Japan is home to the ‘shinkansen’; a high-speed train that will be hovering over railway tracks by 2027. However, it’s also a country that takes pride in preserving its traditional way of life. Staying at a ‘ryokan’, or Japanese inn, allows you to travel back in time to the Nara period, in the 8th century. These guesthouses originated from the free rest-houses called ‘fuseyas’, which were built in hazardous travel areas by Buddhist monks. They were used as refuges, so that travellers could spend the night and didn’t have to sleep out in the open. Nowadays they have been turned into small hotels run by families, who maintain the traditional customs and decorations.
As soon as guests enter the house, they are asked to take off their shoes and put on Japanese sandals or ‘zoris’. If they wish, guests can wear a ‘yukata’, a type of kimono. The rooms have ‘tatami’ mat flooring and rolled-up futons that guests unroll when it’s time to sleep. Many ‘ryokans’ have hot spring pools for communal use or private baths in the open air inside their rooms.
This type of accomodation formed of these small wooden buildings can be found especially in Kyoto and Nagano.
Accommodation includes dinner and breakfast the following day. The most usual is a ‘kaiseki’ dinner, composed of small dishes of sashimi, miso soup and pickled vegetables. Many ‘ryokans’ also offer a hotpot or ‘nabe’, a dish that contains vegetables, tofu and slow-cooked boiled meat. The traditional breakfast includes boiled rice, miso soup, grilled fish and ‘tsukudani’, a fish and seafood soup.
This type of accomodation formed of these small wooden buildings can be found especially in Kyoto and Nagano. The Ryōri Ryokan Shiraume, in Kyoto, is an old teahouse that was turned into an inn in 1949. With its plum trees that are over two hundred years old, it’s one of the most highly recommended ‘ryokans’ in the former Japanese capital. Biyo No Yado, in the city of Nagano, is of the same high standard. Idyllic due to its peaceful atmosphere, it has a room with a private ‘onsen’ or hot spring bath. Nagano is also home to Yudanaka Onsen Seifuso, with outdoor baths or ‘rotenburos’ that are well worth a visit. There are also four hot spring ‘onsen’ baths that can be hired for private use.
As Henry Miller said: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Any travellers can follow in his wise words by immersing themselves in the true local way of life.