Scenic view at Hoshinoya Guguan

Ryokan and the Japanese Hospitality

Tiếng Việt

To put it simply, a ryokan is a Japanese-style inn. But unlike its Western-style counterpart, the ryokan is an embodiment of Japanese lifestyle which was treasured and passed down over generations. From the traditional and often historical architecture to a skilful level of attentive and service, spending the night at a ryokan is definitely an ideal way to experience the “true Japan”.


The origin of the Japanese ryokan dates back to more than 1300 years ago when the Buddhist monks started setting up the so-called fuseya (free guest house) to assist travellers. Back in those days, transportation between regions was difficult and travelling was indeed perilous, resulting in the death of a large number of travellers. That’s why the fuseya was established to provide shelter for those in needs.

As times went on, priorities of travellers changed: they required not only a space to stay overnight, but also good meals and comfortability; and thus facilities had to modify to adapt the guest’s growing demand, forming the basis of modern-day ryokans. Omotenashi – “offering the best service without the expectation of a reward” – is the core value of every ryokan, and if you want to experience this traditional lifestyle and hospitality, there is no better chance than staying in a ryokan.

Where to find ryokans?

Ryokans can be found all over Japan, and to some extent in Taiwan. However, they vary greatly in term of size and style. Some ryokans are small family-run businesses, while others boast facilities like a modern hotel with hundreds of rooms. Regarding price, ryokans also range from no-frills, budget options to the luxury establishment catering for the affluents. While extremes do exist, the average cost of a stay is between 15,000¥ and 25,000¥ per person, per night. That includes an elaborate dinner in the evening, followed by a sumptuous breakfast the next morning.

Both Japanican and Japanese Guest Houses offer a wide variety of ryokans throughout Japan. While Japanican has more options, Japanese Guest Houses can arrange a booking in unique locations such as Kōyasan, Shirakawa-go or Kiso Valley. Alternatively, you can make a reservation through Booking.com.

The entrance to a ryokan in Kōyasan. Actually, it is a Buddhist temple and this special type of inn is called shukubo.
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The Characteristics of Japanese ryokans

As an embodiment of traditional Japanese lifestyle, ryokans combine many of the best elements from the olden times, such as tatami floors, futon beds (which are usually stored during the day and laid out only in the evening before going to bed) and Japanese style baths. Many establishments also incorporate onsen, natural hot springs, that’s why ryokan are very common in areas with hot spring sources. The way a ryokan blends with its surrounding is another important facet of the ryokan culture. Stunning gardens, open-air baths, rooms with an impressive view are usually an integral part of most ryokans, especially those in the high-end category.

When staying at a ryokan, another factor that should not be overlooked is the food. In fact, many Japanese people select (or neglect) a ryokan based on the quality of the food provided. That’s why great care is taken in both the preparation and presentation of each dish, and every single dish should reflect the ryokan’s personality. Meals are typically kaiseki-ryōri (Japanese haute cuisine) – a multi-course menu that features local and seasonal specialities. But in some special cases, it is replaced by shōjin ryōri – vegetarian meals using foods processed from vegetables and soybeans. In general, meals are served in the inn’s dining hall, but a good number of ryokan serve meals directly in the guest room, with attendants bringing each carefully prepared dish to the table.

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Ryokan Etiquette

Because of their emphasis on traditional style and atmosphere, ryokan might appear rigid for first-timers who are unfamiliar with the procedures and etiquette. But in reality, ryokan are very hospitable places and staying in one is indeed a unique experience when travelling to Japan. However, there are certain etiquettes that you should follow to enjoy your stay.

Do

  • During your stay, you are encouraged to wear the yukata – a casual summer kimono made of cotton or synthetic fabric. You can wear it to the dining hall, to the onsen, and in some hot spring towns, you can even walk outside in yukata.
  • The onsen or Japanese style bath is perhaps the most challenging part (at least for me). It’s a communal bath and you share it with other guests. The baths are segregated into male- and female section. You are not allowed to bring anything in this area, except for a small towel. Before entering the bath tube, you have to wash your hair and body. After taking a bath, you should cleanse yourself once again with cool water. It’s a lengthy and stringent process but the end effect is purely relaxing.

Don’t

  • Don’t drag your luggage on the tatami floors because heavy bags and suitcases may damage the surfaces. There is usually a designated area for putting your bags. Very often your attendants will handle the luggage for you when the check-in process is completed.
  • When wearing the yukata, put the right lapel tightly over the left, with the obi tied loosely to your side. Never put the left lapel over the right, because it is believed to bring bad luck. Only dead people wear yukata that way!
  • When inside the onsen, make sure that your head and towel don’t fall into the water.
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35 thoughts on “Ryokan and the Japanese Hospitality”

  1. Thật là tuyệt vời. Cám ơn cháu cất công viết. Cô muốn thử kaiseki nhưng thấy nó đắt giá quá nên ngại.

    1. Cũng có nhiều loại ryokan đó cô. Có chỗ họ offer bed & simple breakfast thôi nên giá cũng mềm hơn. Thực ra ăn kaiseki ở ttrong ryokan là giá cả hợp lí nhất rồi 🙂 Vì giá trung bình 1 phần kaiseki là từ 6000 trở lên. Giá phòng trung bình cho 1 standard room của mấy cái hotel cũng khoảng 10000 yen/đêm rồi. Nên cộng lại có khi còn vượt giá một đêm ở ryokan.

