Dogo Onsen – one of Japan’s oldest hot springs, located in Ehime prefecture. The main building (Dogo Onsen Honkan) is the heart of this renowned public hot spring and is a recognised national treasure. Many other ryokans surround this majestic place. Photo: ©JNTO
Have you ever considered staying at a ryokan (Japanese inn) rather than a hotel the next time you visit Japan? Being pampered by the warm service of a ryokan as you soothe the mind and soul will surely have you hooked on this unique Japanese experience.
Words: Haruka Osoegawa
Japanese people love ryokans. There are still find many ryokans scattered around the nature-rich country towns just outside of the big cities. Spring blooms with cherry blossoms and summer celebrates with fireworks. Autumn brings beautiful autumn leaves and winter greets you with stunning snow. The modern Japanese person will take a few days off work to rest their weary bodies and souls at a traditional ryokan. Time feels as though it slows to a relaxing pace there, something you wouldn’t experience in a big city. Nowadays, the number of visitors from overseas choosing to stay in a ryokan rather than a hotel appears to be gradually increasing.
Ryokans are the best place for overseas visitors to have a truly Japanese experience. But, what exactly is the difference between a traditional Japanese ryokan and a hotel?
In simple terms, the average hotel consists of western-styled rooms with beds for guests to relax. Hotels are focused on protecting the privacy of its patrons with individual bathrooms contained in each room. Furthermore, stepping out of your hotel room in your bathrobe is not exactly commonplace. On the other hand, ryokans are fitted with Japanese-styled rooms and guests sleep on a futon rolled out onto the tatami mat floor. Guests walk around the ryokan premises in their yukata.
An okami-san (landlady) runs a ryokan and the nakai-san’s (maid) job is to carry your luggage to your room, set/ pack up your futon, and bring meals to your room amongst other things. This unique characteristic of Japanese culture, “Japanese hospitality”, can be experienced here first hand.
“Japanese hospitality” is to give guests the utmost best service from the very bottom of one’s heart. Each guest is entitled to the most pleasant of environments. As such, regular visitors to ryokans often feel as though they’ve come home to their “second family”. The effort the caretakers make to meet the requests of every guest is another ryokan charm.
ONCE YOU’VE DISCOVERED THE PURE CHARM OF A RYOKAN, YOU’LL WANT TO KEEP COMING BACK. IT’S NO WONDER SO MANY PEOPLE ARE HOOKED.
Take timing, for example. Many guests are served dinner at their rooms. After dinner, the nakai-san comes to set up each guest’s futon. The nakaisan will adjust to each guest’s schedule as required in order to carry out this task. Most ryokans are also very flexible when it comes to check-in and checkout times.
Many ryokans also have onsens (hot springs). These are usually common baths separated by gender for guests to enjoy with other guests. Being able to stretch out your arms and legs as you have a good long soak in the thermal waters is a truly relaxing experience. There are also private baths which can be reserved if you wish to bathe without having to worry about others.
Enjoy the pinnacle of service as you dine on delicious foods and bathe in the relaxing onsen. Once you’ve discovered the pure charm of a ryokan, you’ll want to keep coming back. It’s no wonder so many people are hooked.