Staying in a ryokan, a Japanese inn is one of the best ways to connect with Japan and the rich culture. Each ryokan is unique and is generally family-owned and operated. This means that the service you receive will be different from inn to inn.
When you arrive at the ryokan you may be asked to take off your shoes at the entrance and put on slippers, which are used for walking around inside the ryokan, your shoes will be placed in the entrance when you want to go outside. If you want to take a short walk near the ryokan, you can also wear the geta (wooden clogs), which are sometimes provided for guests.
A room in a ryokan is in Japanese style with tatami flooring (reed mats). Your room may contain some or all of the following, depending on the style and design, and expense of the ryokan.
- agari-kamachi – after opening the door guests step into this small area and take off their slippers (do not wear your slippers on the tatami)
- shoji – sliding Japanese doors that separate the agari-kamachi from the room
- tatami – reed mat flooring
- zataku – low wooden table
- zabuton – sitting cushions
- futon – sleeping quilt
- tokonoma – ornamental alcove built into the wall, used for placing flower vases and hanging scrolls
- oshiire – a closet for futon sleeping quilts
- engawa – enclosed sitting area separated from the room by shoji
During your stay, a yukata or cotton robe may be provided for you to wear in your room, around the ryokan, and if you want, you can wear it together with your geta if you want to take a short walk. You put the yukata on just like a robe, but make sure you wrap it overnight, the other way is reserved for deceased.
Bathing is a very important part of Japanese culture. Baths are for soaking in, not for cleaning yourself. You must wash your body and completely rinse off all soap before entering the bath. The same bath water is shared by all bathers and it is important to keep it clean. Before dinner is a good time to take a bath. Be careful as these baths can be very hot. Japanese baths can be the best thing to relax after a long day of sightseeing.
When seated at a low Japanese table on tatami mat flooring it is considered polite to sit seiza, which is when you sit with your legs tucked directly beneath you. If this is not possible or too uncomfortable it is fine to sit cross-legged. Most Japanese can only sit in seiza for 20 minutes or less. You may also ask for a special backrest which is a chair without legs.
Your dinner will be served either in your room or in the dining room. Generally the multi-course dinner will be served all at once and there will be more than enough to fill the largest for appetites.
Dinners were first offered at ryokans starting back in the Edo period 1603-1867 when warlords were required to travel every other year between their domain and Edo (modern Tokyo). The Shogun, who lived in Edo, set up 5 major roads to make travel easier. Along the roads, stations were established where travellers could get food and rest at ryokans. In the beginning, ryokan did not offer dinner so Young samurai would wander the streets doing what young men do. When asking why they were wandering the streets they would reply that they were just looking for something to eat. Sometimes problems occurred, so as a way to get everyone off the street, the Shogun required that all ryokans serve dinner. This solved the problem and started a tradition where ryokans served dinner. For many Japanese, the dinner is the most important part of their stay at a ryokan.
After a good night sleep you will have breakfast, generally served in the dining room and is perfectly acceptable to wear your yukata.
You will not be charged until you check out. Keep in mind, because most ryokans are small and family-owned there may be curfews to consider.