This institution is Japanese tradition where Inns or Ryokan were established during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) serving travelers along major roads. Many of these ryokan are located in scenic and rural area. To stay in one of these Japanese icons is not only as a place to stay but to re-live the times of the Daimyo and Samurai. It is also is a place to experience the Japanese lifestyles and hospitality. It incorporates arts, design, and nature. It certainly includes gardens – “tsukiyama”, traditional garden, “karesansui”, dry garden and “chaniwa”, tea garden. This experience if further enhanced with exquisite rooms with sleeping on tatami flooring and futon bedding; sophisticated local cuisines; “onsen” and more.
“The journey is the destination”. This Zen wisdom is aptly applicable to a stay in “ryokan” and “minshuku”. Ryokan is not a place to be rushed. Check in and departure time is quite rigid. Therefore arriving late or departing early is not the norm. Check in is between 3 and 5pm. No later as dinner will be served between 6 and 7pm. Guest are expected to conform for their best enjoyment and relaxation. This etiquette is strictly advised when booking. I had some “no’s” in the dinner menu and had corresponded to them. Initially, it was explicitly mentioned that dinner menu cannot be changed. However, in the subsequent correspondence, they accepted my request graciously – “just for you”. Usage of footwear – outdoor, indoor and toilets must be adhered too. The Japanese way of life – wearing of “Yukata” or kimono, bathing etiquettes and use of communal bath, arrival and conduct at meal time, etc. are essential to any guest. Some even have age limits (children). The ryokan experience is really living the Japanese way of life in tradition and culture. Initially it appears to be rigid and intimidating. However, all these are instituted, with good intentions, to enhance one’s inner experience. Once explained or understood, it results in “correct behaviour”. The idea here is to adapt and immerse into the traditional culture.
To stay in a ryokan is generally expensive. Remember that you are paying for a refined and pampered lifestyle. The cost will determine the type and size of room. Typically, tatami floor rooms are simple but artistically decorated. Communal baths and toilets are typical. Modern ryokan have en- suite and western style bathrooms. Attire – “Yukata”, a cotton garment cut like kimono is provided and used as a summer wear. With appropriate footwear, “geta”, these can be worn to walk on the streets or to attend meals. Beside, usage of the “onsen”, one of the highlights of a ryokan experience is dinner. Naturally it varies. However, they are usually lavish. Meals can be served in the guest rooms or private rooms or in communal halls between 6pm to 7pm. Meals are inclusive when booking is completed. No options. There are dining etiquettes but most places are flexible. Common sense should prevail. High end ryokan may provide entertainment – music and dance. Some even performed by Geisha. Breakfast is also provided at a pre-arranged time but not too late. Typically it consists of rice, grilled fish and a few other condiments. Finally, check out times is around 11am. Bills are settled at the reception and typical sending off is with a bow.
Once out of sight, the cold reality of a rushed life becomes a norm. However, the memories of a pampered lifestyle, a typical Japanese tradition, are an experience to cherish.
“Too lazy to be ambitious,
I let the world take care of itself.
Ten days’ worth of rice in my bag;
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.”
― Ryokan, Zen Master