Ryokan in tokyo- Japanese Spa Hotel (and Where to Find Them)
Ever dream of a weekend retreat to a little Bed and Breakfast, getting cozy with a glass of wine and a book? Well, the Japanese version is better (surprise).
Ryokan is a tradition Japanese inn, with the oldest dating back to 705 AD! Buddhist monks first began these inns along travel routes to allow for a relaxing place for rest (usually between Kyoto and surrounding towns) and the tradition has grown from there. Most Ryokans as we know them today come from the Edo Period (1603-1867), and while the fixtures have been updated since then, the feel and tradition remain the same.
While many B&Bs we know of offer a small array of mostly prepared foods, Ryokans are known as culinary destinations, serving seasonal Japanese fare prepared by professionals - usually served to you in your room!
Not only do these hotels offer food and shelter, but a lovely spa experience from nearby hot springs. Bath houses (known as onsens (natural hot spring) or sentos (municipal water)) are populous all over Japan, touting health benefits and calming powers. In Ryokans, most of the spas are in shared parts of the hotel (though gender segregated of course!), but there are many that offer private, in room baths as well.
The most popular of these Ryokans are in Onsen towns, resort-type places mostly filled with out-of-towners hoping to relax. They span climates from beach to mountain, the most popular being Atami and Hakone.
While a resort weekend might be preferable, it isn't always possible, and there are some Ryokans inside of Tokyo. While I long to see the countryside of Japan, this is a working trip for me, and conforming to the Japanese-style 14 hour a day work week makes it difficult to get the energy for a road trip on the weekend. Jackson sensed my weariness, and booked us a room at Ryokan Sizku for an evening. Boy, am I glad he did.
Ryokans are known for their many amenities, and Sizku did not disappoint on any of these fronts. After passing a highway and gas station on the way to the entrance, we are greeted by tatami mats and a babbling fountain, setting the tone for the rest of the evening. After removing our shoes, careful not to step on the edges of the mats (very bad behavior in Japan) we check in and are shown the free 24hr beverage station.
Each room in a Ryokan has a name, not a number. Ours was Taiyo, the Japanese word for sun. After being shown to our room, we were given gendered toiletry bags full of goodies for the face and body and left to our own devices.
Rooms at Ryokans are dim, with low ceilings, and the traditional mats covering the floors. Even with the giant flat screen TV on the wall, it's hard not to feel like you've gone back in time. Rooms have a luxurious, low to the ground futon, a traditionally low dining table, small kitchenette, washroom, bathroom, and exterior sink. It feels a long way from the plastic, retrofitted bathrooms of most Tokyo apartments.
It did not take us long to settle in. Quickly shucking our street clothes for the provided Yukatas (cotton suit, similar to pajamas) we examined the rows upon rows of products available during our stay. If you know a little about Japan, you understand their obsession with skin care (the climate makes it pretty necessary) and there is no shortage of these at a Ryokan. We quickly set to pampering, having the absurd idea we could try everything before we left.
With a traditional Furo (steep wooden bath) offering different essences depending on your ailments, the hours of the night melted away with out joint pains.
Price- Sizko (12,000Y/night all-inclusive), onsen towns vary steeply from 4,000Y (cheapest private room) to hundreds of thousands, if you want to go even more budget-friendly, try searching "Minshuku", this is sort of a hostel version.
If you don't have time to go out of town or spend a whole night pampering, do as the locals do and check out an onsen or sento. Scattered all over the city, these cheap, gender segregated bath houses offer showers, multiple baths, saunas, steam rooms, and of course, skin products.
Each onsen or sento is built to cater to different needs, be it back pain, scars, metabolism, headaches and more. Be sure to check online to match up your desired aid.
Be aware though, onsens are strictly au naturale. Personally, there is something freeing about getting naked around a bunch of people that don't speak your language, but it may be off-putting for some. Also, if you have tattoos be sure to check the locations policy. Also, don't forget your own towel!
Price- 470 yen- 2400 yen (super fancy)
Sound good but don't have a trip to Japan planned? Here's where to find some in the US!
Berkshires Shirakaba- MASS from $345
Pembrook Springs- VA from $149
Sakura Bed and Breakfast- CA from $75
I haven't tried these, but they have rave reviews. While, of course, it won't be the same experience, the elements of hospitality and relaxation can travel anywhere!