How to Check Into a Traditional Ryokan
Ryokans, traditional hotels found throughout Japan, especially in more historic areas, are a wonderful alternative to modern accommodation. Ryokans often are beautifully decorated with traditional Japanese designs, wooden furniture, and tatami flooring. Many contain peaceful gardens and relaxing hot spring baths. Although the price of a one night stay is often high, it is reasonable considering the meals included and quality of the experience.
Because many ryokans do not offer English support, it is helpful to know what to do before arriving. Many accept online reservations through popular travel sites or a private site; be sure to read the reservation details thoroughly. Before arriving at the ryokan, check if there is a transportation service available from the station to the hotel, as many do provide this convenient service.
After arriving, proceed to the front check-in counter to fill out some simple paperwork and go through any procedures necessary for check-in (this often includes copying a passport or ID for security measures). In some cases, when check-in is done, a staff member will accompany guests to their room. If not, there are usually floor maps available to guide visitors. Be sure to collect a yukata, or summer robe, to wear after bathing; there is usually a variety from which to choose.
Once in the room, feel free to make tea with the loose green tea leaves, hot water, and tea equipment provided. This may also be prepared by a staff member. Once settled, secure personal belongings in the safe or take to the front desk for safe keeping. Enjoy browsing the hotel or taking a stroll around the neighborhood.
Hot spring baths in hotels are generally open from morning to night, although some offer almost 24 hour services. Bath towels must be rented in some cases for 50-100 yen, but small wash towels are included. Make sure to follow the proper bathing procedures, such as leaving personal belongings somewhere safe, undressing entirely, rinsing before getting in the bath, and cleaning up the shared areas after bathing. Most hot spring hotels prohibit visitors with tattoos from entering the baths, but many do not enforce this rule. After the bath, feel free to walk around the hotel in yukata (with the jacket that may be found in a room closet), as many guests do so.
Dinner is usually served in a shared room, which will be disclosed upon check-in. Meal times are also set in advance, so be sure to follow them out of respect for the ryokan staff members. Staff members usually prepare futon beds during dinner so that guests can rest after if they so desire. After dinner, there may be a bar open in the hotel with optional karaoke (sometimes the charge is per song). Many go to sleep early at ryokans, but it is perfectly acceptable to stay up as long as noise is kept to a minimum.
In the morning, the baths are open again, and breakfast is generally early. Check-out is usually between ten and twelve. Yukata and bath towels can be left in the room or returned in the bath area. After checking for all belongings, proceed to check out. For those who will continue on to other adventures, baggage storage is usually available or lockers can be found at a nearby train station.
Wherever you choose to go, be sure to give a ryokan a try! It is a Japanese experience unlike any other.
[posted by Nadia]
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