An authentic cultural experience awaits you at a ryokan, the traditional Japanese stay. Begun in the Edo Period for travellers, they still exist in modern times, providing an insight into a slice of traditional Japanese life. These wooden buildings with pointed roofs are at least a century old, surrounded by ample bamboo and greenery.
Walk into this quaint lifestyle through a formal entrance, and a common area strewn with couches and tables where guests can chat. You might find a television or even a computer with an internet connection in the more modern ryokans. You’ll have to leave your footwear here before you proceed to your room, and slip into slippers that will be provided. Of course, make sure you don’t walk on the tatami mats in your room with those on.
Enter the guest room through the sliding paper door, and take in the traditionally and minimally furnished tatami room that serves as a living space, dining room and bedroom. You’ll find a low table, but no bed. Don’t worry, because come night, a plush futon mattress will be laid out for you to snuggle into. You’ll also find a yukata, a simple cotton kimono, kept ready for you, which you can wear anywhere within the ryokan. It’s worn with the left flap over the right one, before securing it with a sash.
Enjoy free tea in your room. Your room will have a little teapot, chawan tea cups and tea packets, accompanied perhaps by some snacks. So sit at the little table and have yourself a tea party.
If you want to enjoy a soothing soak, find the common bathing area or ofuro. This is usually separated by gender, and sources water from onsens. Of course, before you step into the communal bathing area, you’ll have to wash yourself thoroughly in a little space with shower sprays and little wooden buckets and benches provided for your use. Relaxing and soothing, you’ll find the hot waters from the onsen very therapeutic.
If you’re apprehensive about bathing with strangers, then a high-end ryokan may do the trick with its private bathing facilities. Regardless, the same rules of onsen etiquette apply.
Most ryokans provide breakfast and dinner, which you can enjoy in the communal dining area or in your room. Breakfasts are lavish, and provide a stunning variety of Japanese delicacies. You could savour grilled salmon or mackerel, dried seaweed, tofu, miso soup, rice, and eggs among many others, each served in its own separate plate.
For dinner, ryokans traditionally serve the famed kaiseki, a multi-course meal that includes seasonal and regional specialties. The plating of the food is an intricate art, with perfectly balanced colour, texture, and taste. It’s quite the luxury to be served such a delightful meal in your room.
Ryokans take you closer to nature, and you can experience serenity in an ancient wooden building, nestled amid green gardens or forests. The atmosphere is uniquely relaxing and deeply satisfying, perfect for a little vacation from your busy life.