The Hiranoya Tea House in Autumn, © Risa Sekiguchi, 2009

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Staying at a Ryokan: Helpful Hints

I highly recommend that you stay at least one night in a ryokan during your trip to Japan. In fact, one night is probably enough for most people, especially for those who do not like Japanese food, or have difficulty getting down and up from the floor. Many Westerners find it difficult to sit for long periods of time on the floor, even with the floor chairs that are often provided. The room rates are high, but considering the personalized service and unparalleled atmosphere – plus the fact that breakfast and dinner are included – it’s a relative bargain. A ryokan stay somehow seems to give the traveler the Japan they’re actually craving. It is perhaps a romanticized version that years of tradition have perfected and preserved, but isn’t that an ideal we all crave? I’ve also talked to many people over the years who state that a ryokan stay was the highlight of their trip.

When considering a ryokan, I consult several guidebooks, as well as web sites, to see if it fits my standards. I search for ryokans with original architecture, a peaceful setting and well-regarded food. Hot springs are an added plus, and if the baths are located near a river, or overlook the sea, so much the better! It’s understandable that ryokans have cornered some of the most scenic real estate in Japan, as some have been in business for 300 years or more.

Ryokans vary in price from ¥10,000 to ¥70,000 per person, and you usually get what you pay for. When there is a range of prices within a single ryokan, it is usually due to the difference in food. I usually order the middle price, but even the lower-priced meals are normally substantial in quantity. The higher prices usually contain more courses. However, sometimes, as is the case at Honke Bankyu Bankyu, the meal is the same, but the difference in price is due to the room. Also, green tea is provided, but there is usually a charge for juice, soft drinks, coffee and alcohol. This can be annoying after paying so much, but there must be a good reason for this custom. I can only deduce that perhaps ryokans that included drinks quickly found that the practice contributed to an unsuitably rowdy and boisterous atmosphere.

A good friend of mine, who had the lucky chance to visit two of the ryokans I recommend here, commented that the Japanese really know how to relax; that they have perfected the art of relaxation to a high degree. I would have to agree. We work hard, play hard, and know how to relax by putting ourselves in the trusted hands of people who take pride in the fine art of hospitality.

Please note that some ryokans, especially larger ones, are actually concrete hotels with Japanese-style rooms. Some even have karaoke lounges! Be sure to research your option carefully or use a reputable travel agent in order to make a wise choice.

Ryokan Do's & Don'ts

 

Relaxing at a ryokan in Shizuoka. Photo: JNTO
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