Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn that offers guests a unique and immersive experience of Japanese culture and hospitality. These establishments have a long history and are known for their warm hospitality, serene atmosphere, and attention to detail.
Ryokans typically feature traditional Japanese architecture and design, with elements such as tatami floors, sliding paper doors called shoji, and low furniture. The rooms in a ryokan are simple and minimalist in style, emphasising tranquillity and harmony with nature. Futon bedding is commonly used, which is a traditional Japanese style of sleeping on a thin mattress placed on the tatami floor.
One of the main highlights of staying at a ryokan is the opportunity to experience an onsen, which is a traditional Japanese hot spring bath. Onsens are highly regarded in Japan for their therapeutic and relaxing properties. They are often seen as a way to cleanse the body and the soul. The water in an onsen is typically rich in minerals, and soaking in it is believed to promote good health and relieve stress.
Ryokans usually have their own onsen facilities, and guests are provided with yukata (light cotton robes) and towels to wear while enjoying the baths. The bathing etiquette in an onsen is essential, including thoroughly washing your body before entering the hot springs and respecting others' privacy.
In addition to the onsen experience, ryokans are known for their kaiseki meals. Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course dinner showcasing Japan's seasonal and regional flavours. The meals are meticulously prepared and beautifully presented, incorporating fresh and local ingredients. Dining in a ryokan is a delightful experience that offers a culinary journey through the country's rich culinary heritage.
Staying at a ryokan and indulging in the onsen experience provides a glimpse into Japanese traditions, customs, and the concept of omotenashi, which means wholehearted hospitality. It allows visitors to unwind, relax, and connect with nature while immersing themselves in a traditional Japanese inn's serene and elegant ambience.
If you’re considering staying at a ryokan to experience its onsen facility and the amazing spread of kaiseki meals, here are 15 Japanese ryokans with onsens that you should add to your bucket list.
1. Yunoshimakan (Gifu Prefecture)
Located in the scenic Gero Onsen area in Gifu Prefecture, Yunoshimakan is a historic ryokan with a history spanning over 400 years. It offers a serene atmosphere, spacious rooms with traditional Japanese decor, and multiple indoor and outdoor hot spring baths, including private open-air baths.
2. Suimeikan (Gifu Prefecture)
Sumeikan resort features three public baths with the largest bath made of cypress. The nearest station is Gero Station (JR Takayama line), which is a 3-minute walk to the hotel. Just take the JR Limited Express from Nagoya Station to Gero Station, which is about an hour 30-minute ride. During the day, a free shuttle bus will pick you up at the arrival time of the train (arrival from 11:33am to 5:44pm). The resort was chosen as one of the three most famous resorts with onsen hot springs in Japan. It has 610 years of history as a hot spring.
3. KAI Matsumoto (Nagano Prefecture)
Situated in the picturesque city of Matsumoto in the Japanese Alps, KAI Matsumoto offers a blend of contemporary design and traditional charm. Guests can relax in the ryokan's hot spring baths, enjoy locally inspired cuisine, and explore the nearby Matsumoto Castle.
4. Hoshinoya Kyoto (Kyoto Prefecture)
Nestled in the historic city of Kyoto, Hoshinoya Kyoto offers a blend of traditional charm and modern luxury. The ryokan provides a serene atmosphere with its beautiful gardens and river views. Guests can enjoy private open-air baths and savour Kyoto's seasonal delicacies.
5. Arima Onsen Taketoritei Maruyama (Hyogo Prefecture)
Located in the picturesque Arima Onsen area near Kobe, this ryokan boasts a long history and a tranquil setting. The ryokan features spacious rooms, some with private open-air baths, and offers a range of hot spring baths with different mineral properties.
6. Nishimuraya Honkan (Hyogo Prefecture)
A gem in the charming town of Kinosaki Onsen, Nishimuraya Honkan is a historic ryokan known for its traditional architecture and warm hospitality. The ryokan features well-appointed rooms, multiple hot spring baths, and delectable kaiseki meals.
7. Arima Hot spring Ryokan Hanamusubi (Hyogo Prefecture)
This Arima onsen has rooms with baths that are filled with brown hot spring water (“gold spring”). It was said that many past Emperors of Japan have visited here since some 1,500 years ago. That makes for a great story!
