The Ryokan Experience on your Bike Tour

The Ryokan Experience on your Bike Tour

What is a Ryokan?

A truly immersive experience, the ryokan hotel is the quintessential Japanese travel experience. A combination of kaiseki Japanese traditional dining, onsen hot spring baths, and traditional tatami rooms help create a magical and zen atmosphere, unlike any other.

The beautiful courtyard of a ryokan on the Valleys and Volcanoes Tour.
The beautiful courtyard of a ryokan on the Valleys and Volcanoes Tour.

Rooms in a Ryokan Hotels

Traditional Japanese rooms, called Washitsu 和室, are a step into refined nature. These rooms are crafted from natural elements such as tatami straw mat flooring, wooden trim, and sliding shoji 障子 doors made of washi paper 和紙.

A fall setting in a traditional Japanese Washitsu Room.
A fall setting in a traditional Japanese Washitsu Room.

Beds: Futons and Raised Beds

Traditionally, people in Japan sleep on futons that rest on the tatami floors. For those coming from a traditional western bed, this can come as a shock, but fear not! Futons are essentially just a mattress at ground level.

Some hotel rooms will have your futon beds arranged when you arrive for check in. However, in some cases, you might enter your hotel room and wonder, where is my bed? The answer is in the adjacent closet. In some ryokan hotels, the staff will arrange your bed while you are at dinner. Then, at breakfast the following morning, they will put it away for you. Nifty!

The beautiful nature focused room on the Nikko North Alps Tour and Valleys and Volcanoes Tour.
The beautiful nature focused room on the Nikko North Alps Tour and Valleys and Volcanoes Tour.

Non-Futon Options

Want to have the ryokan experience but prefer to not sleep on a futon? While that will limit your options, some ryokan hotels offer both western rooms and futon rooms. If you are joining a Bike Tour Japan trip, you may request a western room in advance and we will do our best to accommodate. For riders who only want western beds, we recommend joining a bespoke tour, which will allow us to choose hotels that are the right fit for your travel preferences.

The average futon is similar to a firm mattress, but they can be stacked for sleepers who prefer a softer bed. See our FAQ below for more details on this.

An elevated futon bed on the Valleys to Volcanoes Tour.
An elevated futon bed on the Valleys to Volcanoes Tour.

Room Amenities

A typical ryokan hotel room will center around a large tatami space. This area will change with the time of day. After check in, you will find a low table & chairs with tea and local snacks. Then, after dinner, you’ll find your room has transformed into a bedroom. While you dine, the staff brings out the futon beds, perfectly made up for you when you head back after dinner.

Then, in the morning as you have breakfast the futons will be packed away and table and chairs brought back in.

A washitsu room with panoramic views of the setouchi sea.
A washitsu room with panoramic views of the Setouchi Sea on the Shimanami Kaido Setouchi Tour.

Bathrooms & Toiletries

Japanese ryokan hotels come in many styles. The older ryokans often have communal baths only, but more modern ryokans will have a toilet and bath area in each guest’s room.

An in-room onsen bath on the Valleys & Volcanoes Tour.
An in-room onsen rotemburo bath on the Valleys & Volcanoes Tour.

Kaiseki Meals | A Multi-Course Medley of Seasonal Food

When staying at a ryokan hotel, you will have the chance to immerse yourself in the local cuisine in the tradition of Kaiseki dining. A multi-course eating experience that is similar to the haute-cuisine of the west, Kaiseki is a journey into the unique flavors of each season and region.

For more on the Kaiseki Experience, check out our full article on The Kaiseki Experience here.

A kaiseki breakfast in all its flavorful colors.
A kaiseki breakfast in all its flavorful colors.

Onsen | Japan’s Hot Spring Bathing Experience

The onsen, or ofuro, is a communal public shower and bath area. In most cases, baths are separated by gender and a focal point of your ryokan stay experience. For people who have never been in a communal bath situation, it might be a little intimidating on the first try. Please keep in mind that there is important bath etiquette (we will guide you through the steps on all tours!)

