When in Rome, do as the Romans do! Well, perhaps ‘when in Japan, do as the Japanese do’ would be the better phrase for this article…
Japan is a whole ocean of culture and customs. Everyone is guaranteed to want to have a taste of them, much more for tourists who decide to visit the country. The country provides many ways for people to get the full experience of their traditions, and ryokan is just one of them.
Though this kind of experience can burn quite the hole in your pocket, ranging at around 15,000 to 25,000 yen per person per night (yikes!), it’s definitely worth the experience! Who can resist being able to walk around beautiful gardens in a yukata, or even sinking into a hot spring and eating local cuisine for breakfast and dinner? I sure can’t.
What is a Ryokan?
To put it simply, ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. Ryokan are usually paired with hot spring resorts. The rooms include tatami-matted floors, sliding doors, and futon beds, and there are many different things to try during a stay there. There are communal baths, gardens, an entrance hall where guests can chat, and even games like table tennis for the guests to try.
This can truly be an amazing opportunity for Japanese and tourists alike to relax and take a step back, since most ryokan are situated in rural areas. Speaking of their locations, it’s unlikely you will find many of these inns in urban areas. There are certainly some located in major cities, such as Kyoto and Hokkaido, but they’re mostly modernized compared to the ones in a rural setting.
These can also include a restaurant as well, featuring traditional Japanese cuisine called kaiseki. Kaiseki includes both seasonal and regional specialties. While this word was used for light snacks eaten during tea ceremonies, today it now refers to a meal with small varying dishes in it.
Did you know that the two of the oldest hotels in the world are actually ryokan? Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan and Hoshi Ryokan are considered to be oldest and second oldest respectively.
Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan is located in Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture. Some also say that the company that holds his onsen is one of the longest running companies in Japan. This ryokan is located in the foot of Akaishi Mountains and was operated by 52 generations of the same family for 1,300 years. If that isn’t commitment, I don’t know what is.
The onsen was created by Fujiwara Mahito, son of an aide to the 38th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Tenji. Some notable guests of the ryokan include Takeda Shingen and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
The hotel has 37 rooms with free wifi, along with a restaurant. The hotel features hot spring baths as well, like many ryokan do to this day. Two private ones are on the first floor and two public ones are on the fourth floor. It’s really interesting how something that dates back centuries ago can still be up and running, adapting to trends with time!
Hoshi Ryokan is the same. While it was thought to be the oldest ryokan in Japan, it was proven wrong. Hoshi Ryokan was established in 718 AD, while Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan was established in 705 AD. This ryokan is located in the Awazu Onsen area of Komatsu, in Ishikawa Prefecture. While not much detail is given on this inn, it is said that the Hoshi family has been running the inn for 1,300 years as well, much like Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan.
While it may seem really daunting and intimidating to adapt to another country’s customs, the most important thing is that you relax and have fun learning! Anyone would be afraid of doing something disrespectful in the eyes of a local, but accidents really will happen and it’s for the best that you learn from the experience.
Trying out a ryokan would be a little scary at first, but wouldn’t it also be a lot of fun? Different experiences bring different lessons, whether it be personal or on the culture of Japan and how to uphold it. If you ever do try staying at a ryokan, reach out to us and tell us all about it! We’d really love to know how your experience went (and so I can maybe try one if I ever do get the money)!