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5 Reasons Why You Should Stay in a Traditional Guest House (Ryokan) During Your Visit to Japan

Finding accommodation during your travel here in Japan can be quite intimidating with the abundance of choices and options. One that strikes a lot of questions is “Ryokan” accommodation.

What is a Ryokan? 

A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese style inn that is found throughout Japan with its signature feature of tatami matted (mats made from rice straw) rooms and in house onsens (hot spring baths). Ryokans are priced at a slightly higher rate than a hotel or hostel. However, here are 5 reasons why a ryokan experience is a must-try during your visit to Japan.

1. Experience Traditional Japanese Accommodations

As mentioned previously, ryokans are known for their feature of tatami matted rooms. Guests usually sleep on futon beds during their stay. These futon beds are not laid out upon the first entrance into the room. They will be set onto the tatami mats later on in the evening around dinner time so that guests return to a comfortable setting after dinner. Ryokan rooms also feature a low table and chairs in the centre where guests sit around on the mats. Usually sized to fit 2 to 4 guests.

Separated by wooden sliding doors (or in some older ryokans - instead of a door, a separation) to a smaller room or area adjacent to the main room, with Western style chairs and tables, different to the low table and chair in the centre of the main room. Also noted in a ryokan room are decorations such as Tokonoma, a small dashboard with a flower arrangement or pottery decoration, behind it, a small scroll or painting. Luggages are to not be placed on this dashboard. Ryokan rooms traditionally have shared facilities such as toilets and onsen shower rooms.

Guests are usually given Yukatas upon checking into their rooms. Usually worn around the ryokan, do not forget that the right side is wrapped around your hips before the left side. Tie the sash in a bow on the left side of your hip. Slippers are provided upon entrance of the ryokan, and are OK to be worn around.

Unlike the usual accommodations of a hotel, there are different cultures and practices living in a ryokan. The layout and decoration of a ryokan is very different and symbolizes Japan’s traditional culture in a rustic yet welcoming manner. What better way to experience a traditional housing environment during your stay in Japan?

2. Hospitality and Food Served

Breakfast and dinner is usually provided in a ryokan reservation. Ryokans located in the outskirts of the city tend to encourage guests to reserve meal sets during bookings as restaurants are hard to access to. Through my experiences staying in a ryokan in prefectures such as Akita and Nagano, the meals were one of the main highlights of my stays.

You not only experience a traditional Japanese housing environment but also traditional local home made dishes during your stay at a ryokan. A mouthful of Japan in every bite during your stay!

The hospitality provided by the hosts are also truly an experience here in Japan. Meeting and getting to know the locals have always been an amazing and unexpected delight of the ryokan. When I left mine in Nagano, I found myself in tears as the host sent me off. I could still remember the hospitality and warm ambience the ryokan hosts provided me during my stay. It made me feel at home even as a foreigner.

3. Living in Rural Parts of Japan

Many ryokans are not only situated in the city centre amidst tourist attractions, but also in the outskirts of the city, far from the bustling crowded areas. I personally enjoy living in the rural parts of Japan as it provides me a glimpse into the not-so-common everyday lifestyle and sights you see while visiting.

It is absolutely recommended to experience living in the rural parts of Japan during your trip or visit to Japan! On top of that, living in a ryokan, sipping in the breathtaking sights during your stay makes the experience so much more pleasant.

4. Experience In-house Onsen

Another main attraction of staying in a ryokan is the onsen. I chose to stay in a ryokan during my travels around Japan in winter as the private onsen was a rewarding treat for me after a cold day out.

Some ryokans offer a private onsen experience along with a fantastic view. These private onsens require prior booking at the front desk. Boy oh boy, are these onsens with a view rewarding.

5. A Great Getaway to Relax and Truly be Present in Japan

Sometimes being away from the city and the usual attractions, truly brings Japan to you. 

Having lived in Japan for a little over six months now, staying in a ryokan brought a whole new perspective of Japan to me. It was a life-changing and different experience that was completely worth it. Far from the city, mingling with the locals, and experiencing the rural parts of Japan while living in a ryokan, made my travels around Japan so much more enjoyable and mesmerising.

Staying in a ryokan is pricey but the experience is worth so much more. It is a must-try on my to-do list when I come visiting Japan! I hope it is yours too!

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