8. Sensui Ryokan (Hyogo Prefecture)
This cosy Japanese ryokan features three small baths that can be used for private bathing: 'Ishi no Yu' (Stone Bath), 'Ki no Yu' (Wood Bath), and 'Tou no Yu' (Porcelain Bath). The rooms are reminiscent of 'Muji-styled' interior, which is simple and minimalistic.
9. Gora Kadan (Kanagawa Prefecture)
Located in the scenic Hakone region near Tokyo, Gora Kadan is a top-rated ryokan renowned for its tranquil ambience and private open-air baths. The ryokan features spacious and elegantly appointed rooms, exquisite kaiseki meals, and a variety of indoor and outdoor hot spring baths.
10. Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu (Kanagawa Prefecture)
Also nestled in the beautiful Hakone region is Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu, a modern ryokan with a blend of traditional and contemporary design. It offers spacious rooms with private hot spring baths, a variety of communal baths, and stunning views of Mount Fuji from its outdoor baths.
11. Amanemu (Mie Prefecture)
Situated in the tranquil coastal area of Shima in Mie Prefecture, Amanemu is a luxury ryokan that overlooks Ago Bay. The ryokan features elegant suites with private onsen facilities, excellent kaiseki cuisine, and a large communal hot spring bath with panoramic views.
12. Beniya Mukayu (Ishikawa Prefecture)
Located in the serene Kaga Onsen region of Ishikawa Prefecture, Beniya Mukayu is a luxurious ryokan known for its minimalist design and tranquil atmosphere. The ryokan offers spacious and beautifully designed rooms, private open-air baths, and a large public bath with various mineral-rich hot springs.
13. KAI Aso (Kumamoto Prefecture)
Nestled in the scenic Aso region of Kumamoto Prefecture, KAI Aso offers a tranquil retreat surrounded by beautiful mountains and lush greenery. The ryokan features spacious rooms, private open-air baths, and communal hot spring baths. Guests can enjoy the serene atmosphere and savour intricate kaiseki cuisine made with local ingredients.
14. Guntu (Hiroshima Prefecture)
Unlike the others, Guntu is a luxury floating ryokan that cruises through the scenic Seto Inland Sea. It offers breathtaking views, exquisite cuisine, and serene hot spring baths onboard. Guests can indulge in ultimate relaxation while enjoying the beauty of the sea.
Book a stay: Trip.com
15. Yamanoyado Reisen Kannojigoku Ryokan (Ōita Prefecture)
Yamanoyado Reisen Kannojigoku Ryokan is located in the Kusu District, Ōita Prefecture, where its attractions are mainly farms and onsens. Mount Kujū is located here with the Kusu River flowing through Kokonoe.
Book a stay: Agoda
What should we be aware of when bathing in an onsen?
Who should avoid going to an onsen?
Japan is blessed with many beautiful and beneficial onsens but not everyone can enjoy bathing in an onsen. The elderly, physically challenged people and children should avoid bathing alone in an onsen. If you have a high fever, cardiac, lung disease or acute exacerbation stage of a chronic disease, you should avoid going to an onsen. In some cases, when the onsen spring water is acidic or sulphuric, bathing in an onsen may cause skin inflammation (dermatitis) if you have hypersensitive skin.
What to do at an onsen?
Most onsens allow you to pick a lightweight kimono before entering the changing rooms. After changing out of your normal clothes and into disposable underwear in the changing room, head to the bath area with your small towel. Before dipping into the bath, sit on the wooden stool in the shower area and rinse your body well from the tap, or use the small bucket placed in front of you. This is to help acclimatise your body to high temperatures and rinse off the dirt. Now you may enter the bath and soak per the suggested timings listed. Do note that some of the bathwater can reach between 40 to 44 degrees Celcius, so it may feel uncomfortable for the first few minutes. You can place the small towel on your head or at the side of the bath.
What to do after an onsen?
Don't rinse your body after a soak so that you don't get rid of the beneficial minerals from your skin. You may gently pat down with a towel, if you like. Also, don't forget to hydrate yourself after soaking in an onsen. Most onsens sell drinks on-site, and some even have cafes for you to lounge at after a long soak. Most Japanese people prefer coffee milk or fruit milk after a bath as they're mostly found at public baths and hot springs. Drinking lots of water also helps after a long, hot soak.
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