My Ryokan Experience (Japan)

Travel Blog by Jen
April 2010

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do." That is why I've always wanted to try staying in a ryokan. Rooms cost a bit more than usual but the total bathing, sleeping and dining experience is something that should not be missed. Afterall, ryokans are only found in Japan so just do it :-)

We chose a ryokan in Hakone because of the many hot springs in the area. Hakone is not only rich in history but its hot springs are well known for its high mineral content. Our ryokan was charming, unpretentious and looked very much like a traditional Japanese inn.

At the entrance, wooden boards bore the names of the guests which included mine. I thought that was a nice personal touch :-)

The receptionist warmly greeted us and briefed us with the 'house rules,' meal times and the use of the common bathing areas.

He led us then to our room. I noticed that instead of numbers, the rooms had Japanese names. I later found out that they were names of flowers and trees. Ours was called matsu which was Japanese for "pine tree."

The room had a small entryway (agari-kamachi), on the sides of which were the separate toilet and bath. Before stepping onto the elevated tatami flooring, we were asked to take off our shoes and use the slippers provided. A sliding paper door separated the agari-kamachi from the actual room. The room was simple, containing a low wooden table on top of which was a set for making tea. The table was surrounded by sitting cushions called zabuton. There was also another table by the large window and a small TV that only had Japanese channels.

Each one was given a yukata which could be worn during meal times and while inside the ryokan. Had fun wearing it. :)

Because we arrived in the afternoon, the futons were already spread out on the tatami floor. The sheets were clean and crisp. We were told that the attendants will put this out the following morning while we have our breakfast.

Before dinner, we tried the public bath (ofuro) which uses natural hot spring water (onsen). The baths are segregated by sex, which can be distinguished by the red or blue banner hung on the door.

There was an ante-room wherein you can put your personal things before going into the bath. Large mirrors lined the walls. Grooming stations were complete with hair dryers, combs, powder and perfume.

We were greeted by hot steam upon entering the bath. The bath was divided into two portions: an indoor rectangular pool and a smaller outdoor bath that had a view of the plants and trees overhead. We decided to use the outdoor bath since it was too warm inside.

Before going in, you will have to clean yourself before entering the bath. It took quite a while for me to get used to the water's temperature but as soon as my body has acclimatized, the soak was very soothing. It was relaxing indeed. Many Japanese believe that a good soak in an onsen can heal aches and pains. In some onsens, drinking the water can stimulate the metabolism. Hmm, I was apprehensive about this one so I did not dare :-)

The room rate included dinner and breakfast. Dinner was a spread of traditional Japanese food. I was very impressed by the delicate and extravagant presentation of each dish. I thought I wouldn't get full from the meal, but it was actually very satisfying. To fully enjoy the meal, one must come to the dining hall on time so the food is properly served.


the entire breakfast spread

We bade goodbye to this unique experience shortly after breakfast. We were to head off to Tokyo -- which is quite a departure from the rustic feel of this quiet town and this little inn.

How to choose a ryokan?  It depends in your priorities, preferences and budget considerations. I highly suggest staying in one when in Japan for the authentic Japanese cultural experience. Top thing to do when in Japan (next, you must go and see the sakura!)

* Photos are Skycab's own.