      1. Cô đọc trong một quyển về thức ăn của người Nhật, tác giả có nói qua về kaiseki. Ông đi ăn ở nhà hàng, có lẽ thuộc loại high end, muốn ăn phải đặt trước, và phải do người Nhật giới thiệu, hay mời đến ăn. Giá một phần ăn là 300 USD. Cô nhắm nếu đi ăn thì chắc chẳng có người Nhật nào giới thiệu mình, mà dẫu có thì chắc ông Tám sẽ rầy, vì ông không thích thức ăn Nhật (sushi), không thích vào nhà hàng, và chắc chắn là không ưa giá tiền kiểu này. Cháu đi chơi lúc ấy có sợ động đất không. Trong vòng một hai tháng mà cô nghe nào là động đất nào là nước lụt đến chết mấy chục người, cô sợ quá.

      2. Dạ lúc cháu đi là mùa xuân nên ko sợ lắm. Lúc đó thì sợ tên lửa của North Korea hơn 🙂 Nhật cũng giống Đài Loan, mấy tháng hè này là bão liên miên. Nên người ta thường chủ yếu đi Nhật với Đài Loan vào xuân hay thu đông.
        Cháu nghĩ mình là tourist nên mấy cái kaiseki restaurant thuộc hàng high-end chắc không nhận đặt bàn của mình đâu. Họ thường phải giải thích về các món ăn, mà mình thì chả biết tiếng Nhật. Nên mình sẽ không cảm nhận được hết độ sophistication của mấy món đó.

  2. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    Sounds like you had an authentic ryokan experience — the closest thing I had to that was the tatami mats and a low wooden table at my hotel in Kyoto. That decoration for Children’s Day reminds me how the Japanese put their attention into small details; everything on that table looks meticulously-prepared.

    1. Thank you, Bama! Although I cannot remember the name of any dish, they are generally good. Some of dishes are very new to me, and I didn’t even know what we ate 🙂

  3. Ah I miss staying in ryokans!

    1. The food in ryokan is what I miss the most! It was so good that I hasn’t gone to any Japanese restaurant here since I came back 🙂

      1. Ah that is so true the food in ryokan is really a lavish spread and they use the freshest and best ingredients!

  4. Great article that really makes me want to go back to beautiful Japan. During our 6-week trip we stayed at several Ryokans and experienced nothing but the greatest hospitality we could think of. This in combination with wonderful refined food and some onsens made this trip very special and memorable. Hope to go back to Japan soon!

    1. Same here! I hope to go back there in winter. Would love to dip in the hot water while watching the snow falling outside 🙂

  5. BloomsandBeautifuls – We both have a shared loved of Disney and we are bringing the magic to you! Whether it’s food, travels, experiences or inspiration, there’s something we can share with you to make your travels more magical!
    BloomsandBeautifuls says:

    Wow! Amazing! Thanks for sharing! I can’t wait to go to Japan! My husband and I are currently planning a trip for a couple years from now.

  6. Tina Schell – I am passionate about photography, love traveling and exploring new places and faces, and seeing the world from different perspectives. My lens is always on the lookout for something beautiful or interesting.
    Tina Schell says:

    If we cannot travel at the moment we can make virtual visits through posts like tis one Len. A lovely way to see the world!

  7. We always wanted stay in a ryokan. Never did stay in one. Thank you for taking me down memory lane through your earlier posts in Nara and Kyoto. Stunning pictures too!

    1. Many thanks! Have you ever stayed in a hanok in South Korea? I’ve heard that they share a similar concept with the ryokan.

      1. hahah…we never stayed in a hanok either. 🙂 But, I’ve visited many hanoks. It’s on my list. I’ve heard the hanoks in national parks are amazing! Maybe, when it’s safe to tavel again.

  8. Gracefully Global Travels – Bologna, Italy – I'm a location independent #international educator, photographer, arts marketer & #Italy #travel expert. Instagram: @gracefully_global | Twitter: @gglobal_blog
    Gracefully Global travels says:

    This is a wonderful introduction to ryokans, thank you. I’ve seen them on tv and in photos but I have never known anything about them. I hope to visit Japan someday so this is very helpful.

    1. My pleasure! Sorry for the very late response. Honestly, I don’t understand why WP put your comments into the spam folder 🙁 I just realised it today thanks to a fellow blogger. She minds that her comments went unanswered.

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