Staying at a Japanese ryokan had always been a dream of mine. I grew up in the countryside of Canada, away from anything big or grand. I went to a school that’s only occupants nearby were another school, a gas station and an ice rink. Even in high school the town I went to wasn’t much bigger, the highlight being there was a mall with a Starbucks. All my life I knew I wanted to travel the world and I knew Japan would be one of the first stops.
Their world seemed so different and fascinating compared to mine. And their traditional style rooms called ‘ryokans’ seemed so elegant and tranquil, I knew when I went to Japan I would need to stay at one.
Something I soon realized was not all ryokans were the same. Like any room, you get what you pay for. If you cheap out on a ryokan stay like my boyfriend and I did in Osaka then you’ll most likely be disappointed in your experience which isn’t what we want.
So in saying that you have to consider your price range. Are you staying in a hostel ryokan or a more expensive ryokan? The quality and expectations can vary drastically. Are you staying there for the experience or are you staying there just for a place to stay?
When I was in Osaka there were only two single rooms open in a hostel that weren’t a budget breaker. The only other hotels what were available in Osaka were way to expensive, even divided by two people, so Aaron and I cut our loses and booked the two single bedrooms. That’s what you get for booking a spontaneous trip to Japan during high fall season leaving yourself only two weeks to find a place to stay.
They were small, closet room small, and the bedding worn down to the floor. Rice pillows were given for each room and a small fridge and table. That was the extent. I expected this only because I had stayed in something similar on my first trip to Japan; Aaron had not.
Being 6’3 he couldn’t even fit on the mat without his feet falling off. Obviously I found it hilarious he did not. We dragged his mat into my room in hopes of extra padding between us and the floor but when you’re sleeping on something that hard anyways your back is going to hurt. Not to mention tiny rice pillows to sleep on.
When you’re staying at nicer places like guest houses or proper ryokans your experience can be greatly improved. We stayed in a lovely guest house in Kyoto and I thought it was fantastic. The mat was firm but still had some squish and the pillows were soft. The room itself was much larger and worth the amount of money we spent on it.
We also got a small tea room facing the garden.
We also got a chance to stay on Mount Koya, a Buhhdist town, (read more about that here) in a traditional ryokan room and it was much the same as the guest house. Big room, mats and pillows with sliding doors and low table settings. There was also a shared washroom and bath house with warm spring water that guest were welcome to use. It was comfortable and traditional and a great experience.
So what can you expect from staying at a Japanese ryokan?
It really depends on where you’re staying and how much you are willing to spend. I recommend spending the extra money and spending a few nights at a nice traditional Japanese ryokan place instead of going for a cheap one. The two are not comparable. Cheap ryokans are just that, a mat and a pillow in a small room. The more expensive ones are a bigger mat and pillow in a bigger nicer room.
- rooms are equip with floor mats
- it is an experience of a lifetime
- walls are thin, be respectful!
- pillows aren’t the most comfortable, sleeping on your back helps
- it’s nothing like a western room, I think it’s better and more beautiful
Hope you found this handy! I love staying at the Japanese ryokans simply because I love the Japanese culture and it makes me feel like I’m in another world. So if you want authentic experience opt for a better room but if you want to do Japan on the cheap and don’t really care about quality then go for whatever’s in your budget.
What was your ryokan experience? Western beds or Ryokan style? I want to hear about your experiences!
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