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Staying In Ryokans

Ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) offer the best in food, service, and traditional atmosphere. These unique Japanese-style inns allow guests to appreciate the traditional culture of Japan and follow the same traditions that have been practiced for hundreds of years. Some of the earliest ryokans were located on the Tokaido Highway, which connected the military capital in Tokyo and the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. It was a very busy highway as daimyos (feudal lords), samurai, traders, and others made their way between these two cities. Inns began to appear along this and other highways beginning early in the 17th century to welcome the weary travelers who needed rest before continuing on their long journey.
Ryokan

Staying

Upon your arrival at a ryokan you will be provided with a Yukata (cotton kimonos) for use in your room and around the ryokan. It is even acceptable to wear these outside of the ryokan at some locations. Slippers are also provided for guests when entering the ryokan or when entering your room. You can use the slippers to walk around the ryokan, but remove them upon entering any room with tatami mats. There are even bathroom slippers to be worn only in the bathroom.

During the day, guest rooms serve as the living room where you may enjoy chatting over tea and a Japanese sweet (both of which you will normally find in your room), or just relaxing in your yukata. Some ryokans have legless chairs that allow comfortable seating. A pair of regular chairs and a small table are typically found in your room as well. At bedtime, your guest room undergoes a transformation into a bedroom, when a warm and comfortable futon mattress is spread out on the tatami floor by a maid.

Japanese Service (Omotenashi)

Everywhere you go in Japan, you will experience the Japanese style of service, called “omotenashi” in Japanese. When you enter restaurants, stores (even convenience stores) and practically every place of business in Japan, you will be met with a hearty “Irashaimase” (welcome!). The idea behind “omotenashi” is to provide the best possible service, without being “servile”. Anticipating the customer’s needs is at the heart of the concept. 
Japanese department stores are good examples of “omotenashi”. All Japanese department stores aim to provide excellent customer service and demonstrate “omotenashi” on a daily basis. However Japanese ryokans are among the best places to truly experience “omotenashi”. The staff at ryokans are genuinly committed to providing the best possible service during your stay. From the moment you enter the ryokan, the ryokan staff will provide everything you may need. All you have to do is ask, and they will do everything they can to make you feel at home.

Eating

Traditional Japanese food, featured at ryokans, has a well-earned reputation for being healthy, delicious, and served with a wonderful presentation. During your ryokan visit, your palate – as well as your senses – are in for a treat. Meals of local specialties are set according to the season and are served “Kaiseki” style, which means there are many dishes with smaller portions instead of one main entree. Rice and miso soup will, of course, accompany the meal, and you can always expect green tea to be served. Your meals will be served in your room or in a central dining room.

Bathing

Most ryokans have public communal baths in addition to the en-suite bathrooms. Most are separated into a men’s and women’s bath, and some have private or family baths. Remove your slippers upon entering the bath area. Then you will remove all clothing and enter the bath area. Everyone is required to clean themselves before entering the bath. There will be wooden stools to sit on while you shower off, and typically soap and shampoo are provided. After cleaning yourself you may enter the bath. It’s important to remember that these are traditional baths made for relaxation and healing, so talking loudly and splashing are strictly prohibited.

Many people are aware that it is taboo to have a tattoo when using the baths/onsens.  Having a tattoo is not common in Japan, so it is confusing and may be offensive to the Japanese if a foreigner enters the bath with a tattoo. With the high amount of tourists that visit Japan lately, it is becoming more and more common to see tattoos, so some baths/onsens may allow people with small tattoos to enter. However, it is always best to cover up your tattoos if possible.

The water at many baths are known for their healing properties. Using the baths is very relaxing and is very much part of the Japanese experience. We know once you try it, you will be hooked. So be sure to soak up the joys of an onsen during your visit to Japan!