Japanese Ryokan – a Guide to the Traditional Japanese Hotel

A stay at a Japanese ryokan is an excellent way to experience traditional culture and hospitality. With our guide, learn a thing a two about ryokans before your arrival and browse our list of the 25 best ryokans in Japan.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, the origins of which lie way back in the Edo period (1603-1868). First designed to accommodate passing travelers, they now offer guests a dip into Japan’s past and culture.

The traditional nature of ryokans makes knowing a little about the country’s etiquette rules and ways of doing things beforehand quite handy. We’re here to give you a comprehensive guide to ryokans as well as offer 25 recommendations of the best ryokans Japan has to offer…

Introduction to Japanese Ryokans

Photo Credit: Andrew and Annemarie via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Andrew and Annemarie via Flickr cc

The ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn which were for centuries the relaxation retreats of the Japanese bourgeoisie. Today, they are no longer reserved exclusively for the rich yet still manage to retain their air of elegant grandeur. However, should you want the ultimate ryokan experience, you’re still going to have to dig pretty deep into your wallet. This is your chance to live like a Japanese feudal lord for a night or two, in a setting of luxury and comfort, looked after by the most respectful and courteous staff imaginable.

The service given to guests at a ryokan is based on what the Japanese proudly call “omotenashi”: compassionate, heartfelt hospitality. You will also have the chance to experience a traditional Japanese bath or “onsen”, where you can relax and soak up the natural goodness of the water. 

Kaiseki Diner Photo Credit: niconico0 via Flickr cc

Kaiseki Dinner Photo Credit: niconico0 via Flickr cc

Usually, when you reserve a room in a ryokan, dinner and the breakfast or “Kaiseki” will be provided. Depending on where you stay, meals may be served in your room or in a shared dining area. If you are served a Japanese course in your room while staying at a ryokan, the dishes will be brought to you by a female server, often called a Nakai (waitress). Traditional Japanese food is exquisite, prepared with as much care for aesthetics as for taste. A feast for the eyes as well as the mouth. 

Before booking, make sure you find out if your ryokan provides food or not as some of the cheaper options will not. 

Enjoying Your Ryokan Experience

There are unique rules and manners that should be observed when in Japanese houses or buildings. It’s important to keep these in mind to prevent any embarrassment. Here, we’re going to introduce them from your arrival to your departure.

Arrival

Most ryokans have an afternoon check-in time that you’ll be made aware of prior to your arrival. If meals are included, make sure you arrive by around 6:00pm at the latest. If you’re going to be late, make sure you contact the ryokan in advance.

When you arrive, the first thing to do is to take off your shoes. This is the norm in many Asian countries and Japan especially. Slippers for indoors will generally be provided for guests. 

If your luggage is large or on wheels, be careful when entering the building so as not to damage the delicate flooring. Carry your bags or allow a member of staff to carry them for you and you’ll ensure no awkward moments.  

Your Room

Photo Credit: Carrie via Flickr cc

Take off your shoes Photo Credit: Carrie via Flickr cc

Ryokan rooms are predictably highly traditional, made with delicate materials and fairly minimal. The floor will be of tatami, a rectangular mat made from compressed rice straws and tatami-omote, a type of grass. You’re not obligated to remove your slippers before entering the room but this is pretty common and perhaps the best way to be comfortable. 

Photo Credit: David McKelvey via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: David McKelvey via Flickr cc

If you look carefully, you will notice that lots of paper is used in Japanese rooms, from the Shoji (screen) and the Fusuma (sliding door) to the wallpaper and light shades. Obviously, paper requires one to be gentle to ensure no tearing takes place. If you accidentally damage or stain anything, notify the staff.

A Japanese room is typically composed of a table, futon and dresser. Even in the most luxury ryokans, rooms will be as simple as possible with very minimalist furniture. 

Photo Credit: Nicholas Wang via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Nicholas Wang via Flickr cc

A yukata (robe) is also provided for each guest. The yukata can be used to sleep in as well as around the whole ryokan. During cold periods you’ll be provided with a chabaori (outer robe) to wear over the yukata. There are many mannerisms and rules to observe whilst wearing a yukata, though you won’t be expected to know them all. The most important is to make you use the left collar is on the outside of the garment, as using the right collar is considered inappropriate (see the photo above).

