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Living in Japan

Lodging in Japanese Traditional Inns

While ryokan (traditional inns) are popular among Japanese travelers of all backgrounds, they are not heavily patronized by international visitors-partly because ryokan staff often do not speak English and partly because the inns themselves tend not to seek out the foreign market. The cultural experience they offer and their relatively low cost make them a bargain for all travelers. But because they are fundamentally Japanese, a stay at a ryokan requires a specific etiquette. Consult a good Japan guidebook.

The most unusual feature of a ryokan stay is the tatami room. The low center table typically holds tea cups and a small basket of sweets. At check-in time the cups will be filled with green tea by the ryokan staff member, who escorts guests to their rooms. After dinner, rooms are prepared for sleeping by laying out futons on the tatami mats. Since tatami mats have a natural spring and the futons are soft, the arrangement is quite comfortable.

Breakfast-in some cases served in the room, but a usually in a separate eating facility-is another large meal, with both rice and miso soup invariably included. At breakfast many guests wear the robes provided in their rooms. These yukata can be worn everywhere in the ryokan, from breakfast to the public baths, but not outside. Some ryokan might also provide geta or traditional wooden clogs.

Public bathing facilities have their own decorum, so it's best either to review the rules beforehand or try to watch the Japanese visitors. Most ryokans provide guests with a hand towel specifically for the public bath; guests are welcome to take these home.

Check-out tends to be uncomplicated. In most cases drinks at the mini-bar are included in the cost of the room. Payment in cash will be expected unless other arrangements have been made.

Ryokan Links Online

Japanese Ryokan Association: www.ryokan.or.jp. All the ryokan must meet exacting government requirements.

Japan National Tourist Association: www.jnto.go.jp. Includes a set of links to ryokans and other useful information for travel planning in Japan.

PT Group: www.pt-web.gr.jp. Online reservations coordination page.