Ryokan: Traditional Japanese AccommodationsJun 3rd, 2009 | By Shane Sakata | Category: History & Culture
When you visit Japan you may choose to stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) rather than a traditional hotel. Ryokan offer visitors an opportunity to learn more about Japanese culture in an environment that is second only to that of staying with a friend who lives in a home that was designed in the traditional Japanese way.
Traditional Japanese houses are wooden structures that are built around vertical columns with floors that are raised above the ground to protect the house and its occupants from ground moisture. The typical sloping roofs with wide eaves were originally covered with straw or shingles but today most are covered with distinctive tiles called kawara that protect the house from the elements. Wooden floors are supported by horizontal beams and are covered with tatami (rice straw) mats in the living areas. Large communal spaces in the homes are partitioned off, as needed, with sliding shoji doors, a lattice door lined with paper.
Central heating or cooling was not an option in a traditional Japanese home. In the summertime, strategically placed exterior shoji doors would be opened wide to create cross ventilation so that the heat and humidity was somewhat mitigated. In the winter, kotatsu, a heated table covered with a futon, were used to keep the occupants warm. Today’s kotatsu are electric but historically coal was used as the heat source.
Today you can find many lovely examples of shinden-zukuri, a particular style of Japanese home dating back to the 11th century, throughout the country. They are often used as teahouses or ryokan and feature a symmetrical design with long hallways around the perimeter of the structure allowing access to the interior rooms and open to the outdoors so that the occupants could enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings.
Common features in traditional Japanese homes and ryokan include the tokonoma, a small alcove near the entrance (genkan) or in the main living room, that usually contains vertical scroll featuring calligraphy or Japanese panting and an ikebana flower arrangement. You won’t find chairs, couches or beds in a traditional Japanese Ryokan either – residents relax on zabuton (large square cushions), dine at low tables known as zataku and sleep on a futon placed directly on the tatami covered floor.
If you would like to experience staying in a ryokan an your next trip to Japan the Japan Ryokan Association offers a directory of Ryokan by Prefecture and an informative guide on how to enjoy a stay at a Ryokan.
If you want to learn more about traditional Japanese way of life you will definitely want to enter to win a copy of Urawaza, Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks from Japan by from Japan Discovered! And, if you are planning a trip to Japan and have questions be sure to take part in the first ever Japan Travel Tweetchat on Friday June 5th from Noon – 1PM on Twitter.