Get Hip to Japanese Inns
Japan is recognised worldwide as a tech-savvy, fastidious, on-the-go civilisation with a deep reverence for tradition. Somehow, the country manages to balance the two. Enter the ryokan, a singular style of accommodation with inherent customs and mores that harken back to the early Edo period and well beyond.
Typical ryokan breakfast – Photo credit
Ryokan, often present in onsen (thermal bath) resorts and areas of remarkable beauty, run the gamut from bare-bones tatami rooms and breakfasts to more plush creature comforts. As such, fees range from US$50 up to US$1,500 and more. Rates do not only include a nightâ€™s stay but also two meals â€“ breakfast and dinner. Unlike your run-of-the-mill hotel room service, ryokan meals, at their best and most authentic, are near-ritualistic experiences.
A top-of-mind ryokan is Hoshi Hokuriku. The oldest hotel still in operation – no less important a source than the Guinness Book of World Records authenticates the claim – is more than 1,200 years old. Over 46 generations of the same family runs the place. Currently, the inn offers 100 comfortable rooms in the onsen village of Awazu on Mount Hakusan, Ishikawa Prefecture.
Kyoto is a famous ryokan city. A good choice is Ryotei Rangetsu Ryokan which has a lovely backdrop in the Ozeki River in Arashiyama. The inn offers a delicate combination of serenity and the utmost luxury to guests. With only 15 stylish units, anyone who stays here can count on exceptional service and privacy.
On the island of Hokkaido, visitors can choose from a spectacular variety of inns. The marvelous Yumoto Dai Ni Meisuitei Ryokan is at Kitayuzawa Onsen and close to Mount Hakodate.
For another taste of ryokan accommodation in Hakodate, travellers can give the Chikuba Shinyotei Ryokan Hakodate a try. The boutique property gives tradition a modern, sleek twist but sacrifices little in the way of warm hospitality.
A traditional inn is the way to go if you travel outside of urban Japan, whether Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Yokohama or the like. Do mind the rules however:
Guests must take off boots, trainers and heels before entry. Complimentary slippers make up for the “inconvenience”.
After check-in, visitors must follow the host to the room. No slippers on the tatami mats.
Each guest is given a yakuta (robe). This may be worn in the room and even around the inn.
Guests can choose to either use the private bath in the room or, in many cases, the spacious communal bath. There is a separate bath for men and women. At the public bath, one must remove all clothes and leave them in designated baskets. Bring the hand towel provided and go inside the bathing room. To take a bath, one must first sit on a foot stool placed right in front of the hot and cold faucets. If shower spouts are available, sit on the stool. It is important to clean oneâ€™s body thoroughly with soap before stepping in the public bath to soak.
There are meals provided in the ryokan as part of the nightly rate. To make sure you enjoy your food at optimal temperatures, advise the staff when you want to eat. Meals are taken either in the guestroom or in a dining room.
Front desks tend to close early. Make a mental note to complete arrangements and requests in advance to avoid delays and unnecessary frustrations.