and local ingredients around the area!

Japanese food ryokan

Typical Ryokan meals are traditional Japanese-style multi-course meals known as Kaiseki. It is an elaborate and elegant dinner course that often features seasonal ingredients, fresh Sashimi, miso soup, rice, and much more. Read our blog below to find out more about Kaiseki. 

▶Recommended article: What is Kaiseki? Complete Guide to Beautiful Art of Japanese Cuisine

5. Best Ryokan experiences around Tokyo!

The Edo Sakura (Ueno, Tokyo) 

Modern style Ryokan which is conveniently located in the Ueno area in Tokyo. This Ryokan is a perfect place to stay for a first-timer where friendly staff will assist you. Every morning from 10am to 10:30am, a tea ceremony will be held for free. Take a relaxing time at the lounge looking at a traditional garden. Not only do they provide you with some Japanese lifestyle experience, they also offer some cultural workshops such as Ikebana and calligraphy lessons. 
Book The Edo Sakura

Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu (Asakusa, Tokyo)

Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu is a  Ryokan-style inn located in the Asakusa area which has a history of 80 years. They offer both Japanese and Western-style rooms, and Japanese rooms welcome you with comfortable Tatami flooring. Their traditional Japanese-style breakfast includes white rice, miso soup, grilled fish and other seasonal ingredients which help you start a day smoothly. On the sixth floor is a spacious Hinoki cypress bath which offers a stunning view of the five-story pagoda of Sensoji-Temple and Tokyo Skytree!    
Book Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu

Yutorelo-an (Hakone, Kanagawa)

Hakone is widely known as one of the most famous hot spring resorts in Japan which is about a 1 hour journey from Tokyo by Shinkansen. Among the countless numbers of great Ryokan in the Hakone area, Yutorelo-an is a perfect place to spend a peaceful time while enjoying a traditional Ryokan stay which offers 100% natural hot springs. Traditional Kaiseki meal is served for dinner which features seasonal ingredients and locally grown produce. Special suite rooms are equipped with a luxury private open-air bath, which offers an incredible hot spring experience along with great scenery from the window. Yukata is also prepared for guests to use for free, which allows them to enjoy a memorable stay in the traditional and comfortable clothes!  
Book Yutorelo-an

There are more great Ryokans in Tokyo, check out to find more in this article.

Japan Wonder Travel Tours 

Japan Wonder Travel is a travel agency that offers guided tours throughout Japan. 
From private walking tours to delicious Food and Drink tours, we can help you organize the best tours just for you! If you want to explore Japan and learn more about the history and backstories of each area you are visiting, our knowledgeable and friendly English speaking guides will happily take you to the best spots! 
In addition, we can provide you with any assistance you may need for your upcoming trip to Japan, so please feel free to contact us if yu have any questions or need some help! 

Tokyo Fish Market Tour @Tsukiji – Enjoy Local Food and Drink
Explore the most lively and popular fish market in Tokyo and try some of the local’s favorite street foods and sake with one of our friendly and knowledgeable English speaking guides! 

tsukiji tour

Tokyo 1–Day Highlights Private Walking Tour (8 Hours)
There’s no better way to explore an area than taking a tour with a knowledgeable local guide. You will have the chance to learn about the history and interesting background stories of Tokyo, as well as discover some hidden gems which can be hard to do without a guide.

Asakusa Tokyo private tour

Kyoto Private Full Day Walking Tour
On this full-day private tour of Kyoto, you will be able to see the highlights of Kyoto in just one day and at the same time develop a deeper understanding of both the culture of the area and Japan as a whole.

If you have never been to Japan, it may seem a little challenging to try a room at a Ryokan compared to other accommodation options such as casual hotels. While many hotels are relatively affordable and easy to find wherever you travel around the world, that means they hardly offer you an extraordinary experience unless you choose luxury ones. On the other hand, Ryokan always welcomes you with exceptional services and hospitality which you can find only here in Japan! If you are planning more than a couple days of stay in Japan, it is highly recommended to stay at a Ryokan at least for a night to get a real Ryokan experience! 

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Happy travelling!

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