Using the Onsen

Photo Credit: Japanexperterna.se via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Japanexperterna.se via Flickr cc

Things to be aware of when using a public onsen: 

1. Undergarments should be removed before entering the bathing area.

2. Wash yourself before getting in the bath.

3. Towels should not be placed in the bath, you can put on your head if you can’t handle the heat.

4. Running or swimming is prohibited.

5. Recording videos, taking photographs and washing clothes is prohibited.

6. Wipe yourself dry before entering the changing area.

If you want the exhaustive list of how to use an onsen: check out our Onsen article. 

Top 25 Ryokans in Japan

Staying at a ryokan is an unforgettable experience, though understandably a lot of people are slightly intimidated by them. To help you out we’ve compiled a list of the 25 best in Japan. 

1. Biyu no Yado

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

Biyu no Yado Ryokan was selected as one of the top inns in Japan by TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award 2013. Located in Yudanaka Onsen, Biyu no Yado blends Japanese hospitality, five-star accommodation, English-speaking staff and great access to various local activities. The Okami (female manager) speaks excellent English and there’s even a New Zealander on staff, ensuring smooth communication throughout your stay. The ryokan offers public indoor/outdoor hot-spring baths, traditional multi-course meals and a personal Nakai-san (Waitress).  

Address: 2951-1 Hirao, Shimotakai-gun, Yamanouchi-machi, Nagano Prefecture

Closest Station: Yudanaka Station 

Price Range: ¥‎13,000 – ¥‎35,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

2. Gero Onsen Fugaku

Photo provided by Foursquare

Photo provided by Foursquare

Gero Onsen Fugaku, located in Gero City, Gifu Prefecture, is one of Japan’s three finest ryokans. Gero Onsen Fugaku offers free Wi-Fi, large indoor and outdoor hot spring baths and spacious rooms with river views. Other facilities include a gift shop, karaoke and drinks vending machines. Rooms offer a taste of Japan, featuring traditional tatami-mat floors and futon beds, with welcome modern additions like LCD TVs, refrigerators and air-conditioning. Guests can enjoy private breakfast and dinners prepared from local ingredients.  

Address: 898 Yunoshima, Gero, Gifu Prefecture

Closest Station: Gero Station with free pick up by ryokan staff

Price Range: ¥‎10,000 – ¥‎30,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

3. Gion Hatanaka

Photo Credit: Norio NAKAYAMA via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Norio NAKAYAMA via Flickr cc

Gion Hatanaka is a 4-star ryokan in the heart of Kyoto’s popular Gion district. This traditional Japanese ryokan offers spacious public baths overlooking a zen garden and rooms of ample room complete with large windows and balconies. Rooms feature flat-screen TVs, a seating area and a private bathroom with a wooden bathtub. The hotel has in-room meals (breakfast/dinner) with seasonal local dishes. Guests can enjoy spa treatments in their room and with an advance reservation, the hotel can arrange Japanese Geisha dance performances and Kyoto tours.

Address: 500 Gionmachiminamigawa Higashiyama ku, Kyoto

Closest Station: Gion-Shijo Station

Price Range: ¥‎30,000 – ¥‎50,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

4. Gora Kadan

Photo provided by Foursquare

Photo provided by Foursquare

Gora Kadan is a 4-star ryokan in Hakone, with a conveniently central location. The ryokan offers standard and suite room, the latter of which providing guests with the utmost in luxury. The staff are notably helpful and eager to please, the minimalist decor is a delight, the onsen facilities are world-class and the food has earned them a Michelin star. Not cheap, but if you’ve got yen to spare, this might be the ryokan for you. 

Address: 1300 Gora, Hakone-machi, Kanagawa 

Closest Station: Gora Station

Price Range: ¥‎40,000 – ¥‎85,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

5. Hakuba Onsen Ryokan Shiroumaso

Photo provided by Foursquare

Photo provided by Foursquare

Hakuba Onsen Ryokan Shiroumaso is a 4-star ryokan at the foot of Alpine Mountain in Nagano. Resting at the base of Hakuba Happo-one ski area, Shiroumaso is a beautiful blend of modern and traditional elements. The entrance features wooden pillars and beams preserved from the building’s Edo beginnings and the rooms offer large windows with views out toward the northern Japanese Alps. Shiroumaso is a convenient base for skiing, snowboarding or any outdoor activities in the winter but just as pleasant in the summer months.  

