One of the highlights of a trip to Japan is to experience traditional Japanese hospitality, delicious food and relaxing bathing in a ryokan.
A ryokan (pronounced ree-oh-kan) is a home away from home, Japanese style, and for the Western traveler it can be a wonderful eye-opener to the authentic delights of the Japanese way of life.
Why book your ryokan experience with Audley?
We pride ourselves on visiting the accommodations featured on the website and in our itineraries. Only by inspecting the properties ourselves or by spending a couple of nights there do we really get a feel for the generous hospitality and the delicious cuisine that comes as standard in a ryokan.
Our specialists will only choose a ryokan for you that they are sure you will enjoy, be it a basic lodging with no en suite facilities but an amazing view over the inland sea or a deluxe inn with the finest care and attention paid to the smallest detail.
We are all hot-spring aficionados and we delight in explaining this most relaxing and soothing of Japanese customs to you.
Some of our favorite ryokans
The welcome: when you first step through the doors you’ll be greeted with a bow by your host who will take your bags and show you to your room.
Ryokan style: rooms themselves have natural tatami mat flooring, usually with a low table and chairs in the middle.
Sleeping in a ryokan: from a Western perspective, perhaps the most unusual aspect is that there are no beds. Instead, you sleep on plump futons, which are freshly prepared at night for you on the tatami mat floor. They are incredibly comfortable and easy to sleep on, and your room attendant will fold them away during the daytime.
Some ryokans do have Western-style beds, which can be arranged for you if sleeping on a futon doesn’t appeal.
The yukata: a yukata (or cotton kimono) is provided in your room and can be worn before and after bathing, when relaxing and eating in your room, and around the ryokan.
Ryokan food: for many guests (Japanese and otherwise) the most appealing element of staying in a ryokan is the opportunity to enjoy delicious Japanese food, from hearty home-cooking to mouth-watering kaiseki masterpieces. Breakfast and dinner are usually included, with dinner often served to you privately in your room.
Meals are prepared using the best seasonal ingredients available, and in accordance with Japanese aesthetics you will commonly be served several delicate courses, to give you a mouthful of each different and complementary taste. The dishes are a celebration of local ingredients, from perfectly grilled beef steak in Honshu to delicate snow crab on the north coast.
Ryokan gardens: many ryokans are cleverly constructed around Japanese gardens, which enhance the feeling of peace and tranquility that typify a ryokan stay.
I lived in northern Japan, in Aomori City — often touted as the snowiest in the world — and found that there’s nothing better than soaking in a hot spring while surrounded by snowfall. However, they are enjoyable year-round and often the highlight of the ryokan experience, especially after a day exploring. Not all ryokan have them, particularly in cities, so be sure to check with your specialist.
Bathing etiquette: taking your first Japanese-style bath can be a little bewildering at first, but the principle is always the same, whether you are taking a dip in an onsen or hot bath in your room.
Men and women generally bathe separately, unless using a private bath, and bathing is naked. Before entering the bath, you must wash yourself with the shower or bucket provided. Once you’re sure you have rinsed off all the soap you can enter the bath (slowly, it will be hot).
My top tip is that the Japanese often don’t bathe after dinner, so an evening soak can be much quieter.
Bathing experiences: different ryokans offer differing experiences, from large therapeutic bathing areas, both indoor and outdoor, to smaller baths that can be used privately or for a family.
For the ultimate in indulgence, request a room with its own individual open-air bath.
Start planning your ryokan stay in Japan
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Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.View All Tours in Japan