• A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Ryokan Culture


    A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Ryokan Culture


The Ryokan Collection is a collective of Category AAA ryokans, where guests can experience authentic traditional Japanese culture and customs and indulge in traditional Japanese 'omotenashi' hospitality at its legendary best.

The best way to immerse yourself in the culture and authenticity of the ryokan experience is to learn more about the customs and practices of such an establishment, so here's a little guide to help you make the most of your stay.

What's a Ryokan

A ryokan is a name given to a traditional Japanese-style inn. It's a cultural touchpoint that’s been a central part of the nation's culture for centuries.

During the 17th century, ryokans flourished as trade between Tokyo (at the time Edo) and Kyoto's Imperial Palace increased. Throughout history, ryokans have come in so many shapes and forms. The simplest ryokans were just homes offering extra rooms for travellers, while more elaborate offerings combined meticulous design with exquisite and intricate cuisine.

Today, there are around 63,000 ryokans in Japan, 1,800 of which are recognized as high-quality establishments belonging to the Japan Association.

Checking In and Out

・While options may vary, ryokans often offer a mid-afternoon check-in, while most places offer a check out at or before 11:00 am.

・As part of a high-end ryokan's omotenashi experience, you’ll often be welcomed and served tea by the proprietress and maids at the entrance.

・At the entrance of the ryokan lobby (genkan in Japanese), take off your shoes and change into the slippers or geta (wooden clogs) provided.

Guest Rooms

A typical ryokan room is designed in the image of a classical Japanese house, and it contains:
Shoji: Sliding paper doors.
Tatami mat flooring: Reed floor matting.
Low wooden tables with zabuton sitting cushions.
A futon set: Sleeping quilts and a thin mattress.
A tokonoma: An ornamental alcove built into the wall used for placing flower vases and hanging scrolls.
An oshiire: A closet for futon sleeping quilts.

In the Room

・When you enter a room, remove your slippers and walk on the tatami mat with your socks or bare feet to keep it in pristine condition.

・In the room, you'll find a thin kimono-like robe known as a yukata. You can wear this around the ryokan, and the hot spring (onsen) area. If it's cold, you can wear a tanzen (outer robe) over the top of your yukata.

・Your room also features an ornamental recess/alcove known as a tokonoma. Sitting above the tatami floor, it's a sacred spot, so leave it clear of luggage.

How to wear the yukata

・When putting on a yukata be sure to wrap the left side over the right and then secure it shut with the tie. There’s one faux pas to be wary of, and that’s in Japan dead people are dressed in a yukata wrapped right side over left, so it’s best to make sure your yukata is secured the right way around.


・The ryokan staff will prepare your futon (sleeping quilts) at night, usually, while you’re at dinner, and put it away in the morning. While minimalistic, it’s surprising just how comfortable a futon bed can be!

・The bedding consists of a mattress laid on the floor, usually just a few inches thick, it’s different to western-style bedding. If it’s not soft enough, you can ask the maid to double them up; each room will have a little extra bedding.


・Meals are usually kaiseki, a tea-ceremony style full-course menu. They consist of a variety of small dishes featuring local specialities. Dinner is served either in your room or in the private dining room. In keeping with the spirit of Japanese hospitality, courses are fresh, seasonal and meticulously displayed.

・A typical Japanese-style breakfast served in a ryokan consists of steamed rice, miso (bean paste) soup, grilled fish, fried eggs, nori (dried seaweed) and Japanese style pickles.

The Bath

・The onsen (natural hot spring), or sento (public bath) is one of a ryokan’s major features. Most locations feature gender-separated communal baths, while other more luxury focussed options also have private baths.

・Before entering a bath, you must be completely naked. Also, proper etiquette requires you to take a thorough shower before soaking.

・While being nude in a room full of strangers may at first seem daunting; it’s a regular occurrence for many local people. Both liberating and incredibly relaxing, it’s a must-try Japanese experience.


Although tipping isn’t very common in Japan on a whole it is customary for guests to tip ryokan staff, like the room attendant upon arrival or departure. The amount is up to the individual, but generally somewhere between 3,000 - 10,000 yen is the regular amount.