Address: 5004 Happo, Kitaazumi-gun, Hakuba-mura, Nagano

Closest Station: Hakuba Station, with free pick up or a 10 minutes walk

Price Range: ¥‎10,000 – ¥‎30,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

6. Hidatei Hanougi

Photo provided by Foursquare

Photo provided by Foursquare

Hidatei Hanaougi is a 4-star inn, located in Kayama. This luxury Japnese hotel  values traditional ryokan hospitality highly, with a member of staff taking care of guests from arrival to departure. Standard rooms and suites rooms are available as well as indoor and outdoor onsens with mountain views. Dinner and breakfast are served in a private room called a Sanmachi Komichi and the specialty of the chef is “Hida beef”, famous for its distinctive marbling and tenderness.  

Address: 411-1 Honobumachi, Takayama, Gifu 

Closest Sation: Takayama Station and Hozue Station

Price Range: ¥‎30,000 – ¥‎50,100 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

7. Hoshinoya Kyoto

Photo Credit: Hoshino Resorts [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Hoshino Resorts [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Hoshinoya is a ryokan complex on the Katsura River, with breathtaking rooms looking onto the water. Kyoto’s famed craftsmanship and history pervades every inch of this fully restored century-old property, from the woodblock-print designs in guestrooms to the refined Kaiseki meals, landscaped grounds and timeless Arashiyama setting. Hoshinoya Kyoto was built in 2009 from the remains of a riverside villa and is as beautiful as ever. 

Address: 11-2, Genrokuzan-cho, Arashiyama, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto

Closest Station: Arashiyama Station + picked up by boat at the Hoshinoya Kyoto Boat

Price Range: ¥‎70,000 – ¥‎120,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

8. Ibusuki Hakusuikan

Photo Credit: Travis via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Travis via Flickr cc

Overlooking Kagoshima Bay, this ryokan is surrounded by nature and just 4km from Ibusuki Onsen, a bathhouse with natural hot springs. The sleek, elegant rooms come with free Wi-Fi and satellite TV, plus mini fridges and tea making facilities. Some rooms include chabudai dining tables, tatami floors and futons. In-room massage services are available and the locally inspired food is divine.

Address: 2126-12 Higashikata, Ibusuki, Kagoshima Prefecture 

Closest Station: Arashiyama Station + picked up by boat at the Hoshinoya Kyoto Boat

Price Range: ¥‎20,000 – ¥‎50,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

10. Kamesei Ryokan

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

Kamesei Ryokan is a 3-star inn, located in Nagano and with an American owner, this is a highly traditional ryokan featuring warm wood interiors, gardens throughout and gourmet kaiseki meals as well as a soothing onsen hot spring. Wear your yukata robe and wooden geta sandals to stroll around Togura Kamiyamada Onsen town, with its abundant shops and restaurants. 

Address: 2-15-1 Kamiyamada Onsen, Chikuma 389-0821, Nagano Prefecture

Closest Sation: Togura Station with free pick up

Price Range: ¥‎9,000 – ¥‎22,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

11. Kayotei

Photo provided by Foursquare

Photo provided by Foursquare

This luxury ryokan is located in the small hot springs village of Yamanaka in Ishikawa Prefecture. The village remains much the same as it has for many years, seemingly untouched by time. Kayoutei has only ten suite rooms all arranged in the traditional sukiya style. Hand painted screens, fine works of pottery and antique tansu litter this lovingly put together ryokan, making for a wonderful place to stay. 

Address: 1-20 Yamanaka Onsen Higashi-machi, Kaga, Ishikawa 

Closest Station: Kagaonsen Station then take the bus bound for Yamanaka Onsen, 3-minute walk from here (pick-up is possible from Kagaonsen Station for ¥‎2,500)

Price Range: ¥‎70,000 – ¥‎100,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

12. Keiryu Onsen Kammuriso

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

Keryu Onsen Kammuriso is a ryokan, located in Fukui Prefecture at the foot of Japanese Alps. Find here traditional tatami rooms filled with the soothing sounds of the nearby stream. Enjoy the beautifully prepared Japanese cuisine and sake as well as the open-air hot spring baths which can even be used under the night sky. Visit nearby Kamikochi, one of the countries most beautiful national park or the Norikura highlands, a popular spot for fans of the outdoors.  

