A ryokan is a Japanese inn — although the word “inn” doesn’t do it justice. This traditional form of accommodation provides a distinct experience, unlike anything you will have come across in a hotel. The most important things to know when staying in a ryokan are the rules of etiquette you must abide by.
As ryokans tend to be family-run, small places, you need to order all your meals before you arrive and accept that your hosts will be unable to make any changes later. You also need to mention any special dietary requests ahead of time. Expect to receive freshly-prepared meals consisting of many courses and made with seasonal ingredients.
Exact check-in times vary according to the ryokan, just like a hotel. What differs is you will probably need to check in much earlier than you are used to. Most places expect guests to arrive by 6:00 p.m. at the latest, but you may need to be there earlier if you are also having dinner.
Remove your shoes before you step inside the ryokan and enter barefoot or in slippers. If you are wearing slippers, you’ll need to take these off before you enter any room that has tatami — rush-covered straw mats.
When making your way to your room with your luggage, you should carry bags rather than rolling wheeled suitcases as this will prevent damage to the floor. Staff in the ryokan can help you with any large bags.
Once you’ve reached your room, change out of your clothes and into a yukata — a type of kimono. Make sure you’re wearing the yukata correctly with the left collar over the right. During colder months, you’ll also receive an outer robe called a charobi.
You’ll notice when you enter your room that there are no beds. At night, you’ll be sleeping on a futon, which is stored during the day to save space. Staff at the ryokan will prepare your futon for you.
A central part of the ryokan experience is trying the Japanese baths. It is important to keep the bath water as clean as possible as others will be using the bath after you. Before you enter, wash thoroughly with soap and shampoo. Once you are clean, you can soak in the bath for as long as you’d like.
Bear in mind that in traditional ryokans bathing suits are forbidden. In addition, no guests with tattoos can bathe as tattoos are still associated with organized crime. If you are uncomfortable being nude around strangers or have tattoos, you should seek a modern ryokan with more relaxed rules.
While in public areas in the ryokan, talk in a low voice to avoid disturbing others. Only use your phone in your room or, better still, keep it off during your stay.
Nothing about the etiquette of staying in a ryokan is difficult, but it is critical to know the rules before you arrive. If you bear all the above in mind, your hosts will welcome you as a respectful guest.
By English: Abasaa日本語: あばさー (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons