- Checking into the room and first impressions
- Taking a bath Japanese style
- A lounge to hang out in the evening and to have a healthy breakfast in the morning.
Checking into the room and first impressions
I checked into the Ryokan around 8pm and was shown to my room on the 3rd floor (2nd floor if you follow the British convention) by the Ryokan manager Shinji-san. Having removed my shoes, I lifted up the curtain hanging in the door frame and stepped into the tatami room behind it. My first impression was that it felt extremely cosy and I could easily imagine staying there more than the one night. The room’s simple design in the traditional “Ryokan”, or inn, style is supposed to help the weary traveller to relax. In that respect it is successful. Personally, I enjoy sitting or sleeping on a tatami floor even without futon, having lived in a tatami room for my first 2 years in Japan.
Even though I had to stoop slightly to go through the door frame, the room ceiling is high enough to stand up comfortably, even for a tall person such as myself. The lighting in the room was provided by a sphere hanging from the ceiling and a small lantern set on the tatami floor, both covered with Japanese paper. The window consisted of a wooden frame overlayed with translucent paper. Although it prevented me from seeing outside, I felt that it increased the sense of comfort and privacy. The room entrance is closed with a “sudare”, which is a kind of roller blind. At first it took me a couple of minutes to roll it down and back up again, but once I figured out which cords to pull and noticed that there was a small catch that prevents the blind from slipping down, it was really easy to operate.
Taking a bath Japanese style
Next I wanted to try out the bath since it was only open till 10pm. This is another important aspect of a Ryokan – it is a place where people can wash themselves and soak in a big bathtub afterwards. Contrary to most people from Western countries, the Japanese enjoy taking a bath in the evening. In the morning the bath is closed (it opens at 4pm) and you can take a shower instead.
I put on the slippers placed outside the room and went downstairs to the first / ground floor. The small wooden sign on the door leading to the bathing area said “Vacant” so after turning it around, I went in and locked the door behind me, in case someone failed to see the now “Occupied” sign. The changing room, also with a tatami floor, is quite spacious and has a small sitting area. Big clear signs in English remind users of some of the dos and don’ts of Japanese bathing etiquette. After washing myself thoroughly, I rolled back the flap covering the bathtub filled with piping hot water: 43° C / 110° F according to the electronic display on the wall. How the bath water is kept hot at the same temperature is a mystery to me. I eased myself in slowly and let the warm sensation gradually envelop me. After a good soak, I got out and rolled back the bath flap so that the bath stayed warm for the next bather.
A lounge to hang out in the evening and to have a healthy breakfast in the morning.
Instead of changing back into my clothes, I put on the “Yukata”, a more casual type of kimono, that I had brought down from the room with its “obi”, or belt. It is customary to wear it after taking a bath and it can also be used for sleeping. I decided to hang out a for a while in the lounge with Shinji-san and a couple of other guests, one from Japan and another from Indonesia. We drank shochu, a kind of Japanese spirit, mixed with hot water and the conversation was a mix of Japanese and English. Shinji-san told us about his time as an Airbnb host. After 11pm I decided to call it a day and retired quietly to my room. After laying out the futon and bed cover, I rolled down the blind, switched off the light and went to sleep while imagining that I was a traveller from the Edo period.
The next morning I woke just before 8h30 and made my way back to the lounge to try a typical Japanese-style breakfast. I joined a couple of other guests from Korea at the solid wooden table. The food was served by Kana and Miki, both wearing a “haori”, or a formal Japanese coat. The highlight was rice harvested in Nagano, cooked the traditional way in a “donabe”, or clay pot. The meal also included cooked salmon, a rich-tasting miso soup and hot Japanese green tea. Although I’m not used to having fish and soup for breakfast, I was glad I hadn’t passed on this opportunity since everything tasted great. All in all, a perfect way to start your day sightseeing in Tokyo or, a long day of traveling if you lived in Edo Tokyo!
If you’d like to read another account of a stay at the Ryokan, then check out this article written by Amelie.