>>>'Ryokan', the Japanese B&B

‘Ryokan’, the Japanese B&B

In order to live the true Japanese way and experience the customs of Japanese culture, the ‘ryokan’ guesthouses allow you to stay in a traditional house and live, bathe and eat just like the Japanese did hundreds of years ago.
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.
Each room has 'shojis', which are sliding doors with translucent paper screens.
Photo: JNTO

Pamper yourself

As well as the owner of the ‘ryokan’, an 'okami' (manager), welcomes visitors. The 'nakai-sans' are the maids responsible for looking after guests in their rooms.

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.
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.
There are around 70,000 ryokans in Japan.
Photo: JNTO

The zen garden

The religious origins of the 'ryokan' explains why all of them have a Japanese garden. Composed of gravel, stones and some floral elements, they are raked every morning to erase the ‘drawing’ from the day before.

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.
In the city of Nagano the traditional cuisine includes Shinshu beef and sake from the area.
Photo: JNTO
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.

Related articles

The Mobile Museums of Kyoto

From sombre ritual to a celebration of opulence: While it may have come a long way from its ninth century...

Sakura gives Japan colour

With the arrival of spring, Japan becomes an enormous pink cloud. And it seems as if the trees are blushing...

Welcome to the future

Three robots will welcome you at the reception to check in. Don’t worry if they don’t give you a key...

Shibuya for shopaholics

If you love high-tech games and trendy brands, and you’re a manga freak, then Tokyo is for you. Above all,...