Are you planning a trip to Japan anytime soon? If so, I hope you have a Ryokan stay on your itinerary. No? That’s OK, after reading this article, you’ll put it at the top of your list. Well, I sure hope you do because the experience packs in the culture offering a whole lot of serenity, and is an excellent way to experience Japan.
What’s a Japanese Ryokan?
A Ryokan is a traditional, Japanese inn. They typically feature sliding paper doors, tatami floor mats, communal baths, and common areas in which guests can mingle. While still mostly the same as they’ve been for centuries, many now cater to tourists.
You can spend the night, sleep on a traditional futon floor bed, and have meals delivered to your room. Many guests add on an order of sake and partake in extra offerings like meditation classes or cooking courses.
A Guest Post by Shannon Ullman from the Lives Abroad.
Why Should You Stay in a Japanese Ryokan?
Here are just a few reasons:
To Experience Real, Japanese Culture
It’s tempting to stay with a hotel chain that you know and love. However, a traditional Ryokan stay brings you closer to Japanese culture. Even if it’s only for a night, you’ll understand what life in Japan was traditionally like. Opening up the paper doors to look out into the garden when you wake up, and falling asleep comfortably on the floor are experiences you can’t get in a hotel.
For the Food and Sake
Your dinner may be prepared by Buddhist monks who hand deliver it to your room. And, you’ll probably hear the scuffling of their slippered feet coming down the hall to bring you the sake you ordered.
Many Ryokans offer only vegetarian meals so you’ll not only get a taste of traditional, Japanese cuisine, but also insights into what the Buddhist monks eat.
To let go of your Inhibitions in a Communal Bath
Most Ryokans will have their own shared bath. Visitors are expected to bathe naked after rinsing off in the seated showers. While they are separated by gender, you’ll probably be joined by other guests.
It’s a great way to let go of your inhibitions and has an experience that you may never have had otherwise.
To Enjoy the Natural Scenery
While many Ryokans are located within Japanese cities, you can also find similar accommodations in more natural settings. The Ryokan stays on Mt. Koyasan (can be done on a day trip from Kyoto) are extremely popular for visitors who prefer a more natural setting.
Guests will have true peace and quiet, and a chance to do some trekking through the mountains.
For a Chance to Meet Buddhist Monks
It’s not that often that you get the chance to interact with real, Buddhist monks. Many of these Japanese temples are run by monks who will check you in, show you your room, and deliver your meals. They will typically lead the activities, especially those that are spiritual. You’ll get to observe their daily lifestyle and the culture that they bring to the experience.
For the Activities
While a traditional stay is all about soaking in the atmosphere and relaxing, there are a few activities to join too. Many Ryokans will offer guided meditation classes with Buddhist monks. You may also find accommodations that offer cooking classes, yoga, and traditional ceremonies.
For the Relaxation
If you’re on vacation you’ll want to spend some time relaxing. While it’s not exactly the same as lounging on the beach, staying in a Ryokan can be just as soothing for the mind, body, and spirit. The minimalist designs, wide open spaces and Zen atmosphere will put you at ease. They tend to offer a relaxing atmosphere in a serene setting. Plus, the gardens and artwork set the scene for an inspiring, yet soothing experience.
For the Novelty
Experiential travel has become increasingly popular over the last few years. So, staying in a Japanese Ryokan really fits the bill. It’s a novel experience that you just won’t get anywhere else.
It can change your perspective when it comes to travel accommodations, and it’s a pretty great story to tell your friends about when you go back home.
To Take a Break From The City
From Tokyo to Kyoto, Japanese cities are fantastic destinations. They hold tons of culture and beauty. However, bustling cities, no matter where they are, can get overwhelming after a while. Staying in a Ryokan allows you to take a break from the hustle and bustle. You’ll have alone time to relax, unwind, meditate, and get a little closer to yourself.
For the Photography Opportunities
Happen to be a photographer (or just love to take pictures?) A Ryokan is a dream environment for snapping stunning photos. You could spend an entire day wandering around the temple, staging your own photo shoots, and photographing the architecture and natural landscapes. Between the interior design and the gardening, you’ll be busy taking amazing photos throughout your stay.
For the Romance
Not traveling alone? Don’t worry, a Ryokan stay is great for couples too. The intimate and laid back environment is perfect for couples who just want to spend time together. The simple, traditional rooms have little distraction, so you can really focus on one another. There’s plenty of privacy, sake, and delicious food to make your evening in a Ryokan extra special.
For the Tea
You can’t visit Japan without tasting some of the local tea. If you stay in a Ryokan, you’ll most likely have the chance to sample some in your room. A hot cup of Japanese tea is a great way to start your Ryokan stay.
It’s also essential for your nightly wind down before laying out your futon floor bed and getting some rest.
A traditional Ryokan stay is a must-do while visiting Japan. It’s an experience that you just won’t get anywhere else. Even if it’s just for a night, you won’t regret your decision to take this deep dive into Japanese culture.