A well deserved soak after a long day on the road.
A well deserved soak after a long day on the road on the Nikko North Alps Tour.

Often crafted of fine wood or stone, onsen baths are accompanied by multiple shower stations. Toiletries such as soap, shampoo, and conditioner are also provided. In some ryokan hotels, is also common to find body scrubs, disposable razors, lotions, and combs.

For more about onsen etiquette, check out our full article on The Onsen Experience here.

Nature surrounded onsen in Nikko National Park.
Nature surrounded onsen in Nikko National Park on the Nikko North Alps Tour.

What’s the Difference Between Ryokan, Minshuku, and Hotel?

While there is no definitive set of requirements that delineate a ryokan from a hotel, there is a clear difference between ryokan and minshuku.

The entrance way to a ryokan on the Valleys and Volcanoes Tour.
The entrance way to a ryokan on the Valleys and Volcanoes Tour.

Ryokan vs Minshuku

Minshuku 民宿 roughly translates to a homestay. And they tend to be much more like a homestay than a hotel. Service tends to be more limited and shared areas often are part of the hosts’ house.

Ryokan vs Hotel

Ryokan Hotel FAQ

Just like hotels, ryokan have a wide variety of amenities. That said, two key characteristics of ryokan is that they will almost always include dinner and breakfast served onsite, and have Japanese style rooms.

The crew enjoying a cold one with their appetizers after a long day in the saddle.
The crew enjoying a cold one and appetizer in yukata robes after a long day in the saddle.
Do all Ryokan only have shared bathing?

No, many ryokan also have private shower & baths within guest rooms. That said, many also do not. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of the shared bathing area it is best to check with us to confirm which nights will or will not include private bath options.

I’ve never slept on a futon on the floor before, isn’t that uncomfortable?

While the word futon in the west typically refers to a fold down couch that a college student might have, Japanese futons are far from that.

The tatami straw mat flooring in the Japanese rooms has a slight spring to it, much like a box spring you would have under your mattress. This makes Japanese futons more similar to a firm bed in the west. If you prefer a medium or soft mattress, stacking two or three futons will make the mattress softer.

So, in short if you are a pillow-top lover, consider 2-3 futons. We are more than happy to ask the ryokan staff to get this sorted out for your best night of sleep!

You said the door is made of paper?

Don’t worry, the door to your room will not be made of paper, but some of the sliding doors within your room will be made of paper and wood. The main door to your room will have a typical western door knob and key.

Can I request dietary preferences?

Most of our ryokan partners can work with dietary restrictions. That said, please let us know when you book your tour so that we can discuss this for your specific trip.

For example, if you do not eat seafood, we will recommend a mountain tour such as the Nikko North Alps Tour, and suggest skipping a trip like the Shimanami Kaido Setouchi Sea Tour. This is because tours near the ocean feature lots of seafood compared to inland areas.

I am a strict Vegetarian, Vegan, Pescatarian, Kosher, Halal, Lactose/Gluten/Nut Allergies, etc. Can I eat at a Ryokan?

If you have not yet read our article on Dashi, we recommend reading that as fish broth is a key ingredient to Japanese cooking. Adding just this one ingredient to your diet for your time in Japan opens the possibilities to a huge variety of dishes.

That said, please contact us about any dietary questions and we are happy to discuss and help you find the best fit for your group’s dietary needs. We are able to fit any dietary needs on our Bespoke Trips!

A few short answers on dietary restrictions at a typical ryokan:

Vegetarian – moderate with dashi, very difficult without dashi
Vegan – moderate with dashi, very difficult without dashi
Pescatarian – very easy
Kosher – very easy
Halal – easy to avoid pork but difficult to confirm slaughter rules
Lactose – very easy to avoid in Japan
Gluten – easy to confirm dishes with or without, but very hard to confirm cross contamination within kitchen
Nut Allergies – Sesame and soy are hard to avoid, peanut and other nuts are rare and easy to confirm

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