A Guide To Staying In A Traditional Japanese Ryokan



If you’re travelling to Japan any time soon, you might have all your travel books out and be wondering what type of accommodation is best for you and your travelling partner – if you have one. Japan is awash with hotels, bed and breakfasts, guest houses and the like and it’s almost a daunting task picking the right place. While they can be fairly expensive options, one place you should consider staying for at least a portion of your time in Japan is in the traditional ryokan, or Inn. Read ahead to learn more about these traditional Japanese guest houses and what you can expect from them.

Pristine Minimalism

Most Ryokans are decorated very traditionally, but with minimalist décor in the rooms themselves. When you arrive you can probably expect to see very little in the room itself, aside from perhaps a small table and floor seating for tea, your TV, phone and other amenities if available and the like. Beds may come at a later point, such as during dinner. Most ryokan beds are in fact futon mattresses that make an appearance at some point in the evening, being brought in and set up by the ryokan staff. While this may sound like an uncomfortable experience, sleeping on the floor can both do wonders for the body, and the futon mattresses are perfectly ideal, comfortable and allow many to have some of the best sleeps ever.

Expect that your shoes will have to stay at the door when you’re at the Ryokan. You will be provided with slippers for moving around in your room and in the inn itself such as to the dining room for meals. Additionally you will be provided with slippers specific to going to use the bathroom. It’s also important that you respect customs such as not wearing even your slippers onto tatami mats of any kind.

You will also be provided a robe (yukata), similar to a kimono for your stay. This robe can be worn throughout the ryokan, even in the dining room, but be sure to tie it properly or you could end up with an embarrassing situation!


If your ryokan has a traditional Japanese onsen on site, then you’re in for a real treat. This special hot bath or natural hot spring is traditionally separated into men’s and women’s sections, and allows for a truly sumptuous bathing opportunity. There is usually a strict set of rules for bathing in an onsen – such as washing yourself down in a wet room prior to entering the bath to keep the waters free from body oils and whatnot. Remember to respect the rules, and to truly soak up the experience.

Move Over Sushi

In most ryokans they will provide dinner and breakfast, sometimes included in the price, sometimes as an add on, but either way it’s well worth having breakfast and dinner at the ryokan. Breakfasts are usually traditional fare with miso soup and pickles, teas and other savoury things with dinner being other delicious Japanese dishes that you might not think to try yourself. While it’s sushi country, many Japanese don’t typically eat sushi everyday, so you will find lots of interesting soups and other dishes. This is a really traditional truly Japanese experience, so be sure to stay open minded about the food you may find at a ryokan. You never know what might become your next favourite Japanese dish.

The Retreat Experience

Overall, ryokans are quiet, peaceful retreats and should be treated as such. Many visitors don’t use their cell phones while they’re staying in the ryokan. They’re made for quiet contemplation and relaxation, and that’s part of the whole draw.

So there is a short guide to what you can expect from a Ryokan expereince in Japan. A truly unique and traditional experience, some of the best ryokans are found in and around Kyoto, but also elsewhere. So pack your bags and get your yukata on – you won’t regret it!

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