Ryokans are a kind of traditional inn unique to Japan, and offers a rich cultural experience and relaxation to its guests. These Japanese inns are known to cater to the guests’ every need and serve kaiseki meals that are meticulously prepared by the finest chefs in the business. Ryokans are most commonly found around Tokyo, Kyoto, and onsen or hot spring resort towns like Hakone.

Mount Fuji in the Sunrise

Mount Fuji in the Sunrise

The experience of staying at a ryokan is worth the expense because of the quality of service and amenities that come with a stay, as well as the usual kaiseki meal inclusions that are unique to each area. Some kaiseki meals are even specially made by the inns themselves and show off their culinary prowess.

1. Hoshinoya Tokyo

Hoshinoya Tokyo

Hoshinoya Tokyo, Yuta Iguchi

Hoshinoya Tokyo offers one of the most relaxing ryokan experiences in Japan. With polished wooden interiors and tatami flooring throughout the establishment, the whole inn welcomes an ambiance of serenity. Hoshinoya Tokyo is tucked into the prestigious Otemachi District in Tokyo, offering a quick getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

Hoshinoya Tokyo is one of the first onsen ryokan of the Hoshinoya properties in the urban city, and the first in Tokyo, aiming to serve businessmen and tourists and to give a better appeal than a regular hotel. This unique innovation of bringing a relaxing experience from the countryside to the city earns Hoshinoya Tokyo the recognition as being one of the best ryokans in Japan and earned a spot in the World’s Best Awards 2020 Top Hotels in Tokyo by the Meredith Corporation.

The Japanese inn offers its guests two gender-segregated baths with waters sourced from a hot spring, over a thousand meters underground. The indoor baths are connected to their outdoor counterparts by a cave-like tunnel that leads to a chamber surrounded by tall walls, the outdoor baths situated under the Tokyo sky.

The easily accessible Japanese inn is also praised for its location, being just across the road from the Imperial Palace and its striking gardens. Hoshinoya Tokyo is also known for its authentic Japanese hospitality–the ryokan’s staff is noted to be attentive to guests and provide services from a spa treatment, to cultural performances and ceremonies–like a Tea ceremony where guests can participate as well.

2. Gora Kadan

Gora Kadan wooden terrace

Gora Kadan wooden terrace © 2020 GORAKADAN

Gora Kadan in Hakone is a 4-star ryokan located on the grounds of the former summer villa that was once owned by a member of the Imperial Family. The Japanese inn has earned praises for its design and has been awarded the Welcome Trophy by Relais and Chateaux for its high customer satisfaction and high standards of service. It is also a notable member of Relais & Chateaux, a hotel association for exceptional hotels and gourmet restaurants.

Gora Kadan features a fusion of tradition and modernity. The former Imperial estate is considered one of the National Park’s most coveted jewels and was once a favorite retreat of the Kaninnomiya Family.

The guest rooms in Gora Kadan all feature views of the mountainside, same with the open-air baths. There are also private onsens available, going well along with the spa service that would give the most relaxing, yet intimate experience with nature and the self.

  • Website: https://www.gorakadan.com/
  • Email: sns@gorakadan.com
  • Address: 1300 Gora, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0408, Japan

3. Hoshinoya Kyoto

Hoshinoya Kyoto water garden by Hoshino Resorts

The second Hoshinoya property on this list is also the second property that the resort chain has opened. Hoshinoya Kyoto is a traditional Japanese inn converted from the home of Ryoi Suminokura, a wealthy merchant. The ryokan is located in Nishikyo, on the riverbanks of Ōi River, just a short distance from the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.

Hoshinoya Kyoto has been praised for its beautiful location, surrounded by sakura and a captivating walkway covered in moss that leads guests around the property. The Japanese inn also boasts traditional style cypress wood baths, and karakami printed wallpaper made by Kyoto craftsmen. 

The traditional Japanese inn takes great pride in their kaiseki dinners, which are prepared by their Michelin Star Chef Ichiro Kubota, using local and seasonal ingredients.

