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Plan Your Trip

Ryokan are found all across Japan, though for the best experience, you'd be wise to seek out one in a quiet residential district. Most ryokan are small buildings of no more than a dozen or so rooms, often built facing a small garden. There are some 58,000 ryokan in Japan, of which 1,400 are quality establishments belonging to the Japan Ryokan Association.

Although ryokan rates vary greatly, with a few very exclusive establishments charging high rates, charges are usually in the range of 12,000 yen to 20,000 yen per person, including two meals and excluding tax and service charges. For the budget traveler, there are more than 80 inns belonging to the Japanese Inn Group, which specializes in welcoming visitors from abroad. These inns are also quite economical, with room rates averaging around 5,000 yen per person, excluding meals.

Getting Acquainted with the Japanese Style

Guests are obliged to remove their shoes at the entrance of a ryokan or any other kind of Japanese-style accommodation. Slippers are worn inside, except on the tatami matting, so bring thick socks if the weather is cold.

A room in a ryokan is usually a single large, undivided room floored with traditional tatami (rice-straw matting), with the only piece of furniture being a single low table. Doors are shoji (sliding screens), and decoration will usually be one or two simple ink brush drawings or scrolls. Seating in the room is on cushions, called zabuton, arranged around the low table. In the winter season, there may be a blanket around the table. You slip your feet under the blanket for the warmth of a kotatsu electrical heating unit.

Guests sleep on futon (Japanese style bedding) laid out in the evening by maids after the evening meal. It ordinarily consists of a mattress, sheets, thick coverlet, and extra blankets if needed.

The typical lounging wear of a ryokan, a blue and white-patterned yukata (cotton robe) is also provided. In cold weather it is supplemented by a tanzen gown worn over it.

Most ryokan will have a communal bath, which is generally for separate sex bathing. Numerous superb hot-spring resorts, known as onsen, are in fact ryokan built on the site of a hot spring. Before going into the communal bath, you disrobe in an anteroom, placing your robe and underclothing in a basket or shelf compartment. The inn gives you a hand-towel to drape over your midriff while standing up in the bathroom. This towel is also used for scrubbing and drying. To take a bath, first sit on a low stool in front of a pair of hot/cold water faucets. Fill a bath pan with water, and pour it over your body to get soaking wet all over. If there are no faucets, use a bath pan to scoop water from the bath. If shower outlets are available, shower while seated on the stool, never standing up. Soap and rinse off thoroughly. Only then do you get into the bath for a good soak.