In case you missed it, one of this month’s posts was a Crash Course on ryokan. The first year I lived in Japan, my husband and I loved to head out from Tokyo and explore the countryside. Not wanting to just have the same humdrum experience time and again of staying in a hotel, we tried to find affordable ryokan in most of our destinations. Here are five that made the cut for us:
1. Matsuya Ryokan (Nagano) – I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for this ryokan as it was the first one I ever booked when I moved to Japan over four years ago. This friendly place on the cobbled road to Zenko-ji Temple is small and the facilities are all shared but the warmth of the Suzuki family was second to none. No English was spoken but they made us feel more than welcome all the same, even sending us off with fresh Nagano apples the next morning. It’s a perfect place to rest your head if you’re thinking of hitting up the dawn service at nearby Zenko-ji.
2. Sakura Ryokan (Kyoto) – There’s not much history to this modern inn tucked away in the back streets north of Kyoto Station but it’s the ideal place for a ryokan newbie. Rooms are available in both tatami and (tasteful) Western style and one prime choice offers views of the tiny interior garden. The lounge and dining area are inviting and spacious and the staff can handle almost any request in multiple languages. It’s not exactly in the middle of the action, but both bus and subway stops are only a short walk away.
3. World Friendship Center (Hiroshima) – More of a guesthouse than an actual ryokan, this expat-run accommodation offers three small tatami rooms with futon bedding and a hearty Western breakfast at the communal dining table. It’s definitely a bit of a hike from the Peace Park, but the absolute highlight of this ryokan is their ability to book you into a private chat with a hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor) over at the Peace Memorial Museum.
4. Goyokan (Shuzen-ji) – In a town replete with pricey onsen ryokan, Goyokan is a budget traveller’s delight. Though private facilities are lacking, the baths made of cypress and stone are perfect for a soak and the segregated bathrooms change on a daily basis so you can try out both tubs. Breakfasts here are a massive affair, with fresh local fish and a variety of vegetable and egg dishes. The location is ideal as well, right on the main street and a short stroll from the town’s main bus stop.
5. Ryokan Shigetsu (Tokyo) – Tokyo doesn’t have a wealth of ryokan but this foreigner-friendly gem in the Asakusa area is worth considering. I just spent a night here in early March and found it to be the perfect mix of traditional (tatami room, futon bed, snacks offered on arrival, shamisen music playing in the background) and modern (ensuite bathrooms, an elevator, TV with CNN, and shoes on until you hit your room). The bilingual staff is incredibly helpful and friendly and you’re practically on the doorstep of the Senso-ji temple complex.