Address: 14-17 Shizuhara, Imadate-gun, Ikeda-cho, Fukui

Closest Station: Matsumoto Station + public bus (65minutes)

Price Range: ¥‎10,000 – ¥‎15,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

13. Motonago

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

Motonago ryokan is a traditional Japanese ryokan in Kyoto, Japan’s ryokan capital. It’s hard to beat Kyoto for ryokans and equally hard to pick a better part of the city than the tranquil, temple-filled Higashiyama district. Once you step inside, the atmosphere of old world Japan is pervasive and soothing and being a short distance from all the attractions of Kyoto, this ryokan has it all. 

Address: 511 Washio cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 

Closest Station: Gion-Shijo Station 

Price Range: ¥‎20,000 – ¥‎50,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

14. Mutsumikan

Photo Credit: bbborami_g via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: bbborami_g via Instagram

Mutsumikan offers traditional features and a highly relaxing ryokan ambiance, natural hot-springs and all the in-room conveniences you’d find at a modern hotel. Mutsumikan has been selected as one of the Top 25 Inns in Japan by TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards 2016. The family-run ryokan features friendly staff, personalized services and it’s only a 30-minute drive from Hida-Osaka Waterfalls and Gandate-kyo Gorge. 

Address: 1167-1 Koden, Gero, Gifu

Closest Station: Gero Station 

Price Range: ¥‎10,000 – ¥‎45,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

14. Myojinkan

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

Myojinkan is a luxury ryokan located in Nagano. Set in wooded grounds, this tranquil ryokan is 14 km from Matsumoto Castle and 12 km from Utsukushigahara Hot Springs, two of the best attractions in Nagano. The airy rooms feature wood or tatami floors, Chabudai dining tables, flat-screen TVs, tea and coffeemakers, as well as mini fridges and balconies. Upgraded rooms even feature private open-air hot-spring baths. To fully enjoy this ryokan, we suggest renting a car to make the most of the surrounding attractions.

Address:  8967 Iriyamabe, Matsumoto, Nagano 

Closest Station: Minami-Matsumoto Station, bus or drive for 20 minutes.

Price Range: ¥‎40,000 – ¥‎85,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room) 

15. Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan

Photo Credit:simplify via Tumblr

Photo Credit:simplify via Tumblr

Built in 705, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan is said to be the oldest hotel in Japan as well as one of the oldest companies in operation in the world having been operated by 52 generations of the same family. This ryokan is set at the foot of the Japanese Alps in a refined riverfront location just 3 km from both Narada Hot Spring and the Iwaya Shrine. Offering balconies with mountain and river views, the chic, minimalist rooms feature tatami floors, rice-paper screens, futons and chabudai dining tables. Upgraded rooms include private outdoor hot-spring pools. Breakfast and dinner are included and served in-room. Overall an excellent, highly traditional ryokan experience. 

Address: 825 Yujima, Minamikoma-gun, Hayakawa-cho, Yamanashi Prefecture

Closest Station: Shiyakusho-Mae Station

Price Range: ¥‎40,000 – ¥‎85,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

 16. Ohanabo Ryokan

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

Set in a bustling shopping district, this informal, cozy inn with a traditional wooden facade is a 7-minute walk from the nearest subway station, 3km from Yasaka Shrine and 4km from Nijō Castle, the main attractions in the area. The ryokan offers standard and suite rooms with tatami floors and futons plus a gender-segregated, communal bathhouse. The staff are beyond friendly and the meals (dinner and breakfast) are expertly prepared. 

Address: 66-2 Shokuyacho, Shimojuzuyamachi Agaru, Akezudori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto

Closest Station: Kyoto Station

Price Range: ¥‎14,000 – ¥‎25,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

17. Ryokan Fujioto

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

Fujioto is a traditional Japanese inn, located on the main road of historic town Tsumago and surrounded by Japanese gardens. Fujioto Ryokan prides itself on serving its guest’s delicious meals and offering traditional Japanese style accommodation. Other highlights of Fujioto are the Japanese wooden baths and the beautiful Japanese style garden. All bath and toilet facilities are shared among the guests. 

Address: Tsumago Azuma, Kiso-gun, Nagiso-machi, Nagano

Closest Station: Nagi Station 

Price Range: ¥‎10,000 – ¥‎15,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

 18. Ryokan Kurashiki

Photo Credit: Jennifer Feuchter via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Jennifer Feuchter via Flickr cc

Located in the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, Ryori Ryokan Tsurugata offers traditional accommodation within an authentic Edo period building originally used as a merchant’s storehouse for rice and sugar. There are five combined Japanesand Western style rooms and guests are served fresh seafood from the nearby Seto Inland Sea. 

