Simply put, a ryokan is a Japanese-style inn. From the traditional and often historical architecture of the ryokan itself to the layout and accoutrement of the rooms therein, all infused with a careful level of attentive, sincere service to deliver a quintessentially Japanese experience.
It is important not to mistake a ryokan as simply somewhere to stay. The tradition of omotenashi -- "hospitality" -- is a strong one at ryokan, considered akin to welcoming you in to their home. While, with a hotel, we pick a destination and then book a hotel nearby, with a ryokan, we pick a ryokan and that is the destination. Here a few reasons why:
Another integral part of most ryokan (and the ryokan experience) is their surroundings, like stunning scenery and soothing natural hot springs. The way a ryokan blends with and employs the nature around it is an important facet of the ryokan culture.
Staying at a rykoan typically runs about IDR 1.000.000 per person for a night (meals included), though there are luxury ryokan that can exceed 10 times that rate. As a standard, a stay at a ryokan includes both dinner and breakfast, but in response to travelers' needs, many ryokan are also starting to offer room plans (and rates) with breakfast only (half board) or even no meals (room only). yuktravel.com offers a wide range of both ryokan and room plans at these ryokan, so you're sure to find something that matches your preferences and budget.
When staying with children, it is common for the child rate and services provided to vary depending on the child's age, chiefly, if separate bedding is required or not and adjustments made to the included meals. Many ryokan offer four different "child types" to choose from, which you can confirm during the booking process when adding children to your booking.
The standard guest rooms of a ryokan are invariably floored with tatami (traditional floor mats made from bamboo straw), an austere yet meaningful layout often separated by sliding shoji doors and augmented by traditionally Japanese flourishes like ikebana flower arrangements and hanging calligraphy. Guests usually sleep on soft, fluffy futon which are stored during the day and laid out only in the evening before going to bed.
The size of a Japanese-style room is often measured by the number of tatami mats therein, with one mat being about 1.6 square meters, making a 6 mat room about 10 square meters. At first glance, on paper, rooms might appear slightly smaller than standard hotel rooms, but it must be remembered that the size usually listed for Japanese-style rooms refers only to the main room and does not include the entrance way, toilets, bathrooms, etc.
In addition to standard Japanese-style rooms, many ryokan also offer "Japanese/Western-style rooms" which include a tatami-matted area and traditional feel while also providing Western-style beds as opposed to futon. Completely Western-style rooms are also sometimes available.
Another one of the unique aspects of the ryokan tradition is the shared or communal bath facilities, many of which incorporate of onsen, natural hot springs. Ryokan are very common in areas with hot spring sources, and the majority of these ryokan offer separate male and female facilities. Particularly, open-air baths, where you can relax while breathing fresh air and enjoying the view, are not to be missed.
Baths are open early in the morning, usually until midnight, and sometimes even overnight. Sometimes male and female facilities switch, to allow guests to try different baths. Of course, people are welcome to bathe whenever the bath is open, however, the common format for bathing in the evening is to change into a yukata and bathe before dinner, and to bathe again after dinner while the staff clear away from dinner and lay out futons in the room.
For those who want to enjoy a bath together as a couple or family, or are perhaps uncomfortable about bathing with strangers, there are options. One is to book a room that has an attached open-air bath; another is to rent a private bath which ryokan often have on offer. You can use the search filter options on yuktravel.com to find ryokan offering these facilities.
The relationship between food and ryokan is not to be overlooked. Generally, the food served is traditional kaiseki-ryori multi-course cuisine. Due to an abundance of local specialties and seasonal varieties of food in Japan the menu will change accordingly throughout the year to suit the season. Great care is taken in both the preparation and presentation of each dish, with each ryokan's personality, specialties, and flair shining through.
Other than traditional kaiseki, some ryokan are also starting to offer buffets featuring a variety of cuisines (Japanese and otherwise). Many ryokan are also sensitive to guests' food requirements, and will gladly alter their menu to suit individual needs, however, these requests are necessary in advance and can be requested via the yuktravel.com Customer Support.
While it is getting more and more common for meals to be served in a ryokan's dining hall or restaurant, a good number of inns (especially luxury ryokan) serve meals right in your guest room, with your attendant bringing each tantalizing dish to your table.
When a guest first checks in to a ryokan they will usually be welcomed by their attendant, or nakai. The nakai will wait on you for the duration of their stay, from tea and a snack on arrival to laying out your futon, this level of service is a mainstay of ryokan culture.
Especially for those visiting hot springs, ryokan can often be found far from the nearest train station. Most such ryokan offer complimentary shuttle service which you can usually use by simply calling the ryokan after arriving at the train station. Please be sure to confirm shuttle services beforehand, though, as advance notice may be needed in some cases.
When staying at ryokan, guests are welcome to spend their time there in a yukata, a traditional garment that is a kind of light kimono. Some ryokan even offer an array of elaborately designed, colorful yukata for female guests. In hot spring towns, it is popular to walk about town a yukata!
Representing their locale is a big part of being a ryokan, and the gift shops are no exception! You'll find a variety of local specialties from snacks to sake, as well as foodstuffs, cosmetics, sundries, and souvenirs.
Ryokan tend to be a little bit different to hotels, and there can be a lot more contact between guests and staff than some first-time visitors are used to. As they say "when in Rome, do as the Romans". Here, you can learn all about the dos and don'ts when staying in a traditional ryokan or the proper etiquette for taking a bath in an onsen. There are some important cultural differences in Japan, so be sure to read this beforehand, as you won't be able to take it in the bath with you!