“IF YOU’RE TWENTY-TWO, PHYSICALLY FIT, HUNGRY TO LEARN AND BE BETTER, I URGE YOU TO TRAVEL – AS FAR AND AS WIDELY AS POSSIBLE. SLEEP ON FLOORS IF YOU HAVE TO. FIND OUT HOW OTHER PEOPLE LIVE AND EAT AND COOK. LEARN FROM THEM — WHEREVER YOU GO.” ~ ANTHONY BOURDAIN
Another great travel inspiring quote. Ok, I might be 36 years old but I am definitely fit, hungry to learn and with a 20-year-old soul. Traveling for me is about exploring and feeling the place as if I were a local. And I apply it to everything, especially accommodation.
Sure, it is nice to sleep in a comfortable, easy all-inclusive hotel, but when you are in a country that is so different from your home it is worth experiencing the flavour of what ‘uniqueness’ means.
The first time I came to Japan I absolutely had to try a capsule hotel. This time, instead, I opted for another very typical style of accommodation: a ryokan.
What is a Ryokan?
A ryokan is, simply put, a Japanese-style inn. Japanese are all about maintaining authentic atmosphere and appearance while providing, at the same time, the best comfort. In my opinion, a ryokan is ideal for travellers who wish to experience true Japanese culture and enjoy the cordiality of Japanese hospitality and service.
What makes a ryokan unique
A ryokan will typically have tatami-matted rooms, communal baths (at times separated by gender), and other public areas where visitors can comfortably sit down, read magazines in their yukatas (Japanese robe) and talk with other guests and the owners.
Japanese are famous for their cordiality and devotion for culture, and a ryokan will embody most of these elements:
①Yukata – in your room you will be given a robe, which looks like a lighter kimono and you can use it to walk around the place..
②Baths – Relax with the help of a good soak. These baths will have little showers and a big tub for you to sit in and relax.
③Personal care – Enjoy attentive service from the owner and/or his nakai, a dedicated attendant.
Other typical features of a ryokan are:
the “agari-kamachi”, a hallway that takes to several guest rooms. Here is where you normally take off your shoes
“shoji” (sliding paper doors) which separates the agari-kamachi from the room
“tatami” mat flooring (reed floor matting)
low wooden tables
“zabuton” (sitting cushions)
futon (sleeping quilts)
a “tokonoma” (an ornamental alcove built into the wall used for placing flower vases and hanging scrolls)
an “oshiire” (a closet for futon sleeping quilts)
an “engawa” (a glass enclosed sitting area separated from the room by a shoji)
There are different kinds of ryokan but they all embody the same amenities and attention to details.
How to find them
While the most commercial ryokans are easily found on platforms such as Booking, for this kind of accommodation I prefer to take a less-beaten route and consult more low-key sources.
When I look for traditional authentic accommodation in Japan, I refer to Lonely Planet Japan to have a quick look around of what’s out there and what’s available. I use Lonely Planet for general practical knowledge. When I have an idea of the accommodation style I’m looking for, I then refer to more specific sources such as Japonismo and Japan-Guide. The first is the ultimate Japan guide, absolutely delightful and complete on things to see, where to go and how to get there. They also offer fully tailored maps for specific itineraries (the website is only available in Spanish, though your search engine can translate it for you). Japan-Guide, in English, offers plenty of knowledge and a full-on travel site where you can find your flights, hotels and city-focused itineraries. Both sources very recommendable.