Accommodation In Japan — From Luxurious Ryokan To Minimalist Minshuku

Luxurious Ryokan

Today I would like to talk about lodging in Japan. In Japan, we have three main styles of lodging.

First are Western style hotels and hostels. As more and more overseas travelers visit Japan these types of facilities are gaining popularity.

Second are traditional Japanese style inns called Ryokan and Minshuku, which exude style and class that will make any visitor feel nostalgic for a bygone era. These are also being increasingly sought after by tourists who want a relaxing stay and a taste of traditional Japanese culture.

Last is a type of inn called a Pension, which I will get to later.

Let’s focus on the accommodations unique to Japan starting with Japan’s most luxurious and sought-after lodging, the Ryokan.

What is a Ryokan?

Traditional Onsen Ryokan
Traditional Onsen Ryokan

History of Ryokan

Ryokan originated in the Edo period (1603-1868), when such inns served travelers along Japan’s public roads. They typically feature tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and other public areas where visitors may wear yukata and talk with each other and the owner.

Now, Ryokan are typically located in scenic areas, such as in the mountains or by the sea, and in recent years many ryokan have been redeveloped to their original style.

History of Ryokan

Ryokan originated in the Edo period (1603-1868), when such inns served travelers along Japan’s public roads. They typically feature tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and other public areas where visitors may wear yukata and talk with each other and the owner.

Now, Ryokan are typically located in scenic areas, such as in the mountains or by the sea, and in recent years many ryokan have been redeveloped to their original style.

Ryokan Room
Ryokan Room

Features of Ryokan

You will find most Ryokan have a relatively large entrance hall, with couches and chairs where guests can sit. Modernized Ryokan often have a television in the hall was well.

Guest rooms are constructed using traditional Japanese methods like tatami and sliding doors. Even if the inn uses hinged doors for security, it usually opens into a small entranceway where guests can take off their shoes before stepping onto the tatami floor, which would be separated by a sliding door.

Many Ryokan rooms also feature a porch or balcony, also set off with a sliding door.

Roten buro out-door onsen
Rotemburo

Almost all Ryokan feature common bathing areas or ofuro, usually segregated by gender, using the water from a hot spring (Onsen) if any are nearby. Areas with natural hot springs tend to attract high concentrations of Ryokan. High-end Ryokan may provide private bathing facilities as well.

Bedding is a futon spread out on the tatami floor. When guests first enter their room, they usually find a table and some supplies for making tea. The table is also used for meals when guests take them in their room. While guests are out, staff called Nakai-san, will move the table aside and set out the futon.

Wearing Yukata in Ryokan
Wearing Yukata in Ryokan

Typically, Ryokan provide guests with a yukata to wear. It may also be possible to borrow geta (wooden sandals) for strolls outside.

Ryokan tend to focus on minimalism and relaxation, but they might also provide games such as table tennis and common rooms for watching televison and meeting the other guests.

Ryokan Dining

Most Ryokan offer dinner and breakfast, which are often included in the price of the room.

Japanese cuisine at ryokan
Japanese cuisine at ryokan

Most visitors take their meals at the Ryokan, which usually pride themselves on the quality of their food.

Meals consist of traditional Japanese cuisine known as Kaiseki, which features seasonal and regional specialties.

In order for each dish to be enjoyed at the proper temperature, Ryokan stress that guests should be punctual for their meals. For this reason, most Ryokan ask guests to confirm the time they want to take their meals.

Some Ryokan have a communal dining area, but most serve meals in the guests’ rooms. Ryokan which are likely to serve non-Japanese guests may also have a selection of Western food.

What is a Minshuku?

Minshuku are the budget version of Ryokan, roughly equivalent to a British boarding house or a bed and breakfast. The facilities are similar to a hotel or may simply consist of spare rooms in a family home.

Minshuku often serve as the only type of accommodation in towns or villages too small to warrant a dedicated hotel or ryokan. The overall experience is much the same, but the food is simpler, dining may be optional and is often communal, rooms do not usually have a private toilet, and guests may have to lay out their own bedding.

What is a Pension?

The “Pension” I mentioned before are Minshuku which are made in the French style. Pension means “boarding house” in French.

These small accommodations derive elements from Western styles — such as providing beds instead of futons — and are usually found in places with many overseas visitors, such as ski towns and resort areas. 

Whether you wish to stay in an elegant Ryokan, a simple country Minshuku, or among the familiar comforts of a Western-style Pension, Luxury Travel Japan can help you discover the perfect lodging for your trip to Japan. Contact us today to get started.

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