Ryokans (旅館, Japanese traditional inns) embrace their guests with “omotenashi”—sincere and intimate hospitality that holds nothing back. At some ryokans, the women who serve (called nakai, 仲居, “in the house”), go to great lengths to honor their guests. They enter and leave the room in a kneeling position; they set up the table for meals and put everything away after; they lay out the bed at night. Every act follows etiquette and anticipates how to better serve you. Learn more about Japan through warm reception that rivals any bed & breakfast in the world. From the moment you slide open the panel doors and glide over the tatami floors made from fragrant rice straw, you leave behind the modern world. Slip on a yukata (浴衣, light cotton kimono) and your transformation is complete!
Updated a year ago
Kofu, Japan • Recommendation • 4 August 2018
Founded in 705 A.D., Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan is the oldest hotel in the world. The ryokan has been passed down through 52 generations over more than 1,300 years. They’ve got a good thing going: a prime location at the foot of the Japanese alps, mineral-rich onsen (温泉, hot springs), kaiseki (懐石, multi-course), and lifetimes of experience in the service industry. Their remote perch on the mountains boast some of the most breathtaking views. Take it all in while soaking in a warm bath. The low alkaline waters are known to help with fair skin and muscle pain. This time-old tradition is also believed to be an important social activity. Nothing strips barriers away quite like stripping down! Whether you favor wooden tubs or stone pools, they’ve got you covered. There are six baths to try: four open-air springs and two indoor observatories. If you’re a little body-shy, book one of the two private outdoor baths.
Hayakawa-cho, Minamikomaama-gun, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
Komatsu, Japan • Recommendation • 4 August 2018
At first, it was thought that Hoshi Ryokan was the very oldest in the world. Turns out, it was founded 13 years after Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan! Hoshi Ryokan has withstood the test of time, playing with the changing seasons through their suites and feasts. Each part of the ryokan is inspired by the flow of time: luxuriate in the Autumn Wing, appreciate the gardens in the Spring, kick back in the comfy Summer, or look back on the ryokan’s long history in the Winter. Likewise, the menu is designed to highlight ingredients from the region’s harvest. Opt for the Hakusan Course to try the chef’s picks for the day. Their Kaga Course sticks to the classics—tried favorites that any first-timer should try.
Awazumachi, Komatsu-shi, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan
Tondabayashicho, Japan • Recommendation • 4 August 2018
The earliest ryokans were free rest houses (called “fuseya") put up by Buddhist monks. Nestled in Mount Koya, Shojoshin-in welcomes pilgrims to observe daily life in the temple. Guests are toured around the grounds and served Buddhist cuisine (Shojin-Ryori, 精進料理). A side trip to Okunoin, the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi (the founder of Shingon Buddhism), is as easy as hopping next door. Life is enjoyed simply and deeply at Shojoshin-in. Unwind in a lush Japanese garden. Sleep on tatami-lined floors; their futons are actually really comfortable. Share a dip in the baths with other guests—both men and women! Their Hanare (private accommodations with a bath and toilet) is also available for a higher price.
566 Koyasan, Kōya-cho, Ito-gun, Wakayama, Japan
Yao, Japan • Recommendation • 4 August 2018
Every morning at 6:00AM, prayers and a fire ceremony have taken place at Senju-in Temple without fail for more than a thousand years. The blazing fire is meant to cleanse the spirit and destroy negative energy. Witness the 40-minute prayer service firsthand during your stay. Remember to dress modestly and observe proper decorum. The monks are very kind, but it’s best to be respectful. Senju-in Temple only accommodates guests for one night maximum, so make the most your your stay! Choose the Shinkan for mountain views and the Honkan (main building) for garden views. Curfew is at 8:00PM and check-in is strictly only up to 4:00PM. Like Shojoshin-in Temple, meals are vegetarian and baths are communal. A night at Senju-in Temple gives visitors a deeper appreciation to all that Nara offers.
