A stay at a Japanese Inn (Ryokan) is an excellent way to really experience traditional Japanese customs and foods. Ryokans are usually in rural areas and are most popular at hot spring resorts. The Japanese consider staying an inn for a couple of days to rest and relax, enjoy the cuisine of a region or of the inn, and to experience bathing in a natural setting, often with healing mineral waters. The building itself is usually an older, one or two storey building. Often, there are beautiful gardens or views of nature providing a relaxing and soothing setting. A one night stay can range from ¥5,000 to ¥50,000 per night per person.
Ryokan staff usually wear Japanese kimono and speak little English. Your stay is similar to a stay at a country inn or a bed and breakfast with personal service and attention. Each guest is assigned a personal maid who will bring you refreshments, serve you meals in your room, and organize your bedding twice a day. This is one time that you do tip in Japan. You should tip your maid with cash in an envelope (about 5-10%) or make sure that this tip has been added to your bill before you settle your account.
At the main entrance to the Ryokan, you take your shoes off and wear one of the pairs of slippers provided by the inn whenever you are inside the building. There are some exceptions such as the bathing room(s), toilet room, and any tatami room. Each guest is provided with a yukata (a simple kimono) which is worn like a house coat throughout the inn. Sometimes a heavier half-coat is also provided and guests can comfortably wander outside through the neighbourhood.
Your room normally has one main tatami room (where slippers are not worn) in addition to a small alcove with a chair set (where slippers are worn). During the day, the tatami room is set up with a very short table with legless chairs. You usually have your breakfast and dinner here. In the evening, when you are in the common bathing room, your maid will set up your futons and bedding right on the tatami floor. Your maid will put your bedding away in large closets in your room for the day. Usually your room includes a private toilet and sink. A private room with a bath is optional and commonly not available in any of the rooms at the inn.
The method of bathing in a large common bath area is the same as in a Japanese home. The tub or pool of hot water is for soaking only. You wash your body and hair outside of the tub so as not to dirty the bath water. Bath soaps, oils, or towels are not used in the tub or pool. Most inns have a bath room each for men and women. In a small inn with only one bath area, each person makes sure that the room is not occupied before using it.
Breakfast and dinner are included in the cost of your stay at a Ryokan. The meals are served in your room or sometimes in a common dining room. The foods are traditional Japanese items and are usually served without looking at a menu. There are many different dishes served but there is always rice, Japanese pickles, and soup - even for breakfast.
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