りよかん Japnese Inn

りょかん - Ryokan

Ryokan are traditional Japanese inns. They exist today as lodging for tourists enabling them to experience the historical culture and tradition of Japan.

Lodging in Japan originally began as simple shelters set up by monks who noticed something should be done to assist travelers during 710-748CE (the Nara period). These were called FuseyaAt the time traveling was a perilous venture and these shelters helped to make a journey safer. Further and perhaps more elaborate lodging called Shukubō were set up near temples when religious pilgrimages became more popular particularly amongst the imperial family and nobels during the Hiean period (794-1191).

The Edo period which ranged from 1602-1867 saw a rise in economy and large cities. Therefore larger roads were built to accomodate more traffic traveling from place to place. Merchants came to travel more frequently. This saw the emergence of hatago which were inns that, additionally to shelter, provided meals. These were also used by the more general public.

Daimyo (Japanese lords and/or nobels) were also travelling frequently to and from Edo (old Tokyo) as was part of their pledge to the shogunate (Japanese military leader and essentially ruler of the time period). The daimyo spent half their time in Edo and half in there own residence, this way the shogunate could keep an eye on them and prevent a rebellion. The daimyo stayed in honjin or also known as waki-honjin if they weren't quite as elaborate. This was lodging especially for the noble class. It was reserved for the daimyo and entrusted to wealthy families or temples in the daimyo's absence.

Later in this period people began to take trips to hot springs or merely to sight-see. This saw the emergence of another form of accommodation called tōji-baThese were build beside hot springs for the purpose of accomodating these people.

Around 1868 (the Meiji Reformation) with the introduction of trains and influences of western culture these forms of lodging began to decline. They were replaced with ryokans and the Japanese culture of accommodation that had been developed in these earlier forms of lodging is still embedded in the running of ryokans today.

These days some ryokans incorporate modern technology into their lodging for the sake of convenience and comfort. Others stick to the true traditional way ryokans were run in the past. The latter is the focus of this brochure. However, regardless of which ryokan one was to visit, it will incorporate some of the traditions and cultures of Japan. Hence, you would do well to have have some prior knowledge of these customs before your stay so that you can fully immerse yourself into Japanese culture without utter confusion as to what is expected.

Note: ryokans are not to be confused with westernised hotels. These are referred to in Japan as hoteru.

Ryokan Customs

Your Room

Upon entering one will most likely find themselves in the agri-kamachi which is a small room where one takes off their shoes before entering, as is Japanese custom. Slippers are generally supplied for indoor use. Doors in ryokans are the sliding paper doors called shoji. The flooring of your room will be made of straw or reed matting known as tatami. Soft bedding known as futons are layed out on the floor and are often rolled up and put in oshiire which are cupboards specially designated for the futons. Note that traditional ryokans are not likely to have modern appliances. Rooms generally also have a view of traditional Japanese gardens.

Left: futons, tatami and shoji. Right: Japanese garden views.

Food

Also in your room you will find a low wooden table with zabuton or sitting cushions. A menu will be provided listing traditional Japanese foods that are available and the food will be brought to your room. This way you can literally get a taste of Japanese tradition. Enjoy!

Hot springs and Baths

A custom derived from the tōji-ba is to have a hot spring mineral bath called onsen or non-mineral, deep, warm baths called ofuro. While some ryokans may supply an ordinary private bathroom or even your own private onsen or ofuro, many will have communal onsen or ofuro. These are usually gender separated. If the ryokan only has one bath they may have alternative hours for each.

These baths are very good for your health and are said to be very enjoyable. There is an etiquette that is best to be followed. For more info press on the following link.

This image was created in 1853 depicting the hot springs at the Shuzn Toji-ba.

Language

Your hosts will most likely speak in Japanese with English being spoken rarely. This all adds to the cultural experience that ryokans provide. Some simple words that might come in handy include.

Prices range from 7 000 to 110 000 yen per person for a night.

Staying at a ryokan is one of the best ways to fully emerge yourself in the culture of Japan and is not an experience to be missed.

Written by Sophie Petrack 2017

Bibliography

Anon, (2017). Origins and History of Japanese Ryokan. [online] Available at: https://www.ryokan.or.jp/past/english/pdf/origins_and_history.pdf.

Backyard Travel. (2016). Ryokan: feeling zen in a traditional Japanese guesthouse. [online] Available at: http://www.backyardtravel.com/ryokan-traditional-japanese-guesthouse/ [Accessed 24 Mar. 2017].

Japaneseguesthouses.com. (2017). About Ryokans | Japanese Guest Houses. [online] Available at: https://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/about-ryokans/ [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].

Japaneseguesthouses.com. (2017). Kyoto Ryokans | Ryokan Experts, Reviews, Ratings & More | Japanese Guest Houses. [online] Available at: https://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/ryokan-search-results/?area=Kyoto [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].

Japaneseguesthouses.com. (2017). Ryokan Styles | Japanese Guest Houses. [online] Available at: https://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/ryokan-styles/ [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].

Photographs, H., photography, and Interest, M. (2015). Experience True Japanese Accommodation, Stay at a Traditional Ryokan - AndyLeighton.com | Photography. [online] AndyLeighton.com | Photography. Available at: http://andyleighton.com/experience-true-japanese-accommodation-stay-at-a-traditional-ryokan/ [Accessed 24 Mar. 2017].

Picture Bibliography

http://boutiquejapan.com/best-luxury-ryokans-near-tokyo-and-kyoto/

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2029_guestrooms.html

http://regex.info/blog/2013-03-10/2224

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