Address: 4-1 Honmachi, Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture

Closest Station: Kurashiki Station 

Price Range: ¥‎10,000 – ¥‎15,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

19. Ryokan Sawanoya

Photo Credit: Tom via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Tom via Flickr cc

Located near Ueno Park in the northern part of Tokyo, Sawanoya is an oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. All of the guest rooms are Japanese style and most of the rooms have shared bathrooms. After a long day exploring Tokyo, return to the peace and quiet of this place and be looked after by the ever-friendly Sawa family.  

Address: 2 Chome-3-11 Yanaka, Taito, Tokyo

Closest Station: Nezu or Sendagi Station 

Price Range: ¥7‎,000 – ¥‎10,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

20. Sekitei

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

On the slopes of Miyahama Onsen town, with a view toward Miyajima, this is a highly picturesque ryokan. All the rooms are detached and traditional Japanese in style. Inside the ryokan, the lighting is warm and the atmosphere is quiet. The Japanese cuisine is delicious and paired with fine Japanese sake. Subdued rooms with tatami floors sleep up to 10 guests on futons. All rooms are individually decorated, and provide satellite TV and seating areas.

Address: 19-58-3 Kaga, Ishikawa Prefecture

Closest Station: Ono-Ura Station 

Price Range: ¥‎15,000 – ¥‎25,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room) 

21. Shiraume

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

Shiraume Ryokan is located in Gion, one of the most beautiful and historical areas of Kyoto as a whole. the Gion district. In the late Edo period (1600-1868) the building was as an ochaya (where maiko or apprentices lived), today, the ryokan offers excellent service and warm, friendly hospitality to all its guests. It is very foreigner friendly, with a number of English speaking staff. 

Address: Shirakawa-hotori, Shinbashi-dori, Gionmachi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto

Closest Station: Gion-Shijo Station 

Price Range: ¥‎20,000 – ¥‎50,100 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room) 

22. Tawaraya

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

Another Kyoto ryokan, this time one of the oldest in town having been in operation for over 300 years. The inn prides itself most on its famous service, which goes above and beyond the norm. Everything here is to the highest standard, making no compromises in terms of quality. Ultimately an incredibly welcoming and enjoyable ryokan experience. 

Address: 278 Nakahakusancho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 

Closest Station: Sanjo Station 

Price Range: ¥‎60,000 – ¥‎100,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room) 

23. Yamashiro Onsen Ruriko

Provided by Foursquare

Provided by Foursquare

Located in Yamashiro Onsen, this ryokan has been awarded 4 stars for its clean, comfortable and well-equipped rooms; its exceptional service; impeccable food and fantastic private onsen facilities (the public onsen is great too). The entire hotel is beautifully designed and private. Enjoy massage treatments in the spa and make sure you take advantage of the traditional tea ceremonies on offer to guests. Not cheap but a magical escape and worth every penny. 

Address: 19-58-3 Kaga, Ishikawa Prefecture

Closest Station: Kagaonsen Station + free shuttle navette to Yamashiro Onsen

Price Range: ¥‎20,000 – ¥‎50,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

24. Yama No Chaya

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Provided by Foursquare

Yama no Chaya is a traditional Japanese inn, located in Hakone. This ryokan has drawn praise for its steaming-hot natural baths and its breathtaking approach over a bridge suspended over a mountain stream. Set on a wooded hillside overlooking the Hayakawa River, it is only a few kilometers from Hakone Mountain. To maximize the incredible mountain views, some rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies.

Address: 171 Tonosawa, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa

Closest Station: Tonosawa Station 

Price Range: ¥‎10,000 – ¥‎45,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

25. Yokikan

Photo Credit: anna Hanks via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: anna Hanks via Flickr cc

Dating back to 1910, Yokikan ryokan is surrounded by abundant nature and features rooms with excellent mountain views and facilities such as open-air baths. The ocean and Shōgetsu-in temple are also handily just a few kilometers away. 

Address: 2-24 Suehirocho, Ito, Shizuoka 

Closest Station: Ito Station

Price Range: ¥‎10,000 – ¥‎40,000 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)

Ines Smaili

Ines Smaili

Hi, I'm Inès, I love to travel all around the world especially in Japan, I will share with you all the information needed to have the best trip of your life!



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# Japan Travel Tips # Where to Stay in Japan

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