Shigisan, Heguri-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara Prefecture, Japan
〒636-0923 奈良県生駒郡平群町信貴山 信貴山２２８０
Kofu, Japan • Recommendation • 4 August 2018
On clear days, Wakakusa no Yado Maruei treats you to a full view of Mount Fuji. It’s best seen in the steamy “Fuji no Yu” open-air bath. The iconic peak rises far away but is still as lovely as a dream. Even with such a remarkable view, guests still find the ryokan’s service and kaiseki up to par. You could even say the hotel’s impeccable hospitality eclipses its ambiance. Dinner and breakfast come with the room. A wide tabletop is set up during meal times, usually drowning under plates of sumptuous Japanese food. Service is spotless, helpful, and thoughtful. They’re never too overbearing, but make a memorable enough mark.
498 Kodachi, Fujikawaguchiko-cho, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
Kashihara-shi, Japan • Recommendation • 4 August 2018
Guests book hotels as far as a year in advance to experience Yoshino’s cherry blossom-viewing (Hanami, 花見). The competition is even stiffer for a charming inn like Chikurin-in Gumpo-en. From late March to mid-April, this ryokan becomes an outpost for tourists. The hefty price is well worth it, since the surrounding mountains in Yoshino explode with pink flowers. A fortunate few are spoiled by 30,000 trees of 200 varieties. All you have to do to revel in the season is slide open your paper panel windows or take a stroll around the neighborhood. You might even see women dolled up in beautiful kimonos!
2142 Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-chō, Yoshino-gun, Nara Prefecture, Japan
Odawara, Japan • Recommendation • 4 August 2018
Built into Hakone’s rolling mountain range, Hakone Ginyu is the perfect nature retreat for your spa weekend. Depending on the season, the trees take on a different color: sweet pink, shocking red, thriving green, and snowy white. Lounging in the Infinity Bath feels like you could almost reach out and touch the mountains. Japanese tea and snacks are served upon your arrival. Ginyu Spa has rejuvenating treatments to keep you occupied throughout the day. Grand dinner and breakfast will be waiting for you after your full itinerary. Enjoy a little nightcap at the fifth floor bar or first floor garden lounge. Try not to get carried away with the tipple; you’ll want to catch early morning yoga (every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday) and stretch into your sun salutations with the Hakone landscape.
100-1 Miyanoshita, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
Beppu, Japan • Recommendation • 4 August 2018
Picturesque wooded mountains and a bubbling river set the scene for Yamamizuki Ryokan. The inn is a quintessential example of what Kurokawa Onsen (a hot spring town) has to offer. Be mindful of the bus schedule, or take a car, as the ryokan is in a remote location. You truly get to commune with nature, especially at the outdoor onsen where men and women are segregated to their own hot springs area. After a dip, lap up the customary kaiseki dinner. The hosts are kind enough to talk you through each course. Yamamizuki Ryokan has also thrown in an espresso maker in the deal, so savor a comforting brew while settling in by the window.
Kurokawa-onsen, Minamioguni, Aso-gun, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan
Kyoto, Japan • Recommendation • 4 August 2018
Swoop in for a quick getaway in rural Kyoto! Ohara no Sato is a little retreat into quaint country life. It’s just a few hours away from Kyoto’s central districts, fitting for a weekend staycation. The staff is so attentive that the language barrier is not much of an issue. They’ll even pick you up from Ohara Bus Stop (just let them know ahead). Ohara no Sato offers kaiseki with a heartfelt touch. Their miso is homemade which is a clear standout from the other dishes. Indulge in a soothing soak in their small onsen, and you’ll be ready to face Monday morning before you know it!
41 Ōharakusaochō, Sakyō-ku, Kyōto, Kyōto Prefecture, Japan
Kyoto, Japan • Recommendation • 4 August 2018
In the midst of the daily grind, Kikokuso is like a bubble of old Japan, completely unbothered by central Kyoto. City kids, rest easy: WiFi is available so you’re not leaving civilization totally behind. Simply indulge in all the luxuries of a traditional ryokan without ever stepping out of the city. It’s even complete with a tiny Japanese garden to zone out in. Tourists on a busy schedule don’t have to travel far to experience true Japanese hospitality. Kikokuso only houses a handful of guest rooms so everything is intimate, especially service. You’re treated like a cherished house guest from beginning to end. Only one room has a private bath and toilet, everyone else shares a communal rock bath. The best part is, if you live in the area, you will always have a place to escape!
Sumiyoshicho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
〒600-8143 京都府京都市下京区 七条河原町上る一筋目西入る住吉町357−1
Here, there’s a lot more to cafes than cups of coffee!
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