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Know Before You Book! The Characteristics of Japanese Ryokan

Ryokans (Japanese-style lodging) in Japan are different from hotels in many ways. If you end up staying in a ryokan without even knowing anything about it, you might get disoriented with those differences. Below is a discussion on the services and points you have to know about ryokans.

How is a Ryokan Different From a Hotel?

The differences between hotels and ryokan lie in the design of their guestrooms, lodging style, and available services. Below are the general characteristics of hotels and ryokans.

【Ryokan】
・Accommodation packages are mainly good for two or more guests, with two meals included
・Most guestrooms are Japanese-style rooms that come with futons (quilted mattresses that are laid on the floor)

【Hotel】
・Accommodation packages generally have breakfast included, and can be availed by even one person
・Most guestrooms are Western-style rooms that are equipped with a bed

There’s been an increase of modern ryokans that offer Japanese-style rooms with beds in recent years in a bid to address the various needs of guests. There are even places where single guests can stay, as well as places that allow you to stay the night without any meals. Furthermore, ryokans are premised on having a public bath within their premises, so they have no shower rooms in the guestrooms. In exchange, they would draw onsen (hot spring) water into their baths or build open-air baths that will let their guests enjoy Japan’s bath culture. For those who don’t really want to soak in a large public bath, there are many inns that offer open-air baths annexed to guestrooms, as well as private baths that can be rented, so try to look out for them!

Characteristics of a Ryokan’s Services

Hotels provide services that “respond to the needs of guests”, but ryokans basically offer Japanese-style “omotenashi” (hospitality). During your stay in a ryokan, your bags will be brought to your room and tea will automatically be served by the staff. They leave nothing to be desired when it comes to services! The staff – called “Nakai-san” in Japanese – will basically wait on you hand and foot.
If you are not used to staying in ryokans, then one thing that might surprise you is that the futon is laid out at night and then put away in the morning. They will fix your room and lay out the futon while you are busy dining in another room.

Many Ryokans Do Not Have Room Service

While ryokans are truly hospitable, as they offer a plethora of services from check-in until check-out, most of them do not provide room service. You cannot order dinner or breakfast in your room, and if you suddenly get hungry at night, you won’t be able to order any light meals.
For guests who want to relax in their rooms even during mealtime, it would be best to choose ryokans that offer “Heya Shoku” plans (plan where meals are served in the guestroom).

Ryokans Are Not Suitable For Long-term Stay! Some Even Implement Curfews!

Ryokans are great places for enjoying an extraordinary experience if you are only staying for 2 to 3 days, but they are not really meant for extended stays. An overnight stay in a ryokan generally comes with two meals, so one of the disadvantages of ryokans is that guests are not free to eat what they want. In most cases, dinner is a luxurious Kaiseki Ryori (multi-course banquet). It may be delicious at the start, but when faced with such a banquet every day, you might eventually feel the desire to eat something else. Most ryokans also do not offer laundry service, something that is essential for long-term stays. Also note that there are ryokans that impose curfews, so guests who like staying out until late at night need to be careful.

Tip For Guests With Families

Ryokans are generally visited by people looking to have a quiet and relaxing experience, so they do not have superior soundproofing like hotels. This means that guests need to pay attention to those around them, making sure not to speak loudly or create noise. Furthermore, accommodation rates at ryokans are not on a “per-room basis”, but on a “per-person basis”, so they can be quite expensive for families. For ryokans that provide meals, bringing a small child that does not eat a lot will end up costing you more than if you just stayed at a hotel.
There are also ryokans that impose a policy of “otona gentei no yado” (adults-only inn). It need not be said that there are many ryokans where children are welcome. You can stay without worries in these so-called “welcome baby no o-yado” (inn that welcomes babies), as they are certified as facilities that welcome families raising children. There are even places that will provide your children with picture books, toys, and other amenities for babies.

Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of ryokans should prove helpful when choosing a place to stay in for your journey. Please choose your accommodation wisely based on the purpose of your travel and your mood!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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