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The ryokan, which is the Japanese version of the Western bed-and-breakfast, is a recommended experience for people visiting in Japan. The ryokan is an excellent example of what the traditional Japanese atmosphere feels like.
Although the ryokan is commonly associated with the onsen or hot springs, there are many ryokan that can be found even in the cities. The price of an overnight stay in a ryokan can be expensive, especially if it is a large and fancy establishment. However, there are also plenty of ryokan where a tourist can stay for a fraction of the price.
What can a guest expect from a visit to a ryokan? Because a ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, the floors are made of tatami mats and the rooms are fitted with sliding doors. Upon arrival at the ryokan, the guests are made to remove their shoes and store them at the entry hall of the ryokan. In lieu of shoes, they are given slippers to wear while walking around the ryokan. However, the guests are not supposed to wear the slippers while inside their rooms.
They are also provided a yukata, which is traditional Japanese casual wear. It is similar to the kimono except that the kimono is made of silk while the yukata is made of cotton. The yukata is worn while walking around the ryokan. It can also be used for sleepwear. In hot spring resorts, the yukata can also be worn for going out and many ryokan provide their guests with geta, the traditional Japanese sandals.
Ryokan usually serve breakfast and dinner, and these meals are typically served at the guests’ rooms. Guests eat Japanese style, sitting on the floor before a low table. The common room is where the guests can watch television, play table tennis and other indoor games. In bigger ryokan, the common room is often for special functions.
The kaiseki, which is a traditional multi-course Japanese meal, is a treat to look forward to when staying at a ryokan. Only fresh and seasonal ingredients are served in kaiseki, and kaiseki showcase the culinary specialties of the locale where the ryokan is located. Originally, the kaiseki is made up of miso soup and three side dishes, but the number of courses has expanded over time. A typical kaiseki nowadays is composed of an appetizer, sashimi, a course that is simmered, a dish that is grilled, a steamed course and dessert. The kaiseki chef can add more dishes if he wants to. Many ryokan are made popular by their kaiseki alone. Ryokan staff members always ask their guests at what time they would like to have their meals served if they are having kaiseki because it is important that this meal is eaten on time, given that kaiseki is best enjoyed fresh and at certain temperatures.
Come bedtime, guests sleep on the floor using futon, the traditional Japanese mattress. The futon are stored in closets and are taken out at night. Many ryokan lay out the futon for their guests to use, but there are also many ryokan where the guests have to take out their own futon and put it away after using it.
Staying at a ryokan should be part of the itinerary of any tourist going to Japan. It is an experience worth having.