For many visitors to Japan, a stay at a ryokan--a traditional Japanese inn--is often the highlight of the trip.
In order to get you a little more familiar with the concept of a ryokan, and to help you find the right one for you, we at JAPANiCAN have prepared this ryokan FAQ under the following headings:
• Price plans
What is a ryokan?
A "ryokan" is a type of traditional Japanese-style accommodation that features flooring made from tatami straw mats. Many ryokan are located outside cities, making them good places to relax and enjoy nature. Also, many ryokan feature natural hot spring baths, known as onsen.
What are the main attractions of staying at a ryokan?
The best thing about staying at a ryokan is that it allows you to experience a traditional atmosphere in surroundings unique to Japan. Also, the service given to guests at ryokan is based on what the Japanese proudly call omotenashi: compassionate, heartfelt hospitality.
If an establishment has the word "Hotel" in the name, can it still be classified as a ryokan?
Establishments are legally bound to naming themselves either hotel or ryokan depending on the ratio of Japanese-style rooms to Western-style rooms. Despite this, the difference is not always that clear: there are certainly numerous establishments that have the word "hotel" in their names that come complete with plenty of Japanese-style rooms, hot spring baths and the atmosphere of a traditional inn.
What is the difference between a hotel and a ryokan?
The main difference between a hotel and a ryokan is that ryokan have traditional Japanese-style rooms with tatami straw-mat flooring. Another difference is that whereas hotels normally provide breakfast only, ryokan normally serve both dinner and breakfast. Other differences lie in the service level provided at ryokan, where the staff will come and lay out your futon for you, pour you tea, and so on.
About how much does it cost to stay at a ryokan?
Ryokan vary widely, from reasonably priced establishments that charge less than JPY 10,000 (approximately US$112) per person per night, to highly luxurious establishments charging over JPY 100,000 (approximately US$1120) per person per night.
What is included in the price?
The prices for ryokan usually include one night's stay with breakfast and dinner. JAPANiCAN's prices are inclusive of all fees, but please be aware that there is a JPY 150 (approximately US$1.70) tax levied by the government on the use of hot spring baths, which will have to be paid separately at the ryokan.
Do you have to have breakfast and dinner at the ryokan?
Although having breakfast and dinner at the ryokan is the standard, the number of ryokan that offer accommodation with no meals is increasing. We at JAPANiCAN aim to offer you as many accommodation options as possible, so when searching and booking you will find options for accommodation with and without meals included.
Is there a separate price for children?
This really depends on the ryokan, but usually the price varies depending on whether the child is of school age or preschool age. As a general guideline, child prices are usually around 50-70% of the adult price. Some ryokan may allow children under the age of 3 to stay for free, with their meals to be paid for separately.
What kind of rooms are available? Are all rooms Japanese-style?
There are three main types of rooms to be found in ryokan.
1. Japanese-style room: A room with tatami straw mat flooring. Guests sleep on a futon laid out on the tatami. Rooms usually either 8-, 10-, or 12-tatami mats in size. (For tatami size explanation, see the next question.)
2. Japanese-style room with bed: A room that includes a tatami straw mat room as well as a (Western-style) room with a bed.
3. Western-style room: The same type of room that you would find in a normal Western-style hotel.
How are the room sizes measured?
The size of Japanese-style tatami rooms has traditionally been measured not in square meters or square feet as in the West, but rather just by counting the number of tatami mats the floor space is made up of. The size of tatami mats varies slightly by region, but on average a tatami mat is 91 cm x 182 cm (1.66 sq m)/35.5 in x 71 in (17.8 sq ft). Therefore, when searching for a room on JAPANiCAN you will see listed under Room Info the size of the room in the following format: "Japanese style room 10 tatami mats" (which in this case would be equivalent to approximately 16.6 sq m or 178 sq ft.)
What kind of food is served at a ryokan?
Of course, Japanese food is the standard. Most ryokan take pride in serving up traditional Japanese kaiseki (multi-course) meals made using local ingredients.
Where do you eat your meals in a ryokan?
While many ryokan serve meals to guests in their rooms, many ryokan also have dining halls/restaurants where meals are served.
Are all bathing facilities in ryokan natural hot springs (onsen)?
While many ryokan have large public baths, they are not necessarily natural hot springs (known as onsen in Japanese). In order for a facility to be classified as an onsen, there are certain standards that need to be met by law regarding the composition and temperature of the water.
What is the proper way of having a Japanese bath?
In the changing area, remove all your clothes. You may take a small towel with you into the bathing area. After entering the bathing area, but before entering the main bath, you should wash your entire body. The reason for this is that in Japan, the bath is a shared facility to soak and relax in; it is not used for washing. Once you have washed yourself, enter the bath and relax!
The showers in Japanese public baths consist of seated-type stalls. It is considered bad manners to stand while taking a shower in this kind of stall. It is also considered bad manners to immerse your towel in the bath water.
Please note that some ryokan do not allow guests with tatoos to use the public bathing areas. If you have a tattoo, you should contact the ryokan or JAPANiCAN Customer Support beforehand to confirm that you will be able to use the baths. Many ryokan that do not allow guests with tatoos to use the public baths will still allow them to use the private reservable baths.
Are all toilets in ryokan Japanese-style only?
It used to be the case that most ryokan had only Japanese-style toilets, but recently the number of ryokan with Western-style toilets has been increasing. The number of ryokan with modern electronic bidet toilets is also increasing.
Do ryokan not have showers?
Most ryokan have large public-use baths. Located around the baths are seated-type shower stalls for guests to use. Some ryokan also have rooms with their own shower rooms/bathrooms. On JAPANiCAN's accommodation list pages, rooms with bathing facilities will appear with a "Bath" icon.
