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