During my third visit to Japan, I decided that I wanted to delve deeper into more aspects of the Japanese culture than I had on my previous trips. When I made the journey to the city of Kyoto, I thought it would be a good idea to experience a unique aspect of Japanese accommodation culture by staying at a traditional Japanese inn called a ryokan.
When a guest decides to stay at a ryokan they will come in contact with a few important Japanese traditions and culture in addition to having a place to rest.
When I first entered into the ryokan I had booked in Kyoto, I was asked to remove my shoes in the entryway (genkan) and change into slippers. Removing shoes before entering a home in Japan is a customary practice whose purpose is to keep the floor of a residence clean.
My Room at the Ryokan
After removing my shoes and checking into the ryokan, the owner escorted me to my room. She told me that I would need to remove my slippers and walk around barefoot or with socks inside of the room to avoid damaging the floor of the room, which was covered in tatami mats.
Tatami mats are special Japanese mats created from straw and they are often found in traditional Japanese homes. Tatami mats are perfect for sitting or sleeping on due to their firm but smooth texture, however they can be damaged quite easily by scratches or stains and therefore they need to be replaced regularly.
On the front wall of my ryokan room there was a raised alcove called a tokonoma (床の間). Inside of the tokonoma, there is a hanging scroll (called a kakejiku) that usually features either calligraphy or a work of art and below the scroll sits a vase of a traditional Japanese flower arrangement called an ikebana.
My ryokan room also had other cultural features including a traditional Japanese futon bed, which lays on the floor directly on top of the tatami mats.
A Japanese futon bed is comprised of several parts: the shikibuton (しきぶとん), which is the part of the bed that you lay on and is usually comprised of a synthetic material or cotton, the kakebuton (かけぶとん), which is a thick comforter covered in a net that is open on one side that allows air to flow through, and the makura, which is a small pillow filled with beans or foam.
Futon beds in Japanese homes and ryokans are not only comfortable, but they are also practical. They can be easily folded away in storage for the day while a room is used for hosting guests or doing various other activities in the space.
Staying at a ryokan during a trip to Japan can be quite expensive and on average can cost between $150 – $250/night. Included in the high cost of a stay at a ryokan is a traditional Japanese multi-course meal called a kaiseki ryori.
Due to the fact that I was on somewhat of a budget during my trip to Japan, I opted to stay in a more budget friendly ryokan that cost only $60/night, and therefore I was only provided with tea.
After settling into my room and having my complimentary cup of tea, I decided that it was time take a bath in the traditional Japanese style.
Bathing at the Ryokan
I made my way to the lower level of the ryokan donning only my yukata (which is a one-piece lightweight kimono-styled garment) and entered into the onsen (bathing facility with water from a hot spring).
I locked the door of the onsen behind me, slid out of my yukata, and took a quick shower before immersing myself in the warm water of the tub.
In addition to wanting to stay in a traditional Japanese inn to for the experience, I also was very interested in trying out an onsen, which is a huge part of Japanese culture. Since I have two small tattoos, I am not allowed to visit most onsen around the country, so I figured that experiencing an onsen at a ryokan would be my best bet.
After finishing my bath, I stepped out and slipped my yukata back onto my body before heading back to my room for the night.
The next day, the sun peeked through the sunroof in my room and roused me from my sleep. I packed my things back into my suitcase and headed down the stairs to check out. Although very brief, I really enjoyed my night in the ryokan and I am looking forward to experiencing a higher-end property on my next trip.
Where I Stayed: Nishikiro (Kyoto, Japan) | Price I Paid: 6500 Yen ($60 USD) for 1 night | Location: Excellent – two blocks from Kyoto Station
Have you ever heard of or experienced a ryokan before?