What kind of baths are there?
Most ryokan have at least one large indoor public bath; a significant proportion of those also have an outdoor, open-air bath. Some ryokan also have smaller baths that can be reserved for private use by guests or families. Some ryokan also offer rooms with ensuite baths.
Can I use the baths at any time of day?
The times that baths are open differ by ryokan, and you will be informed at what time the baths close when you check in. As a general guide, baths usually open early in the morning and stay open until midnight or 1:00 a.m.
When staying at a ryokan, the norm is for guests to take a bath before dinner, get changed into their yukata and eat, and then have another bath after dinner.
I'm not comfortable bathing in front of others. Can I still enjoy the baths at a ryokan?
Of course! A great option for those not comfortable with bathing in a public area, some ryokan offer rooms with private ensuite open-air baths. These baths are attatched to individual guest rooms and use the same type of water as the larger public baths. We have assembled a list of ryokan that offer such rooms.
Notice:To book a room with a private open-air bath, select a room showing the "Open-air Bath" icon.
Are there baths that can be reserved?
Yes. Another option for those looking for privacy are family-size baths that can be reserved for a specified time period for an additional charge present at some ryokan. If you want to spend some time bathing and relaxing with just your friends or family, this is a great option.
Ryokan with private baths available for reservation in Fuji/Hakone Area
Note: Although the hotels listed above all have private baths available for reservation, further information is not currently available on the hotel deals page. To reserve a bath after booking your stay at a ryokan, please contact JAPANiCAN Customer Support
Is it possible to just use a ryokan's bathing facilities without spending the night there?
Some ryokan do allow members of the public who are not guests to use their bathing facilities for a fee; you should always check with individual ryokan before visiting.
Do people usually have dinner or a bath first?
The norm tends to be for guests at ryokan to have a bath before eating and then wait a while after eating before having a second bath.
In order to avoid getting dry skin, it might be a good idea to try and spend less that one hour at a time in the bath.
What kind of service is provided at a ryokan?
On arrival, you will be greeted by your room maid--"Nakai-san" in Japanese--who will welcome you with green tea and Japanese sweets. The same Nakai-san will usually look after you for the whole duration of your stay, giving the service that you receive at a ryokan a more personal touch. The daily duties of the Nakai-san include coming to your room and laying out your futon for you at bedtime.
What kind of in-room amenities are provided at ryokan?
Although this varies from ryokan to ryokan, guests are usually provided with the following basics: a yukata (a type of unisex one-layer kimono that guests wear when relaxing in the ryokan and while sleeping), towels, and a toothbrush with toothpaste. Soap, shampoo and conditioner are all provided inside the bathing area.
Do I have to tip?
The services provided are all included in the price of the room, so there is no need to tip ryokan staff.
Are there any rules or points of etiquette I should know about when staying at a ryokan?
Firstly, shoes must always be removed before entering a Japanese-style room that has tatami straw mat flooring.
Secondly, when using the public bathing facilities, it is considered bad manners to stand while taking a shower in the seated-type stalls usually found around the sides of the baths. This is because you may splash other people around you. Also, it is considered bad manners to immerse your towel in the bath water.
Finally, you should of course never wash your clothes in the public bathing area!
Is it hard to get to ryokan?
As most people stay at ryokan when they want to have a quiet getaway, ryokan tend to be located away from city centers. For this reason, numerous ryokan provide shuttle bus services to and from their nearest main train station. If you require a shuttle bus service, please contact Customer Support (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I want to stay at a ryokan, but I don't speak Japanese; will I be able to get by?
Whilst it is true that at most ryokan only Japanese is spoken, the more famous ryokan in popular areas that have a history of catering to international guests will have staff that can communicate in English. In addition, at every ryokan available through the JAPANiCAN site, all required information given to you at check-in is written out in English, Korean, and Chinese (traditional & simplified).
Plus, staying at a ryokan could be a great chance to learn and use a couple of Japanese words and greetings--trying a new language always makes a trip a whole lot more fun and rewarding!
Do ryokan have Internet access?
The whole concept of staying at a ryokan differs from that of staying at a typical city hotel; a ryokan is an out-of-the-way place people go in order to relax and forget their everyday worries. As such, ryokan do not come equipped with business-related facilities like Internet, etc. You can take a stay at a ryokan as a chance to get away from it all and enjoy the quiet Japanese scenery.
What do people wear when staying at a ryokan?
In your room you will find a yukata: a type of one-layer kimono, usually worn in summer. Guests (both men and women) wear the yukata when spending time around the ryokan, relaxing in their rooms, walking to nearby shops, and even while sleeping. The yukata comes with a haori (a type of jacket worn over the yukata) and a belt called an obi.
Can I take alcoholic drinks into the ryokan?
As a general rule, guests are not allowed to take their own drinks into a ryokan. Often, ryokan will have vending machines selling alcoholic drinks that guests can use at their convenience.
What time is check-in/check-out?
As with most hotels, times vary, but as a general guide you can expect check-in to be around 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m., and check-out to be around 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.
Can you remind me of all those Japanese words you just used?
Sure, here you go:
Ryokan - A Japanese-style traditional inn.
Onsen - Natural hot springs.
Tatami - The type of traditional straw mats that make up the flooring in Japanese-style rooms. Warm enough to sleep on in a nice, soft futon.
Yukata - A one-layer kimono worn by both men and women when staying at a ryokan.
Kaiseki - Traditional multi-course Japanese cuisine.
Omotenashi - Heartfelt, compassionate hospitality.
All photos: ©JNTO