Looking back on our trip to Japan, staying in a ryokan was by far one of the most memorable and unique experiences. I still look back fondly on our stay, because I had the chance to really experience the “traditional” side of Japan.
We chose to stay in a ryokan while in the resort town of Hakone. For those of you who don’t know, a ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, where the rooms are lined with tatami mats, and you sleep on futons. While still very traditional, our ryokan had all of the modern amenities we wanted, including a computer center and in-room TVs.
Getting to the ryokan was a bit of a hassle, but not difficult. We took a public bus from the train station in Hakone to the ryokan’s stop. From the bus stop, we were only about a minute’s walk away. It was easy to find, because there was a large sign near the bus stop, pointing to the direction of the inn. The ryokan was beautiful when we arrived. The building was large and the exterior was set up like a traditional hotel, with a lobby and exterior corridors.
*Note: *I would highly recommend not bringing a large luggage during your time in Hakone. We shipped our bags from Tokyo to Kyoto through the Takkyubin service, and only had one large carry-on with us. Putting a large suitcase on a public bus would have been impossible.**
The room itself was fabulous! When you walk in, there is a place to take off your shoes and put on slippers. There is also a toilet and washbasin at the entrance.
In the main room, we laid out our futons, and tried on the yukatas which were supplied to us.
In the main room, we had a seating table called a “kotatsu”. This isn’t any old table…it’s a heated table, with a heated pit in the floor below. Honestly, I loved this thing, and I don’t know why it isn’t more popular in colder parts of the world.
Alex and I spent most of the night sitting at the kotatsu watching TV and drinking tea.
The ryokan also offers “Kaiseki”, which is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. The price of the room included the meal, and was offered in a communal dining room at a specified time.
A word about our dinner: the food was very good, but also very authentic. The truth is that everyone’s English was very limited, and we did not know what we were eating half of the time. Sure, we had beef, mushrooms, rice, etc., but there were also many sushi dishes that were completely unidentifiable to me, even now. I also learned (after the fact) that one of our dishes was a turtle soup. This was a great meal for the adventurous, but I would be vary wary to eat here if you are a picky-eater. It would be VERY rude to come here and not eat your meal, so don’t bother going to a traditional dinner at a ryokan if you know you will not try everything that is presented to you.
After dinner, we went back to our room to relax in our open-air bath. Yes, you heard me right! We hot springs water on our outside balcony. The water was SEARING HOT. You may also have noticed that the room doesn’t come with a bathroom, but only a toilet. This is because the shower is outside. I didn’t even bother taking one until we got to Kyoto because it was so cold outside.
Open-air bath. Notice the blinds for privacy!
We went to bed early that night, after spending some time in the open-air bath and relaxing in front of the TV. The room itself was not heated, so we definitely relied on our futons to keep us warm. It was a bit difficult to get comfortable, though. While I actually enjoy a hard sleeping surface, I woke up in a sweat from the futon’s insulation several times throughout the night. Each time I threw the comforter off, I was freezing almost instantaneously. Needless to say, I did not get a lot of sleep that night.
Either way, I can’t complain about our experience at the ryokan. I would do it all over again, even with the cold room and the strange food! It was a once in a lifetime experience, and really one of my favorite memories on our trip.