Like its Tokyo counterpart, Hoshinoya Kyoto has been recognized for its hospitality and has been given the rank of 5 Red Pavilions by the Michelin Guide for 10 consecutive years since 2011, a Crystal Award from Professional Japan in 2013, and ranking in Conde Nast Traveler Gold List from 2016-2017. Hoshinoya Kyoto has also been a consistent nominee for Japan’s Leading Resort from 2015-2020, winning the award in 2016.

4. Gion Hatanaka

Gion Hatanaka

Gion Hatanaka

Gion Hatanaka is found in the picturesque Gion District in Higashiyama. Known for being tourist-friendly, the inn is especially accommodating to those who are new to the ryokan culture in Japan.

Since the Japanese inn is located right in the heart of a district that treasures geisha culture, Gion Hatanaka stands out from the list of ryokans as it offers maiko evenings and regular geisha entertainment where guests can observe the traditional dances and performances. If you’re a fan, this is the place for you to play maiko drinking games first hand, and learn about the samurai and sword dancing.

Of course, to complete the experience, Gion Hatanaka also serves specially-prepared Kyoto kaiseki for dinners. There are private baths as well as large communal baths for you to relax in after exploring the sight-seeing district, and the nearby Yasaka Shrine and the Geisha Village.

  • Website: https://www.thehatanaka.co.jp/
  • Email: kyoto@thehatanaka.co.jp
  • Address: 505 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0074, Japan

5. Beniya Mukayu

Beniyu Mukayu is a traditional Japanese inn tucked in the hillside of Yakushiyama, the site was the former Yakuoin Temple where monks studied Buddhist scriptures and for Hakusan Mountain Worship.

Its rooms feature wide windows facing the ryokan’s Japanese garden. Each room has a private open-air bath overlooking the garden as well. The Japanese-style rooms, all fitted with tatami mat flooring, and is provided with a sitting area with low furniture while the Western-style rooms are provided with beds and a balcony as well. Guests are provided with a yukata for the duration of their stay.

There are separate communal indoor and open-air hot spring baths for men and women. Guests are invited to enjoy the calm spaces in the library and the gardens, or have a fine dining experience in the restaurant, “Kaiseki Horin”, or relax in the spa center.

Beniya Mukayu is highly recommended for its exceptional service, which has been recognized through multiple recognitions and awards such as the Best Small Hotel Spa Worldwide in 2015, Relais & Chateaux Welcome Trophy in 2013, and Spa Japan Crystal Awards Professional in 2012.

 

6. Zaborin

Zaborin Onsen, zaborin.com

Zaborin is one of the best contemporary luxury ryokans in Hokkaido. It can be found in the Abuta District in the subprefectures of Iburi and Shiribeshi. It is one of the most recognized ryokans in Japan and has earned multiple titles in different countries as well. Zaborin holds many awards in its name, ranging from Best Gourmet Getaway in the Mr. and Mrs. Smith Awards 2018, and to ranking in the Top Hotels and Ryokan in Japan Award, and multiple others. Zaborin also earned itself 5 Red Pavillions from Le Guide Michelin Hokkaido in 2017.

The high-class inn does well to combine traditional Japanese ryokan elements with modern designs that give the interiors a clean and distinguished design. This modern reinterpretation of the traditional ryokan comes from the hotel’s aim to capture the essence of the meditative elements of the ryokan experience and imbue it into modern comforts, and to become a part of the surrounding nature of the inn.

The Japanese ryokan features luxurious guest villas with two types of private onsens–indoor and outdoor, and wide windows offering views of Mount Yotei, Annupuri or the Waisuhorn Mountain Ranges. The small getaway provides the guests with options of a Japanese or a Western sleeping arrangement to ease the stay and provide maximum comfort. 

Guests at Zaborin are served only the best of Japanese fine dining, with its own take on culinary traditions. The inn features a signature meal “Kita Kaiseki” that incorporates northern elements into its dishes, and explores the simplistic and natural flavors of its ingredients.

