Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Staying at a Japanese ryokan

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. Somewhere between a hotel and a B&B (although you can get some extremely luxurious ryokans which I’ve yet to experience) Ryokans are a great opportunity to experience the “real Japan” especially if you’re on a pit stop tour and want to experience Japanese hospitality (which is like no other) and customs.

So here is the lowdown on staying at a ryokan:

Tatami Room
The Japanese don’t measure rooms by metre/feet squared. No, no, no, it’s by tatami flooring (straw mats to you and I) A tatami mat is traditionally made of rice straw to form the core with a covering of woven soft straw. One tatami mat is about 191 cm length by 95 cm wide. Most ryokans will advertise the size of the room by tatami, ie they’ll advertise “a 6 tatami room”.

So as you enter your 6 tatami room or whatever size it is the first thing you’ll notice is that there aren’t any beds. Don’t be shocked. They keep them in the wardrobes! As you go to the onsen after dinner these little fairies will go into your room, pull out the futon bedding and make your bed for you for your return. The futons are quite hard but fairly comfortable. The pillows for some reason are always filled with beans, still haven’t got used to that.

Our futon beds out a night

There will be green tea (o-cha) waiting for you and a hot water dispenser so you can make more if you want. You will also see yukatas (summer kimonos) laid out. Put these on and head straight to the onsen!

Breakfast and dinner are usually included in the price of the room so although it might sound expensive wait until you see what gets served up for dinner.

Dinner is usually served in your room on the knee high tables. You sit on these tatami chairs (mum couldn’t stop laughing when she first sat on one) which are essentially chairs with no legs and then about 6/7 courses are served to your table by your waitress. The food is exquisitely presented, tastes so wonderful and is so healthy you don’t feel guilty about stuffing your face.

Here is our waitress giving us a lowdown of some of our food at Hakugin-kaku ryokan in Echigo Yuzawa:

Breakfast, be warned, is usually served early. No chance of a lie in at a ryokan! One place served breakfast at 8.30am at the latest so by the time we went back to the room the beds were packed away back into the wardrobes.....not even a chance to crawl back into bed. I don't think the Japanese do relaxation quite like we do.

Onsen (hot spring baths)
Try and stay at a ryokan with an onsen (hot spring). They will make your stay so relaxing and don’t worry if you’re not sure what to do in an onsen, I’ve written the basics about onsening in this post.

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