Ryokan HistoryIn 1603, a warlord named Tokugawa Ieyasu became Shogun of Japan after winning a series of battles. This began the long rein of a line of Tokugawa shogun that we know now as the Edo-era (1603 ~ 1868).
Prior to 1603, Japan had been at civil war for centuries (off and on). The Edo-era was the first long period of domestic peace in Japan. It made domestic travel safe for the first time in Japanese history.
Japanese people began to travel and discover their country. The Ryokan was born.
Types of RyokanThere are a great variety of Ryokan. Some are small family run establishments while others are massive resorts.
Ryokan also vary by price. Ryokan can be amongst the most expensive hotels in the world. Others attract budget travelers with low rates.
Ryokan prices are always per-person per-night. Prices (usually) include an elaborate breakfast and dinner. Rooms can (normally) accommodate 4 people. Prices are cheaper when 4 people share a room (as opposed to 2). Most ryokan don't accept a single occupancy booking.
Where are Ryokan Located?Ryokan are found anywhere in Japan. From tiny remote villages to Tokyo. The Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo is known for budget Ryokan that (often) don't include meals with your stay.
Kyoto has both budget and upscale ryokan.
The vast majority of ryokan are located in resort areas such as Hakone.
Even small, remote Japanese villages often have a ryokan. Such ryokan may double as the owner's family home.
ServiceYou may find your name written on a welcome board when you enter your ryokan.
You will promptly be greeted and led to a seat in the lobby or directly to your room. You'll be given tea and a snack before being presented with the check in form.
Ryokan generally offer a level of service you couldn't expect at a comparably priced hotel. Good ryokan assign a single attendant to you. Your attendant will be there to greet you, check you in, show you your room, bring you tea, help you with problems, bring your meals, etc.
YukataRyokan provide yukata for guests to wear during their stay. You can wear these around the hotel (such as to the onsen bath). Yukata add to the old world charm of ryokan. Staff wear kimono.
BuildingsRyokan are often located in historical buildings. Others are located in modern structures.
Ryokan normally have a wide common area in the lobby. The lobby, restaurants and/or rooms often have a view of a Japanese garden.
RoomsRyokan rooms are traditional Japanese style rooms with tatami flooring, futon bedding, old style furnishings, fusuma, shoji and tokonoma.
Rooms often have a balcony that's separated by fusuma doors.
Expensive ryokan may have a private onsen in the room.
FoodRyokan (sometimes) serve your meals in your room. Breakfast is Japanese style and dinner is an elaborate kaiseki feast. In many cases, the dinner alone is worth the cost of your stay.
Meals are scheduled for a particular time (the ryokan will confirm times with you). If you're running late you should inform the ryokan.
OnsenRyokan (almost always) have an onsen. The onsen is usually separated by gender. Onsen may be indoors, outdoors or both.
EntertainmentMany ryokan guests choose to stay at the ryokan all day and night enjoying the onsen, meals and relaxing in common areas or in their room.
Large ryokan may offer bars, cafes, games rooms and karaoke.
Smaller ryokan may have none of these things. At very least they're likely to have a beer vending machine. Guests commonly enjoy snacks and drinks in their room throughout the day and night.