There is a wide variety of accommodation in Japan, from the large 5* international chains to the smaller more personal type of accommodation. Of interest here are two particular types of accommodation in Japan; ryokans and minshuku.
Some ryokans can be quite large up to 100s of rooms, whereas minshuku approximate to our family operated B&B (most with dinner) and so typically have less than a handful of rooms. At the larger end of minshuku and the smaller end of ryokan the differences can become quite blurred.
Typically both options offer dinner with the ryokan offering kaiseki (a traditional Japanese meal of small dishes & portions). Commonly, ryokans provide you with private ensuite whereas minsuku offer shared facilities.
The practice or use of the bath (ofuro) is universal, even in Japanese people’s homes. The ofuro is for soaking (relaxing and getting warm in winter), so it is NOT for cleaning oneself; You only enter the ofuro when are clean and have removed all traces of soap from your body. Typically in the room there are low stools to sit on, bowls and a shower head on a flexible hose. It is not considered polite to stand and shower, rather sit on the stool, soap, scrub, wash your hair, rinse thoroughly and you are ready to enjoy the ofuro (ofuro is not a swimming pool so togs are not worn).
For Japanese, the accommodation and its food offering are as much a key part of travel as the location itself (as discussed in the blog 'a Japanese person's view of paradise'). Japanese people love ofuro and good roykans go to a great deal of effort to enhance the ofuro experience. The is something very special about being in an ofuro with great outdoor views (sea, mountains, the stars on a clear night or indeed the snow falling while you are soaking in the hot spring water.)
Other cultural aspects that are worth being aware of include;
- Shoes off when you enter the premises, slippers will be provided. You should not step on tatami floor (reed matting) except in socks or bare feet.
- Some accommodation offers a choice between a western bed and a futon. In a roykan your futon will typically be laid while you are at dinner. Amazingly comfortable, try a futon (if you like you can ask for a second mattress under the futon).
- Ryokans will supply you with all your toiletries and a Yukata (kimono like robe) to use on the premises. You would typically sleep in your Yukata. (Wearing your Yukata, men left over right, women right over left).
- In your room you will typically find a hot water flask, cups and green tea. (You will rarely find a kettle, black tea, coffee or milk supplied).
Just as there is variety in size there is variety in price and quality in Ryokan and minshuku accommodation. For many going to Japan, it will be their first and only visit and for this reason we have found it best to aim for the small more boutique ryokans because they deliver a more personal and considered experience of a traditional inn. Our small group tours and most private tours include a say in a roykan.