Any trip to Japan would be incomplete without at least a short stay at a ryokan — a traditional Japanese inn. Here you can get an experience that Japanese people have enjoyed for centuries. In fact, some of the more famous ryokans have been around for over a thousand years!
So, what’s so great about a ryokan?
For one the peaceful ambiance is second to none. Many ryokans and their rooms are designed to showcase the amazing scenery around them. You will find ryokans in the most beautiful parts of the country — in the mountains, next to the ocean, on lakes, overlooking cities…
Then there is nothing like the service that you will get at a ryokan. At many you will have a personal attendant to take care of all of your needs. You will see this person in the morning when they serve you breakfast, in the afternoon when you return for your afternoon tea, and in the evening when you are served a marathon of a meal that consists of one amazing dish after another.
Speaking of the food — it is a huge part of the experience at a ryokan. Although you can stay at a ryokan and opt not to participate in the food plan, you would be missing a lot of the experience. At a ryokan you will be served traditional Japanese cuisine in a setting that will make you feel like you were transported to a luxury resort from centuries past.
With that being said, because getting the meal plan can make breakfast and dinner a multi-course (and sometimes multi-hour) marathon, I would recommend staying at a ryokan with a meal plan for two nights in a row at the maximum. Because of the breakfast and dinner schedule, when you are at a ryokan you will have less time to go sightseeing than you otherwise would.
Your ryokan will also usually provide you with yukata – this is like a very informal, comfortable kimono – that you can wear around the resort.
Here is a good resource for learning how to correctly wear a yukata. And make sure somebody responsible checks you before you go out so that you are not unknowingly assaulting people’s eyes with excessive chest hair and/or your underwear.
Unique to Japanese culture is the onsen, the Japanese hot spring bath. There are a lot of options for enjoying onsen in Japan, so no matter your comfort level you can have an awesome experience.
For the brave, you can enter the public onsen. Make sure that any tattoos are covered and be prepared to get naked with strangers. Before taking the plunge make sure to study this page or something similar, so you know what you are doing. The public onsen oftentimes has the best view at the ryokan, so it is worth checking out.
Some ryokan will also have kashikiriburo – private baths that can be rented for individuals or couples. My preferred option, however, is to pick a ryokan that has private in room rotenburo – your own private hot spring bath on your own terrace overlooking the scenery.
Just remember, the point of staying at a ryokan is to relax, so take it easy. Maybe plan on seeing one sight per day (if you have more time, great), but for the most part just enjoy sitting in your tub, drinking sake, communing with nature, and fitting more food in your stomach than you ever thought possible.
Want to learn a little basic Japanese? Check out the “Let’s Go to Nihon!” book series on Amazon!