Japanese hotels, more popularly known locally as ryokan, came to popularity in the Edo Period. There are still many such establishments in Japan, most focusing with relaxation, hot springs and good Japanese food and drink. A visit to Japan is never complete without trying the ryokan at least once.
However ryokans are built on Japanese traditions, some of which might be completely unknown to most foreigners. Here are some you might want to take note to make your visit faux pas free.
The age-old practice of taking off one’s shoes should not come as a surprise, given you are going to a traditional Japanese Hotel. The hotel will provide you with a pair of slippers to wear. The slippers however are just for moving around the hotel and have to be removed when you’re in the room. Tatami mats should only be walked on by bare feet. You are not allowed to bring the slippers home as a souvenir.
Keep calm. Always.
Ryokan are places of relaxation and a place to unwind. And while boisterous behavior is considered embarrassing in most decent places, it can be especially annoying and downright rude in ryokans. Be extra quiet when outside your personal rooms and move around gently.
Yukatas are loungewear that the ryokan provides its guests. It may look a bit flimsy but like the slippers are only intended to be worn by guests when back for the evening or moving around the hotel, dining room included. Most ryokans will place yukatas in the cupboard of your room, neatly folded and complete with a small cotton belt to tie it. Same with slippers, you are not allowed to bring it home as a souvenir.
In wearing your yukata, make sure to keep it tightly closed, as it is the correct way of wearing it. Most Japanese folks would wear theirs with barely inch of skin below the neck visible. Corpses are dressed right on top so always remember that closing the yukata should be left side on top. Men normally tie their belts at hip height while women tie a bit higher on their waist.
Every guest room has a tokonama, an area that is purely for decorative purposes, most likely containing a scroll, artwork, a bonsai tree or a pot of flowers. The tokonama is a place where you can just relax and feel the Japanese ambiance do it is a big no-no to store your suitcases or rearrange the ornaments.
Guests are expected to sleep on futons in ryokans, but first timers might get confused to see no futon or bed in their rooms. Staff will lay out your futon for you during dinner time or so and while this might seem an odd kind of housekeeping, rest assured it is all part of the ryokan experience. Don’t try tipping the ryokan staff; it will be more likely taken as an insult.
Japan is land of tea
Your rooms will most likely have a small table with zabuton cushions and zaisu which looks like chairs without legs for you to lounge on. The small table will likely hold a little teapot, some chawan teacups and packets of tea and some small snack to go with it. The chawan teacups look like tiny bowls. The ryokan staff will restock your tea and the service is completely free.