The Ryokan Experience on your Bike Tour

Introduction

A truly immersive experience, the ryokan hotel is the quintessential Japanese travel experience. A combination of Kaiseki Japanese high dining, Onsen hot spring bathing, and traditional tatami rooms help create a magical zen-like 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 straw mat floors in their bedrooms. For those coming from the raised beds of the west this can sound like a shock, but fear not these futons are essentially just a mattress simple at ground level.

You might enter your room and wonder, where is my bed? The answer is in the adjacent closet. Once at dinner, the staff will make your bed for you and as you come back with a full tummy it will be made up ready for you. 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.

The average futon is similar to a firm mattress, but they can be stacked to make softer mattress types. See our FAQ below for more on this.

Not all ryokan will have futons, some will have half western rooms with a traditional bed, and others have a separate raised futon.

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

Amenities the Room

A typical ryokan room will center around a large tatami room. This room will change with the time of day. Where at check in you will find a low table & chairs with tea and local snacks, while at dinner your room with transform into a bedroom. While you dine, the staff will bring 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. Nifty!

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 come in many styles. Where the older ryokans often had communal bathing and toilets, more modern ryokans will have a toilet and washbasin/sink in each guest room. Some will also have full bath/shower units in the room as well, but this is not always the case.

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

Kaiseki Ryori | A Multi-Course Medley of Seasonal Food

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

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

In Japan, the onsen, or ofuro in a traditional ryokan is a bath or set of baths separated by gender and a focal point of the stay.

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 woods or stone, these baths are accompanied by multiple shower stations and toiletries such as soap, shampoo, and conditioner are provided. It is also common to find body scrubs, disposable razors, and combs available.

For more on The Onsen Experience, 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 Hotels

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

Much like hotels have a wide variety of amenities ryokans can vary greatly. That said, two key characteristics of ryokan is that they will most always have 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 their 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, in Japan futon are far from that.

The tatami straw mat flooring in the Japanese Washitsu rooms has a slight spring to it, much like a box spring you would have under your mattress. With that, Japanese futons tend to be similar to a firm bed in the west. If you prefer a medium or soft mattress this is easy to achieve as for each additional futon you stack you make the mattress a level 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 simple the doors within your room. Your main door to your room will have a typical western door knob and key.

Can I request dietary preferences?

Most all of our ryokan can work with dietary restrictions. That said, please let us know at time of signup so that we can discuss this for your specific trip.

For example, if you do not eat seafood, we will recommend a tour inland such as the Nikko North Alps Tour over 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 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 a huge amount 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 groups dietary needs. We are able to fit any dietary needs in Bespoke Trips and certain guided tours!

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 and in many dishes, peanut and other nuts are rare and easy to confirm

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