A ryokan is a Japanese inn and is a popular alternative to Western style hotels when travelling around the country. The word was first used in an English publication in 1914 when the Official Guide East Asia listed many different ryokan describing them as “The best class of Japanese inns”.
For tourists visiting Japan who are looking for the authentic Japanese experience, there is no better place to start than reserving a room in a ryokan. Rates in Tokyo can start from around 10,000 JPY per night (approximately 55 GBP) and this often includes breakfast. Ryokan always have traditional decor and furnishings for a simple, yet elegant feel. Guest rooms are characterized by tatami mats (a traditional soft rice-straw flooring), a low level table to sit around, futons, which are put away during the day to create a large open space, and shoji which are the sliding paper screen doors – these usually open up to reveal a small seating area with arm chairs by a window. Because the futons can be stored away in large wall cupboards and the tatami flooring is relatively soft, the rooms offer a very comfortable space for travellers to rest in.
The problem with staying at a ryokan for the foreign tourist, however, may come at meal times where the only food on the menu is authentic Japanese cuisine. Since this can be quite an acquired taste – with offerings of miso soup, grilled fish, bowls of sticky rice and other small dishes such as tofu – you may find yourself somewhat hungry if this doesn’t suit your palate.
Despite this issue, however, ryokan provide a wonderful starting point to any Japanese adventure and since some of them, especially those out in the countryside, have their own onsen (natural hot spring), there can be no better way to experience Japanese culture when time is limited.