When you are travelling through Japan you have to sleep in a ryokan at least once!! I did it twice; in Takayama and Hakone. Both of the places are known as hot springs resorts. But you can find those hotels everywhere. Some are more affordable than the other but prepare that it is a little bit more pricey option.
Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn where you would sleep in a futon (kind of bed) on tatami mats (reed floor matting). It is quite an experience but there are couples things to remember.
In most ryokans you have to take off your shoes when entering a lobby in the common area. You get slippers you can wear while being inside that you should use.
Most of the places do not accept credit cards so be prepared to have a cash on you!
When you check yourself in, someone will help you with a luggage and lead you to your room. The room is both a common room and bedroom in one! During the day there is a small wooden table in the center and in the evening you will have your bed lied down for you. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do it. Someone will come and do it for you.
Before you enter your room take off the slippers. Usually when you open the doors, there is small step leading to the room. Leave the slippers there. If you need to use bathroom you will find a special pair of slippers when you open the door.
In the room you will find a yukata – a cotton casual kimono that you can use during your stay. You can wear it during dinner and breakfast, while going to the baths and for sleeping, as a pyjama. It was quite weird at the beginning seeing all the hotel guests walking in it through the corridors 😀 But I got used to it quite fast and it was super comfortable.
Either someone will help you and show how to wear it or just google it 🙂 (Short guide how to wear yukata <- click)
In most of the ryokans you will have dinner and breakfast included in the price. Usually dinner is brought to your room, while for breakfast you go to a common area. For breakfast there was a choice between Japanese one and western-style one. But then again you are in Japan, so no reason not to try japanese cuisine:D
In my ryokans they didn’t really speak English well, so I have no idea what I ate, but it was good so it doesn’t really matter:D In Hakone the lady somehow explained me with her hands that I should call reception when I am done with my dinner and they will bring me a dessert. So I called them and with half-broken Japanese said “sakura desserto onegai shimasu” which means “sakura dessert, please!”. And they understood me!! Best dessert ever! So that was quite fun experience 🙂
Most ryokans have onsens on premises. Onsens in other words are hot springs, some of them are outside among traditional japanese scenery or inside. Sometimes both. Depending how much you pay you can get access to common baths or a private one! In Takayama they gave me a token that allowed me to use onsen in a nearby hotel in addition to the one located on the premises. It was located at the top floor, so it was quite the experience, sitting in a hot bath outside, late in the night, overlooking the whole city!
Unfortunatelly I don’t have that many pictures from inside onsens as you take a bath naked, so taking pictures is not really welcomed 🙂 I have tried sneaking in there couple of times during different times but there was always someone using it. I haven’t seen mixed baths (usually it is divided) but I heard they are sometimes available.
I hope that I convinced you to try staying in ryokan at least for one night! It was really great experience for me and I can’t really say what made the biggest impact on me. I think it was everything combined! If I could I would definitely ditch normal hotels and stay in ryokans during the whole Japan trip 🙂