Header image courtesy of Scott Dunn
There is no better way to experience authentic Japanese culture, food, and hospitality than to spend a night or two in a traditional Japanese Inn, known as a ryokan (旅館).
Ryokans have been a part of Japanese culture for centuries, offering hot spring baths (known as onsens), warm hospitality, and an elaborate kaiseki dinner each evening. A night or two in a ryokan is an experience in itself. We recommend a rural setting for the most authentic experience—it’s a great way to escape the cities, and relax and rejuvenate for a couple of days. Plus, you won’t find any modern conveniences such as iPads and televisions to distract you—most ryokans are surrounded by beautiful gardens or have impressive views. Here is all you to need to know about where to experience the serenity of staying in a ryokan in Tokyo for yourself.
Typically, a ryokan experience is very private, with most of your time spent in your room. Comfort, healing, and relaxation are the main agenda. Usually, you would sleep on a futon in a bedroom area next to a detached living area. On arrival, you will swap your shoes and clothes for a traditional robe—yukata (浴衣)—and a pair of slippers to wear throughout your stay.
You can enjoy the onsen and find out how and why the Japanese use these communal hot springs and baths. However, if the idea of going nude in the public onsen really is not your cup of tea, you could ask the staff to book a family onsen for you so that you can have a completely private and exclusive relaxation session.
One of the main attractions of staying in a ryokan is kaiseki, which is an integral part of the experience. It is a traditional Japanese dinner made up of up several delectable dishes, served directly in the comfort of your room. There is a set menu each evening, but some ryokans can cater to those with dietary requirements if given advance notice. The eight to ten-course meal offers you an extensive selection of local and seasonal specialities. It is said that no Kaiseki is the same. From an amuse-bouche of grated turnip with conger eel in soy sauce to fresh sashimi and monkfish liver and prawns in a citrus sauce, you'll taste it all.
A traditional Japanese inn high up in the mountains of beautiful Hakone, Gora Kadan boasts all the comforts of a regular hotel without compromising tradition. The rooms are decorated in the Japanese style, with tatami lined floors and an elegant layout that complements the perfectly manicured gardens outside. Guests are also privy to the in-house spa, swimming pool, and gym.
If you are feeling more energetic, venture off to nearby Lake Ashi, where on a clear day you can see Mount Fuji towering over the lake. Enjoy walks, a boat trip, or a cable car adventure for scenic views, all set around the lake.
Gora Kadan, 1300 Gora, Hakone, Ashigarashimo Bezirk, Kanagawa 250-0408, Japan | (+81) 460 82 3331
A family-owned ryokan that has been running for 18 generations, staying at Aaraya Totoan is an unmissable experience for visitors to Kanazawa. This traditional spot is located in Yamashiro, making it the perfect base for exploring the city.
Araya Totoan, 18-119 Yamashiro Onsen, Kaga 922-0242 Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan | (+81) 0761 77 0010
Guests who want some degree of familiarity can opt for Beniya Mukayu, as it offers a more international feel. Meals are served in the restaurant, and beds are provided in some of the more luxurious rooms. Beniya Mukayu is located just outside Yamashiro in the Ishikawa prefecture in west Japan, a 50-minute flight from Haneda airport, followed by a 30-minute car transfer.
Beniya Mukayu, 1-3 Yamashiroonsen, Kaga, Ishikawa 922-0242, Japan | (+81) 761 77 1340
If you are setting off from the capital, the famous shinkansen, or bullet train, out of Tokyo is a top transportation choice that is able to take you to the other end of the country in just four hours. Going at a speed of 300 kilometres per hour, this is a highly efficient and safe way to travel around the country, along with being an adventure in itself.