Roots of Japan


Have you heard of the Japanese word “ryokan”? A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn that accommodates visitors for a fee, in a Japanese style building with traditional furnishings. Perhaps you have always wanted to experience a traditional Japanese style Ryokan? Today, let’s delve into the history of the “Ryokan” and the various kinds of “Ryokan”.

The first recorded inns were called “Fuseya”, temporary rest houses and lodging facilities for travelers built across various regions of Japan. In the Nara period (710 - 794), as part of charity work done by Buddhist temples, high priest Gyōki traveled around Japan on missionary work opening “fuseya” for common people traveling to the capital for labor or military service, or for those going on a pilgrimage. While different to the modern-day Ryokan, it shows us that travelers in Japan have been assisted since ancient times!

Where can we find the oldest Ryokan in Japan?

Keiunkan in Yamanashi prefecture is not only Japan’s oldest, but it is also certified as “The world’s most historical inn” in the Guinness Book of World Records.Known as the legendary hidden hot spring of feudal lords Takeda Shingen and Tokugawa Ieyasu, the baths were built and opened when the onsen waters were discovered in the year 705. Around the same time, Sennen no Yu Koman (717) in Hyogo prefecture and Hoshi Onsen (718) in Ishikawa prefecture were also established.

Historic ryokans can be found all across Japan. Some were founded around 600 years ago and some are even recognized as Tangible cultural properties. Make your favorite ryokan your next destination! You'll feel as if you've gone back in time! If you have the time, enjoy the luxury of doing nothing. Giving yourself enough time to relax is a good way to get the real Ryokan experience.

“Nihon (Japanese) Ryokan”, have long been a favorite of historical figures, literary legends and the common people. However, did you know there are several kinds of ryokan?
*For Sightseeing / Holidays *For Business / School trips
1/ Onsen-ryokan (Hot spring ryokan) 1/ Shonin-yado (Business ryokan)
2/ Kanko-ryokan (Resort ryokan)
3/ Kappo-ryokan (Ryokan that serve traditional Japanese cuisine)

Sizes vary from large facilities to small ones operated by individuals or families. How many ryokans are there in Japan today? In 2016 the number was just less than 40,000 and that number is declining. There are several reasons for this, including the absence of an heir or successor, a decrease in group tours and the rising popularity of hotels.

Here is a list of the top ten prefectures that have a high number of ryokans.
1/ Shizuoka (Atami Onsen / Ito Onsen)
2/ Nagano (Bessho Onsen / Hakuba Onsen)
3/ Oita (Yufuin Onsen / Beppu Onsen)
4/ Hokkaido (Noboribetsu Onsen / Jozankei Onsen)
5/ Gunma (Kusatsu Onsen / Ikaho Onsen)
6/ Kanagawa (Hakone-Yumoto Onsen / Yugawara Onsen)
7/ Niigata (Echigo-Yuzawa Onsen / Akakura Onsen)
8/ Fukushima (Dake Onsen / Tsuchiyu-Onsen)
9/ Tochigi (Kinugawa Onsen / Shiobara Onsen)
10/ Kumamoto (Tamanao Onsen / Tsuetate Onsen)

The main hot spring areas are written in brackets. Famous hot spring areas have a lot more ryokans! Souvenir shops and restaurants often line the streets and they are also places to enjoy sightseeing at a relaxed pace. Have you visited an onsen (hot spring) but didn't stay the night? On your next trip, how about including a stay at a ryokan?

It will be a unique experience! For example, some ryokans have traditional gardens or you can take a walk around the hot spring resort in a cotton kimono while wearing geta (wooden clogs). Take a meal sitting around a traditional sunken hearth and if you go in winter, some rooms will come with a kotatsu (heated table). At a few locations you can also enjoy some Japanese sake in an outdoor hot spring.

If it happens to snow, you can enjoy “yukimizake” - soaking in an onsen watching it snow over a cup of sake. However, drinking in hot springs affects the blood circulation and may make you feel tipsy faster than normal. Take care not to drink too much. An increasing number of ryokans offer hands-on experiences. (reservations required)Various options may be available depending on the ryokan, such as traditional crafts, making and painting pottery etc.

It will make a great souvenir to take home! These kinds of experiences can’t be taken home, but some ryokans offer the chance to try a tea ceremony or Gokito, a Japanese prayer ceremony. To enjoy these unique experiences, reservation and confirmation may be required.

Ryokans that offer sights and experiences unique to Japan are gradually getting more popular but still the vast majority of tourists choose to stay in a hotel. According to a survey by the Japan Tourism Agency in 2017, 56 million tourists stayed at a hotel, compared to 8 million who chose to stay at a ryokan. Why such a big difference?

- Lack of awareness
- Lack of variety of food on the menu, making long-term stays difficult
- Preference for beds, rather than traditional futon

These and other reasons are often unique to overseas visitors. However, in order to attract foreign tourists, some ryokans are making thoughtful improvements such as providing washing machines, ideal for longer stays, or the option of choosing a room with Western-style beds. You can also enjoy regional dishes produced locally. An increasing number of ryokans provide anything from fresh-water fish, wild vegetables, sashimi (raw fish) to local brands of premium beef, even if you stay for consecutive nights.

Some places even provide handmade konnyaku and tofu. Keep this information in mind when you are choosing your ryokan. Once you find a ryokan you are interested in, make inquiries about what food they serve and the facilities available as this will help you feel more relaxed about your stay. Searching for accommodations that simply meet a specific criteria such as the purpose, destination, length of stay and budget for your visit, may mean you cannot fully immerse yourself in Japanese culture. Discover the traditional atmosphere of Japan that can only be found at a ryokan.

Staying at a ryokan is an authentic cultural experience! Even if you have held back from visiting one previously, why don’t you come and give it a try! Its charm may leave you hooked.

It is my opinion and summary. Please acknowledge that there are various opinions.