Japan is a fascinating travel destination!
In Japan, you can experience and see traditions and customs that are very different from Finnish customs.
You can dive deep into Japanese culture, for example, by staying in a ryokan.
What is a Ryokan?
Ryokan (旅館) is a traditional Japanese inn with a unique atmosphere and where the ancient Japanese traditions are still in force.
The ryokan is not just a hotel, but here you have the opportunity to delve into Japanese culture and customs and learn, for example, what are tatami, yukata, kaiseki and onsen.
All ryokan are different, and so are the experiences they offer. However, one thing is for sure: staying at a ryokan will allow you to experience authentic Japanese hospitality.
What is the history of ryokan?
The first ryokan were established in the 7th century. The first ryokan is considered to be the Onsen Keiunkan in Yamanashi, which opened its doors as early as 705 years ago. Keiunkan is said to have actually been the first hotel in the world.
However, ryokani did not become popular accommodation much later during the Edo period (1603-1867). During the Edo period, the Japanese economy flourished, new roads were built, and new ryokans steadily rose along these roads to provide accommodation services to merchants and samurai traveling across the country.
Today, there are more than 50,000 ryocans in Japan. Ryokans vary greatly in size, style, amenities and price.
How do you identify a ryokan?
Even if you’ve never visited a ryokan before, you’ll know in the Guarantee as soon as you step in the door that you arrived at a Japanese inn. You’ve probably seen them in many movies – or at least something similar: traditional Japanese buildings, sliding doors made of rice paper, geisha style, and beautiful Japanese gardens.
However, experiencing the atmosphere of a ryokan on site is something very special.
When you step into a ryokan, you step into Japanese culture and traditions.
This means that no shoes are worn inside the foot.
Instead of shoes, you get slippers, in addition to which you can change your regular clothes to yukata, which is a kimono-like garment made of cotton. It is definitely worth taking the opportunity and enjoying the atmosphere to the fullest by wearing Yukata. The Yukata is pleasant to wear and on site you can take part in all the activities of the day. In some Onsen cities, it is normal to walk around the city with the yukata on top and the Geta wooden sandals on foot. Make sure that you pull the left side on the right yukata before entering into a waist belt that is Ob. Be careful not to wear the yukata so that the right side is on top of the left. This brings misfortune because usually only the bodies are dressed this way.
Your first thought when you walk into your room is probably “something is missing here”. Where is all the furniture?
The décor of the ryokan is, to put it mildly, minimalist, and the décor of your room is far more ascetic than what you are used to.
The floor of the room is covered with tatami, a rug made of rice straw. Before stepping on the tatami, you should take off the slippers so that you only walk on the mat with just socks on your feet or bare feet. In addition, the room has a low table and includes low footless chairs (zaisu) or seat cushions (zabuton) – just like in the movies!
Wondering about the lack of a bed? Ryokani sleeps on traditional Japanese futons (different from the futons we sell) that are pulled out for you by the hotel staff as bedtime approaches.
You may have some doubt as to whether thin paper sliding doors (Shoji) can adequately insulate sound after a night. However, there is no need to worry about it, because there is indeed peace and quiet in the ryokani. A night at the ryokan is a real zen experience and an unforgettable part of your trip to Japan.
Food is not necessarily included in the accommodation. However, in ryokani it is often possible to enjoy an authentic Japanese meal either in the morning or in the evening.
A meal is usually served either in the dining room or in your room if you want to spend a slightly more private meal.
In the morning, a traditional Japanese breakfast is served with a variety of seasonal dishes, such as local miso soup, tofu or rice bran. In some places it is also possible to order a continental breakfast.
In the evenings, kaiseki, a traditional multi-course menu of 6 to 15 seasonal dishes, is often served. The dishes are in perfect harmony in taste, texture and appearance.
If you sit at the dining table with an open mind, you can get to enjoy truly unique taste experiences. Kaiseki is a great opportunity to taste Japanese specialties that you might not otherwise try.
Tip : if the meal starts at. 18, arrive on time – preferably even a little early.
Onsen – hot springs
Bathing is an integral part of the Ryokan experience – and sometimes it can be quite a confusing experience for non-Japanese.
Ryokanes are often set up near hot springs, or onsenes (温泉), formed as a result of volcanic activity. Onsen is a classic comfort in many ryokan.
Indoor and outdoor pools provide hot water from hot springs, and even if there is no natural onsen in the area, many ryokan offer other traditional Japanese spa services.
Usually you take a bath for up to 15 minutes at a time, as the water can quickly become REALLY hot. So listen to your body and act accordingly. And be sure to drink enough water!
Like many other Japanese customs, onsen is associated with many different traditions. You can go a long way by familiarizing yourself with the Onsen label well in advance.
Onsen Visit Etiquette:
- Wash thoroughly (brush thoroughly!) Before stepping into the tub. In many places, you will be given a low stool to sit on while washing. The showers are so close to the floor that standing would not be possible anyway – and the showers here are not meant to stand. The hair must be tied over the head or otherwise out of the way, as the hair must not come into contact with the bath water.
- The use of a swimsuit is not normally allowed, and therefore bathing areas are often separate for men and women. If this feels too revealing, in some places it is also possible to book a private hot tub for your own use only.
- Tattoos are rare in Japan because they are associated with organized crime for historical reasons. Although tattoos are much more common today – especially among foreign visitors – in some lucky ones, tattoos are still not allowed. We recommend that you check before arrival.
Want to experience a Japanese ryokan?
There are countless cozy ryokani in Japan that are definitely worth spending a night or two. You can experience Japan in a completely different way than when staying in a hotel, from small family-owned ryocrines to slightly larger ones.
If you want to experience an authentic Japanese experience, you can stay in a ryokan with a combined tour of Japan.