Most cities in Japan have a mix of typical hotels and ryokan. To experience as much as possible of their traditional culture, you could book into a ryokan.
That’s if you can afford it, as they tend to appear more expensive than the hotels. Bear in mind though, that a ryokan room booking will normally include an evening meal and a breakfast. When comparing rates, you need to factor these meals into the price of the hotel.
In a ryokan, your meals will normally be served to you in your room, rather than in a large dining room as in a hotel. Of course, you can often order a room service meal in a hotel, but this is only if you request it. The opposite is the case in a ryokan. In fact, only a few of them have dining rooms that can be selected.
Ryokan take pride in providing quality meals. Everything is exquisitely presented and served at a pre-arranged time, so that you can eat it all at the correct temperature. It’s not done to keep your food waiting in a ryokan.
While a hotel will usually have a lounge separate from the reception area, as you enter a ryokan, the comfortable lounge area, or lobby, will be the first thing you see. You are not likely to be required to remove your shoes in a hotel, but in a ryokan this is mandatory, either throughout or just in your room, and a clean pair of slippers or sandals is provided.
In an air-conditioned hotel, your feet might sink into a deep-pile carpet, but in a ryokan you find the traditional tatami flooring, made from dried rice stalks and rushes. The furnishings will be traditionally Japanese, too. You don’t sleep on a raised bed, but on a futon on the floor, and you sit on a legless chair with your legs crossed or folded under you. Hence tables are very short-legged to be at the right height for you to eat.
As in a hotel, most ryokan rooms are en-suite, but they usually have communal bathing areas as well, one each for men and women. Locations with hot springs have many ryokan which pipe the spring water into their communal baths. Throw off your clothes and lie back in the warm waters, enjoying peaceful garden views. You won’t find anything like this in a typical hotel.