What Exactly Is a Ryokan, and Is It Worth the Money to Stay at One?

what is a japanese ryokan

You could easily name 50 things you want to do in Tokyo, but you when it comes to lodging, you have no idea where to even begin. Fancy hotel? AirBnb? Well, if you’re planning a trip to Japan, chances are you’ve come across the term “ryokan.” But what exactly is a ryokan? Here, everything you need to know and whether it’s worth it to book one.

What is a ryokan? Ryokans are traditional Japanese guesthouses. Often, they’re family-run and feature either private or communal onsen (aka hot spring baths). So basically, they’re the Japanese version of bed and breakfasts…but maybe a little better? Back in the day, they were popular along the Japanese countryside. But today, you can find them everywhere from the mountainous town of Hakone to the bustling metropolis of Tokyo.

So how is a ryokan different from a Western inn? One word: Minimalism. Yes, the accommodations are beautiful, but the aesthetic is far from the doilies, flower wallpaper and wooden furniture you’d find back at home. Typically, guestrooms are furnished with a single futon on a tatami floor. Upon arriving, shoes are exchanged for slippers and guests change into a yukata or Japanese robe. The overall vibe is serenity.

How much does a ryokan cost? Just like any B-n-B, Ryokans can range from affordable to shockingly expensive—as much as Y90,000 (or $800 per person per night). Tawaraya in Kyoto and Gora Kadan in Hakone are two renowned and exclusive ryokans to consider if you’re looking for a splurge. But you can also find mid-tier, luxurious ryokans like Yama No Chaya in Hakone and Honjin Hiranoya Kachoan in the Hida Takamaya region. Also, that nightly rate usually includes two meals, one being an elaborate keiseki (or multi-course dinner) that may be served in your guest room. Think: a never-ending banquet of wagyu beef, Japanese yam tempura, and smoked salmon.

So, should I stay at one? Staying at a Ryokan is a great way to fully immerse yourself in Japanese traditions. They are quiet, slow-paced places for reflection and relaxation where you can find harmony with nature and your surroundings. That said, you know your own travel style. If you prefer more fast-paced days packed with activities, a ryokan might not be the best experience for you. For many travelers, one night at a ryokan is the perfect amount of time.

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Hannah Loewentheil

Freelance PureWow Editor

From 2015-2017 Hannah Loewentheil held the role of Editor covering entertainment, food, travel and all things nyc.
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