Zaborin is tucked in the woods and surrounded by the magnificence of nature. If you stay in the inn, you’ll be able to look out into the woodland and the fields, with Mount Yotei overlooking the entire landscape.

  • Website: https://zaborin.com/
  • Email: info@zaborin.com
  • Address: 76 4 Hanazono, Kutchan, Abuta District, Hokkaido 044-0084, Japan

 

7. Ryokan Kurashiki

Ryokan Kurashiki, Okayama

Ryokan Kurashiki, Okayama

Ryokan Kurashiki is situated on the banks of the canals of the Kurashiki River in the center of the Bikan Historical Quarter. The old merchant town preserved a unique charm that extends to the ryokan, which was once a sugar merchant’s home. 

The home-turned-inn radiates a charm reminiscent of stepping into the past, with its well-preserved craftsmanship and antiques, and exudes the feel of comfort and luxury. Ryokan Kurashiki features only five unique bedrooms that have served as a home away from home for many high-profile guests and celebrities. 

Ryokan Kurashiki is well-praised for its attentive service and the accommodating Okami, who makes sure the guests feel welcomed and are provided with only the best Japanese hospitality that the ryokan can offer. At night, guests are served a kaiseki dinner unique to the area and feature seafood from the Seto Inland Sea.

Ryokan Kurashiki is praised highly for its location. The property is right on the banks of the Kurashiki River, where the charming street of the town is lined with willows and captivating old-world architecture of the surrounding buildings. Staying here, you’ll find yourself in their captivating Japanese garden as well, where guests will be overlooking at breakfast time.

 

8. Ryokan Hanafubuki

Ryokan Hanafubuki boasts seven hot-spring baths, both open-air and indoor, dotted around its property, located in a forested area in Shizuoka. The tatami fitted rooms in the property all feature paper screens, futon bedding, and wide windows that look out into the private garden and the forest.

The inn has three culinary teahouses and a clubhouse for guests to relax in, instead of a regular reception area. The teahouses serve dishes that use local ingredients and seafood near Izu Kogen, a selection of wine, sake, and original cocktails as well. Hanafubuki offers three types of breakfasts from artisan bread, dried set meals, to porridge, each dish changing with the flavors of the season. Of course, kaiseki meals are also available for lunch and dinner, which can be enjoyed while enjoying the serenity offered by the garden and the surrounding woodland. 

There are also several souvenir shops on-site, and nearby tourist attractions such as the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Shogutsuin Temple, and the Arai Shrine.

9. Hiiragiya

Hiiragiya

Hiiragiya

Hiiragiya Ryokan is one of the oldest and most beloved inns in Japan. The traditional inn has been hosting prominent personalities–writers, artists, and politicians, as well as members of the Imperial Family, since its establishment in 1818. Notably, Nobel Prize winning novelist Yasunari Kawabata, and noted author Junichiro Tanizaki, consider Hiiragiya as their “home away from home”, as well as celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin and Elizabeth Taylor.

Like any long-standing Japanese inn, Hiiragiya has been managed by the same family for generations.

The rooms of the traditional inn have preserved its initial sophisticated design and architecture from the late Edo Period, with modern conveniences cleverly hidden among its wooden compartments. Staying in any of the rooms ensures comfort and relaxation, with the inn’s staff providing unparalleled attention. The rooms feature a beautiful view of the rock, bamboo, and sakura garden. 

The Japanese inn also makes use of the “wabi-sabi” design in its old wing and a more chic take on their newer wing. 

Hiiragiya is highly praised for its quality service and hospitality. The Japanese inn serves its guests a colorful kaiseki dinner that’s meticulously prepared by the ryokan’s expert chef, as well as a selection of wines, sake, and spirits.

Hiiragiya Ryokan is conveniently located in Central Kyoto, just a short stroll from Kamo River, and is surrounded by the Gion district where you can find an abundance of geisha culture.

  • Website: www.hiiragiya.co.jp
  • Email: info@hiiragiya.co.jp
  • Address: Japan, 〒604-8094 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, 姉小路上ル中白山町277
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