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7 Things You Need to Know Before Booking Your Japanese Hotel

Here’s what to expect when you reserve a stay at a traditional inn

The view of Mount Fuji is seen from sliding doors at a Japanese hotel

When booking accommodations in Japan, you may want to experience a traditional ryokan, or Japanese inn. While ryokan can be much more interesting and authentic than your standard business hotel or international chain, there are a few things to be aware of before making reservations.

There may not be Wi-Fi

When researching your stay, check if your inn has wi-fi. Some do, but many do not, or it’s only available in common areas. Though it may be a deal-breaker for some, others may welcome the chance to unplug and have a little time in the analog world.

You’ll probably sleep on a real futon

The bedding of choice at a ryokan is a futon, but it might not be what you expect. Unlike the North American version, a real Japanese futon is not a fold-out couch, but rather a set of thin mattresses laid out on a tatami-matted floor and stowed away in a deep closet when not in use. While millennia of Japanese people are used to these sleeping arrangements, it’s an adjustment to those used to thick mattresses and lofty beds.

Tall people: check in advance if they have futons that will accommodate your length.

A brass tea pot with a long stem 

Expect tea, not coffee

It’s customary to have a pot of green tea and a small snack waiting in your room upon check-in. You’ll also be served tea at breakfast, and sometimes at dinner. What you won’t often find on offer is coffee.

You’ll need to remove your shoes

In some inns, shoes are removed at the entrance of the hotel itself, while in others, you can wear your shoes as far as the door to your room. There will be a vestibule provided where you can change your shoes for slippers. Many inns will even provide split-toed socks for you to wear along with thong sandals.

Whatever you do, do not wear shoes on tatami mats! Opt for bare feet or socks instead.

Try on the robe

In your room, you’ll probably find a thin cotton robe, or yukata. This can be worn both in your room and to the bath. There will be a long belt to cinch it; just make sure to tie it left over right and not the other way around. (Right over left is for funerals; specifically, for the person who has died.)

A pot of Soba noodles with peppers, carrots and fresh chillies sits with a pair of wooden chopsticks across it, a small dish with soy sauce and sesame seeds beside it 

You’ll enjoy a set menu

Food is central to the ryokan experience, and many inns are famous for their refined kaiseki, or gourmet seasonal cuisine. You can expect an exquisitely prepared multi-course meal of local delicacies with beautiful presentation.

What you won’t get is a menu to order from; meals are set. Some accommodations for allergies and special diets can be made, but must be arranged in advance.

Shared baths are part of the experience

Many ryokan will have en-suite toilets, but only some will have in-room bathing facilities. It’s very common to have large shared baths, often featuring onsen, or hot spring water. In fact, this is one of the main reasons that many people go to stay in ryokan.

A Japanese bath looks out at forest view 

Baths are gender-segregated, and bathers are totally nude. Be sure to wash well before getting in, and don’t worry—everyone else is naked, too.

Planning a trip to Japan?

Check out our video on how to navigate a bustling Japanese market like a pro.

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Image credit: Elena_Danileiko, t_kimura, lukyeee1976 and visual hunt