AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

First impressions of a Ryokan

Ryokans are a traditional style of Japanese accommodation. The ryokan we’re staying in is a 200 year old wooden building. To enter you must take your outdoor shoes off at the entrance and replace them with inside shoes. To enter your room you must leave your ‘inside’ shoes at the entrance to the room. No shoes must touch the tatami mats.

The room has a central table complete with a Japanese style tea set. The floor is covered in tatami mats and the futon bedding is hidden away in the cupboard until it’s needed. Here, you pay a lot more than a hotel but get less for your money. You make your own bed including putting the sheets on the duvet. At the side of the central room there is a small dressing area with a sink and a dressing table. Presumably we also put our bags here. This area can be closed off by drawing the shoji doors.

As the room is literally paper thin you hear people clomping in their slippers up the corridor and also hot water being pumped around the building. We also have a fridge in the room, which is very loud.

All washing facilities are shared. Our room is next to the toilet. A problem with this is the fact that the walls are literally paper thin so you hear people… stomping to the loo. On the plus it takes less time to walk to the toilet.

The onsen or hot spring, in this case artificially heated water, is a public affair and there is an etiquette to bathing. You wear your robe and take your towels with you. A large towel and a hand towel. The baths are single sex only. In the first area you take off your clothes and put them into a basket along with your large towel. Keep the small one to attempt to cover up, or not depending on how you feel. Then go into the wash area and sit on the tiny stool to wash yourself. You have a shower head, a mirror, shampoo and body soap. Once you are clean and properly rinsed you may enter the public bath or onsen. The water is kept at a nice hot temperature and is supposed to be very soothing and relaxing. For us it would probably be more relaxing if it wasn’t for the public nudity, but in Japan this is totally natural and no-one bats an eyelid (the only issue is this ryokan is a bit touristy so the bath is more likely to be filled with westerners wondering what to do and where to look). You must not put your hair in the water or allow the towel to end up in the bath. No clothing, no bubbles, no dirt on the body, the bath is for clean naked people only. The bath here is very small, 6ft in length, so it is a rather intimate experience should you meet anyone in there. The reason for these public baths is supposedly for the mineral benefits of the water for your skin and your health.

I suppose this is different to the usual hotel room. The tatami mats smell quite nice and it’s not very often people willingly pay for the pleasure of sleeping on a mattress on the floor. But, it’s unique to Japan so it’s something we have to do here.

But, as yet I (Annemarie) haven’t worked up the courage for the public bath! Andrew managed to time it so he had the bath to himself. I am glad we are here but I do think it is overpriced for what you get. This place is very touristy, we didn’t even get shown around! However, our next ryokan includes breakfast and dinner, Japanese style, so it may be a bit more personable (fingers crossed we like the food).

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