The Ryokan, Traditional Japanese Inns
Ryokan are traditional Japanese inns that have been providing hospitality, Japanese style hospitality, across the archipelago from north to south for more than 1,300years. An essential part of Japanese culture, according to historical records the very first ryokan appeared in the 7th century CE. As a model and style of hospitality the ryokan is certainly the oldest Japanese inn, and a style of hospitality that travellers can still enjoy and experience today. In most cases ryokan are family owned and family managed inns. Located and found all over Japan, the atmosphere is very much one of staying within a home, and often they are in fact the homes of the family that own them. Ryokan hospitality is infused with what is known locally as the omotenashi spirit. This essential quality of Japanese culture roughly translates as ‘hospitality’ with the Japanese word ‘Omote’ meaning ‘public face’ or the image one wants to present to outsiders, and the word ‘Nashi’ meaning ‘nothing’. Thus the spirit of omotenashi is to provide hospitality, service, from the heart, no artifice, no pretense, nothing hidden or contrived. This spirit is found throughout Japanese culture in their understanding and practice of hospitality and very much exemplified in the oldest of Japanese inns, the ryokan.
There are more than 60,000 ryokan hotels across Japan today, a lot of choice, and a lot of variety in terms of the style of property, the level of service available at the property and of course pricing. With so many ryokan hotels to choose from, selecting the best ryokan in each destination to suit your travel plans is a rather daunting prospect. At Secret Retreats, our team of travel professionals on the ground in Japan are here to help you. We have curated a collection of the pick of the ryokan for our luxury ryokan collection. Our team in Japan is constantly searching for the best travel experiences, the best places to stay, along with places to dine and places to visit. Booking your ryokan stay with Secret Retreats for your vacation in Japan avails you of full concierge support and travel planning too, all provided with the spirit of omotenashi to ensure for you a sincerely good travel experience – this is the Secret Retreats difference.
Japanese Inns – Luxury Ryokan and Hotels
The key difference between a stay in a typical hotel and a stay in a luxury ryokan or Japanese inn is in the dining experience. Unlike typical hotels where a restaurant provides a menu that is designed with the commercialisation of dining behind it, at a ryokan the dining style is completely homestyle. Many ryokan do not have a formal restaurant and will only prepare and serve meals to in-house guests at prescribed meal times. The meals at the ryokan are prepared fresh daily from the seasonal ingredients the family sourced at the market that morning. Each meal served at a ryokan is unique and special. Prepared for today with no two days the same, guests at one of the Secret Retreats luxury ryokan collection will enjoy truly local flavours, dining as generations of family members of the ryokan have dined, on traditional recipes made from the freshest seasonal produce. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the rooms and hot-spring baths, or onsen, at many luxury ryokan exist only in order for the guests to enjoy the meals. This is the hallmark of ryokan cooking, and the pleasure of the ryokan dining experience.
A Typical Stay at a Luxury Ryokan
To help you enjoy the best possible experience of a stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan,
let’s take a look at what you might expect in a typical stay at a luxury ryokan.
15:00 – Check-in:
Arriving at the ryokan your host will greet you at the entrance with a warm welcome and a deep bow. On entering the ryokan you will need to remove your shoes and change into the slippers provided by the ryokan. Once check-in formalities are complete, you will be taken to your room. Slippers are removed at the room’s entrance and you enter your room bare foot or with socks on. The ryokan staff will inform you about the property, the spa and onsen, the meal times and any other services available. Tipping is not necessary or expected.
The design and décor of a typical ryokan is the same as a room
in a classical Japanese home.
The décor and design traditionally includes:- The entranceway or agari-kamachi. On opening the door to your room you step into this small area and this is where you remove your slippers before entering the room.
– Shoji, the sliding paper doors which divide the agari-kamachi from the room.
– Tatami, the floor coverings, which are finely woven reed floor mats.
– Low wooden tables.
– Zabuton are cushions specifically for sitting on.
– Futon are traditional Japanese beds comprising a floor based mattress and quilts that is designed to be set out for sleeping and rolled away during the day, clearing the tatami floor for daytime use.
– Tokonoma is an ornamental alcove built into the wall used for placing flower vases or hanging scrolls and is raised one step above the tatami floor. This is purely ornamental and should not be used to place your personal belongings or luggage pieces.
– Oshiire, a closet for the futon.
The ryokan will provide a yukata or cotton kimono for you to wear while relaxing
in your room or within the ryokan.
Many Japanese enjoy a soak in a hot spring before a meal. The Secret Retreats luxury ryokan collection include some of the best ryokan in Japan with private onsen. In public onsen men and women bathe separately, and often public onsen have a no-tattoo policy. Bathing is done completely naked, although towels are provided.
– Wash thoroughly before entering the hot tub.
– Do not use soap in the bath.
– The water temperature is usually between 38°C to 42°C.
– After a good soak, get out of the bath, sit on the low stool provided, and wash yourself again thoroughly.
18:30 or 19:00 – Dinner Time:
Dining is a highlight of a stay at a traditional Japanese inn. Marking and appreciating the changing of the seasons is an important part of the culture in Japan. The beauty of the four seasons is reflected in the arts of Japan and also in the meals at a luxury ryokan. The kaiseki cuisine which most ryokan serve is a traditional multi-course Japanese set dinner. If you have special dietary requirements these need to be conveyed to your Secret Retreats concierge when booking your holiday itinerary to Japan and ryokan stay
vegetables in a light crisp batter), grilled fish, boiled vegetables and meat,
vegetable hors d’oeuvres, miso soup, and rice.
Many of our luxury ryokans serve their meals on fine traditional pottery and Japanese decorative lacquerware. You will also be provided with chopsticks, although you may request Western tableware too. Beverages and additional courses are generally
available for an extra charge.
When dinner is finished perhaps take a stroll in the local area taking in a recommendation for a local bar to enjoy a nightcap of local sake.
Or relax with a massage or treatment at the ryokan’s spa.
Your futon is prepared for you every night and at the luxury ryokans a white yukata (cotton kimono) is provided to you for sleeping. The futon comprises a thin mattress laid on the floor, usually a few inches thick. If you prefer a deep soft mattress you can ask the staff to double it up. Then 2 quilts, which you sleep between, are set on top with both quilts dressed in fine cotton bedsheets. This a traditional Japanese futon.
Breakfast is usually served to you in your room. Staff will greet you with the Japanese phrase for good morning, Ohayo gozaimasu. A traditional Japanese breakfast will include miso soup, rice, pickles, a tofu dish, an egg dish, nori (dried seaweed), and grilled fish. But many ryokan also offer some more western style dishes for breakfast too – although this may require ordering in advance.Check-out:
Check-out time at a traditional Japanese ryokan is typically between 10:00 to 11:00. The staff will be there to greet you and wish you safe onward travels. It is said In Japan that ‘sode furiau mo tasho no en’ which translates as even a chance acquaintance is pre-ordained. The belief is that every encounter, however brief it may be is to be treasured forever, as it was predestined by the karma of one’s previous life. What a wonderful philosophy to travel on.
Contact the Secret Retreats Concierge to Book your next experience in Japan on firstname.lastname@example.org for detailed and personal assistance.