Wan­der­sleeps: 7 top ryokan stays

These tra­di­tional inns come in all shapes, sizes, ages and ar­eas. Our di­verse se­lec­tion all have one thing in com­mon – that authen­tic taste of sooth­ing Ja­pa­nese hospi­tal­ity

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents - WORDS BEN LERWILL

From old im­pe­rial res­i­dences to your own hot spring, we pick Ja­pan’s best tra­di­tional inns; plus avoid faux pas with our eti­quette guide


The very essence of a ryokan – to pro­vide space, seren­ity and seclu­sion – means many of them are found in the coun­try­side. Not this one. Open since mid-2016, the up­scale Hoshinoya ( pic­tured above) gives you the chance to sam­ple a high-end ryokan right amid the puls­ing hub­bub of Tokyo. You can still ex­pect key tra­di­tional el­e­ments such as

tatami mat­ting and spring-fed baths, but they’re tucked into a sky­scraper. It’s a sub­stan­tial prop­erty, with 84 gue­strooms split over 14 floors, but for trav­ellers in search of a sanc­tu­ary in the cap­i­tal, it’s a fine bet. Rooms from ¥72,000 (£500), based on two peo­ple shar­ing; hoshinoya.com/tokyo/en


Ja­pan’s ryokans might be founded on more than a mil­len­nium’s worth of his­tory and tra­di­tion, but that’s not to say they don’t move with the times. This in­ti­mate 15-villa re­treat in the wood­land of Hokkaido, the coun­try’s north­ern­most is­land, is a case in point. Each villa has two pri­vate onsen (ther­mal baths) – one in­door, one open-air ( pic­tured be­low) – while the pres­ence of a New York and Tokyo-trained ex­ec­u­tive chef means an in­no­va­tive ap­proach to cus­tom­ary kaiseki (multi-course) cui­sine. To round off the lux­ury el­e­ment, some of Ja­pan’s finest ski­ing lo­ca­tions are found close by. Vil­las from ¥75,000 (£520) per night, based on two peo­ple shar­ing; zaborin.com/en


Few, if any, Ja­pa­nese ryokans can ri­val Gora Kadan ( pic­tured) for rep­u­ta­tion. Once the sum­mer res­i­dence of a branch of the Im­pe­rial fam­ily, it now func­tions as an ex­quis­ite old-meets-new re­treat with man­i­cured gar­dens, fab­u­lous onsen and deep views over the sur­round­ing Fuji-hakone-izu Na­tional Park. These days it’s ac­tu­ally af­fil­i­ated to Eu­ro­pean ho­tel brand Re­lais & Châteaux, but Ja­pa­nese el­e­gance, un­der­state­ment and pre­ci­sion un­der­pins ev­ery­thing from the dé­cor to the food. There’s also a spa, for those who want to take the re­lax­ation lev­els to an even higher strato­sphere. Rooms from ¥111,240 (£765) per night, based on two peo­ple shar­ing; gorakadan.com


A well-priced al­ter­na­tive to some of the big-bucks ryokans is this serene op­tion in Ky­oto. It’s close enough to the heart of the city to ex­plore the key sights, but a lo­ca­tion among the bam­boo and maples of Maruyama Park means it of­fers respite from the crowds. Break­fast, a largely or­ganic af­fair, is in­cluded in the rate but not din­ner – although if there’s any­where that isn’t lack­ing in op­tions for meals out, it’s Ky­oto. The ryokan has just nine rooms, so it’s wise to book ahead. Rooms from ¥14,000 (£96) per night, based on two peo­ple shar­ing; yoshimizu.com/english/ky­oto


The thatched roofs of this bud­get ryokan are pitched at an im­prob­a­ble 60-de­gree an­gle: it’s a gassho-zukuri, or ‘pray­ing hands’ house, one of many such struc­tures in the Unesco-listed vil­lages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama in cen­tral Hon­shu. The roofs are thatched with the re­gion’s susuki grass, which needs re­plac­ing ev­ery two or three decades. Koemon of­fers an au­then­tic Ja­pa­nese ex­pe­ri­ence with tra­di­tional bed­ding, home-cooked food and hon­est hospi­tal­ity. From around ¥9,500 (£65) per per­son per night; shi­rakawago-kataribe.com


Lo­cated close to the Nagano dis­trict’s Jigoku­dani Yaen-koen – home of those end­lessly pho­to­genic, on­sen­soak­ing snow mon­keys – this six-room ryokan ( pic­tured right) has been wel­com­ing guests since 1901, among them a num­ber of em­i­nent Ja­pa­nese writ­ers and artists. There are out­door and in­door baths (no simi­ans al­lowed) and the overnight rate in­cludes a shabu

shabu (hot­pot-style) meal of thin cuts of shin­shu beef – let them know in ad­vance if you’re veg­e­tar­ian. Moun­tain views add to the over­all ap­peal, and win­ter sport en­thu­si­asts will find one of Ja­pan’s largest ski ar­eas on their doorstep. Rooms from ¥48,600 (£325) per night, based on two peo­ple shar­ing; jin­pyo.jp/eng


No fewer than 46 gen­er­a­tions of the same fam­ily have over­seen the for­tunes of this ex­tra­or­di­nary ryokan ( pic­tured right), now of­fi­cially recog­nised as the se­cond-old­est ho­tel in the world (in­evitably, the old­est is an­other Ja­pa­nese inn). Wel­com­ing guests since the early 8th cen­tury, it still keeps the fo­cus squarely on

omote­nashi, the par­tic­u­lar style of hospi­tal­ity that helps de­fine ryokans. It has a Ja­pa­nese gar­den, ex­quis­ite cui­sine, tra­di­tional rooms in­spired by the sea­sons and a his­toric onsen, founded by the monk Tai­cho Daishi over 1,300 years ago. Rooms from ¥15,000 (£103) per night, based on two peo­ple shar­ing; ho-shi.co.jp/en

Sooth­ing sleeps Some ryokan have onsen (ther­mal baths), for an even more re­lax­ing stay

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