Ryokan are traditional Japanese inns, emerged in the Edo Period (1630-1868), when they served travelers along highways. Ryokan are as diverse as their hosts are. They can be large or small and vary from wooden structures to modern ones, appearing like large hotels from the outside. Ryokan in popular tourist area have restaurants, shopping and entertainment facilities. Along with innovations, the architecture is of a traditional Japanese style and inside you will feel and enjoy the original Japanese culture, traditions and cuisine.
What is awaiting you inside? A traditional ryokan often features a large entrance hall with chairs and coaches for the guests to sit and talk, while a more modern ryokan sometimes has a television in the hall as well. The rooms are designed, using traditional materials: the doors are sliding rice-paper doors, there is a low table and tatami mats on the floor. There can be also a porch or a balcony with a sliding door as well. You should remove your shoes at the ryokan's main entrance, where slippers are always kept ready. You are supposed to remove even your slippers before stepping onto tatami mats.
A yukata (Japanese dress) is provided to be worn during your stay at the ryokan. A yukata can be used for walking around the ryokan and as pajamas.
During your stay, you will also have an opportunity to enjoy a Japanese style bath. Most ryokan have a gender separated, communal bath, while some ryokan provide private bathing facilities. If the ryokan is located in the onsen area, you will have a chance to experience an amazing Japanese hot springs bathing.
You will be astonished by one more peculiarity: you will find no locks on your door, even if the door is not a traditional sliding door, but a western style construction. For thousands of years Japan is the safest country in the world; therefore, you have no ground to worry about your security or belongings. Certainly, some incidents sometimes happen, but the cases are actually rare.
Finally, as a ryokan guest you will sleep in a traditional style, using a futon, which is spread out on the tatami floor. Another service of ryokan is that the staff will come in and make up your bed in the evening and put it away in the morning. You can expect delicious breakfast and dinner served in your room, but this service is not available in many cheap ryokan. The meals available are mostly the Japanese food, but some ryokan serve Western dishes as well.
Ryokan are not usually located in large cities (with some exceptions), since they are not economic if compared with the hotels. For instance, it is expensive to use tatami mats on the floor. Another reason is that traditionally ryokan have catered mostly for highway travelers and they still continue keeping this tradition. These are often countryside inns along highways, in the mountains or in spectacular locations of Japan.
Ryokan typical rates range between six thousand and twenty thousand Yen per night and person, but some smaller in size and limited in services establishments offer rooms for a less price.