Mapplr's favorite ryokans in Japan

garden in kyoto

If you are going to Japan, consider staying in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese guesthouse) instead of a hotel, as many Japanese do, when they travel within their country. Many ryokans are small, family-run guesthouses that offer a very Japanese experience. They vary in price and quality, with high-end ryokans costing hundreds of dollars a night, and less expensive ones, even in Tokyo, under $100. Some people call them the Japanese version of the B&B, but it’s nothing like a B&B. Many ryokans have Japanese communal baths in the basement or the rooftop. Indulging in the Japanese bathing ritual is quite a delight: you wash first, then immerse yourself in a large hot pool of steaming water. The more expensive ryokans also serve you a kaiseki dinner (multi-course Japanese “haute cuisine”) in your room.

My Japanese ryokan experience

I stayed in a marvelous ryokan when I visited Kyoto in February 2008. My room had a real tatami mat which I had to be very careful not to ruin. I took off my shoes when I entered my room and donned layers of thick luxurious Japanese robes and slippers for walking around the ryokan. They had Japanese baths in the basement, which I used every evening. There’s nothing like a hot Japanese bath after spending all day walking around the city.

At night, they served a kaiseki dinner in my room, which I ate on a low table while sitting on the floor. Later in the evening, the staff came back to take out the futon from the closet and roll it out for me. In the morning, they came back to put the futon back into the closet and to serve me a delicious Japanese breakfast.

Because many ryokans do not have staff who can take reservations in English, it’s wise to go through a ryokan booking service who can also advise you on other matters, such as in which part of the city to stay, the type of ryokan that would suit your budget and more. I used Japanese Guest Houses, which handles the reservations for many ryokans. So I asked Jeff Aasgaard, owned of Japanese Guest Houses, to give me his list of favorite ryokans in Japan:

Osenkaku in Gunma

Shojoshin-in on Mt Koya

Momijiso in Miyajima

Kikokuso in Kyoto

Kankaso in Nara

Sumiyoshi in Takayama

Magoemon in Shirakawa-go

If you want to stay in a high-end ryokan, Jeff suggests these places:

Hiiragiya Ryokan in Kyoto

Tamahan in Kyoto

Yagyunosho in Izu Hanto

Arai Ryokan in Izu Hanto

About Esme Vos

Esme Vos is the founder of Mapplr, a travel site featuring boutique hotels, luxury resorts, travel guides and restaurant reviews. You can find her on and Twitter.

Comments

  1. Japanese Guest Houses is an excellent online service for finding a ryokan in Japan. Almost one year ago, we found Senkyoro Ryokan in Hakone for a special weekend family reunion. Here is a link to the pictures taken during the two days. The staff was quite surprised to see that we ate everything that was served for the traditional Japanese breakfast and dinners.

    http://flickr.com/photos/experiencela/sets/721576

    This was among the best overnight stays during all my travels.

  2. I recommend Beniya Mukayu in Yamashiro…blends traditional with modern. A bit hard to find but worth it once you arrive. Awesome food and silky water

    http://www.mukayu.com/english/top.html

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  1. […] to stay in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese guesthouse, for the true Japanese experience. We have a list of recommended ryokans. If you want to venture beyond the big cities of Tokyo and Kyoto, visit Shirakawa-go (a village […]