A ryokan contrasts a typical hotel in many ways. These traditional Japanese inns were first constructed around the 15th century, alongside the country’s highways. The hotel saw its beginnings in the early 20th century. A ryokan is usually located in the midst of scenic landscapes, contrary to the setting of any typical hotel which favors accessibility to airports, train stations, tourist attractions and other places of importance.
A typical hotel differs from a ryokan in its architecture, interiors, facilities and food. An entrance hall, furnished with couches, first greets a guest in a ryokan. Guests are expected to remove their shoes here before proceeding into the room which is connected by sliding doors. Alternatively, regular hotel rooms have doors which swing open on hinges to let guests in. There is no separate sitting area and couches are a part of the furniture in the room. Removal of footwear is not necessary.
The tatami matted rooms are a characteristic feature of the ryokan. The laying of these rice straw, uniformed mats is governed by certain auspicious and inauspicious rules. In any tatami arrangement more than three or four sides of the mats do not touch each other. On the other hand, all hotel rooms use tiles for flooring and there are no particular patterns of arrangement followed.
Futon or padded mattresses and quilts, the traditional Japanese form of beds is used in a ryokan. The futon is malleable-laid out when the guests want to rest. Other furniture in a ryokan includes a table, used for eating and drinking tea. Beds with mattresses mounted on top are used in typical hotel rooms. These are not pliable like the futons. A table, couches and cupboards are also commonly found in the room. Most ryokan have a balcony though not all hotel rooms include this feature.
Private bathrooms attached to the rooms provide for bathing area in a typical hotel. Communal baths, separated by sex, known as ofuro make for bathrooms in a ryokan. Hot springs are preferred to facilitate these baths, a primary reason why ryokan are found mostly in scenic locations. A garment called yukata is given to the guests to wear after their bath.
Food in a ryokan consists mainly of the Japanese haute cuisine known as kaiseki. To enjoy its flavors to the maximum, kaiseki should be eaten at an appropriate temperature. Therefore, guests in a ryokan are requested to suggest the time they want to eat their meals. Room service of food is offered in typical hotels so guests can order whenever they want to eat. Breakfast and dinner come as complimentary meals in a ryokan, inclusive of its cost. A typical hotel, by and large, does not offer two meals on the house.
Comparatively, ryokan are a little more expensive than a usual hotel room and not as universally found. With changing times, ryokan are made to suit the modern needs of a traveler. Many have made provision for televisions and private bathing areas as well.
A stay in a hotel is rarely a memorable experience, but when you stay in a ryokan it’s a uniquely Japanese experience, so be sure to try it at least once during your stay in Japan.