One experience that no visitor to Japan should miss is the opportunity to stay in a traditional ryokan inn. Combining therapeutic hot springs and Japanese “Omotenashi” hospitality, they are unique ways to relax and invigorate your body while soaking up the local culture.
Ryokan – is a centuries-old tradition in Japan, with some being operated by the same families for generations. So if you’re looking for a traditional ryokan experience with a dash of history thrown in, here are six Japan’s longest-established inns:
Half-board (incl. breakfast and dinner) from 16,667JPY to 32,408JPY per person
It was in the 12th century that family members of the Heike Dynasty fled to the mountains north of Tokyo after being defeated by the Genji Dynasty. After a hot spring source was discovered there in 1573, the clan’s descendants established Bankyu Ryokan which was later renamed Honke Bankyu.
Each of Honke Bankyu’s tranquil rooms faces the gushing Yunishi River where there is an open-air hot spring which contains therapeutic minerals to refresh and revitalize. Traditional kaiseki meals are cooked over charcoal using fresh local ingredients, and free Wi-Fi is available throughout the property.
Traditional Heike villages and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed temples of Nikko are just a short drive away, while both the Ryuokyo and Kinugawa Rivers have carved out spectacular natural landscapes to explore.
Half-board (incl. breakfast and dinner) from 20,203JPY to 48,486JPY for two people
Located along the beautiful Shima River in Gunma Prefecture, this small ryokan nestles within spectacular mountainous surroundings. It features 15 wooden rooms on the edge of a hot spring, with an outdoor bath area where you can soak amidst the natural setting.
While modern conveniences like televisions, complimentary Wi-Fi and toiletries are provided, the experience remains that of a traditional Japanese inn where hospitality and relaxation are at the fore.
Toshimaya prides itself on using locally sourced and organic ingredients in the meals provided to guests, including fish caught from nearby rivers, as well as pheasant and duck. Wild plants and grasses are gathered from the surrounding mountains, while mushrooms are picked from the forests when in season.
In addition to the Shima Onsen, Gunma Prefecture is home to the Kazawa Yunomaru Plateau, renowned for its blooming Japanese azaleas, and the spectacular landscapes surrounding Lake Nozoriko.
Half-board (incl. breakfast and dinner) from 15,019JPY to 42,000JPY per person
With a history that dates back to 1868, Chorakuen is nestled within a 33,000 square meter Japanese garden in the Tamatsukuri Onsen Spa region. It is run by the descendants of Yunosuke who managed the hot springs during the Edo Period, and they have created an authentic Japanese ryokan for guests to experience the history, natural beauty, and culture of the region.
Their rooms include both Japanese and Western-style beds, some of which have private open-air baths and gardens, while hot spring water is supplied to all guest bathrooms. The tranquil garden, planted with ever-changing trees and plants, includes a gazebo and pond where guests can relax after soaking in the springs while wearing traditional yukata (casual kimono) and geta (Japanese sandals). Kaiseki meals are served, with seasonal specialties such as crabs, rosy sea bass, shijimi freshwater clams, and Shimane wagyu beef.
Chorakuen is located not far from the Izumo Grand Shrine and Matsue Castle on the shores of Lake Shinji, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and the Adachi Museum of Art.
7399 Takeocho Takeo,
Half-board (incl. breakfast and dinner) from 16,000JPY
Established in 1905, Ougiya is a small ryokan situated in the onsen town of Takeo on Kyushu Island. Its waters contain a high concentration of sodium bicarbonate and have lured feudal lords, soldiers, and craftspeople since the 16th century Azuchi-Momoyama Period.
Ougiya contains just eight guest rooms, all of which are enticingly private, with exquisite attention to detail in its furnishings and decorations. Some rooms come with private outdoor hot spring baths, while others are sukiya-style, designed like a Japanese tea ceremony room.
There is a Sugi cedar tree hot spring for men and a Sakura granite hot spring for women, as well as the Hinoki cedar tree hot spring which is available for private rental. Multi-course kaiseki meals are served within the privacy of your own room, or in the elegant mahogany-lined dining room designed for small groups.
Takeo Onsen is also home to the iconic red-lacquered Sakura-mon gate and the fascinating Takeo Onsen Shinkan museum, which used to serve as the town’s public bathhouse.
Half-board (incl. breakfast and dinner) from 34,560JPY to 51,840JPY for two people
Located in the picturesque hot spring resort of Kinosaki Onsen, where willow trees line the streets, Nishimuraya Honkan – is a traditional ryokan set around a number of wooden buildings. Sukiya-style architecture has been employed in its design, with the Hiratakan Annex, designed by master architect Masaya Hirata, considered its crowning glory.
Sliding paper window doors, chabudai dining tables and tatami mat floors add to its authenticity, while wooden terraces offer views over the spectacular gardens. Cherry blossoms ignite the landscape in spring, while leaves color the trees in autumn and snow blankets the garden in pure white during the winter months.
Most rooms feature open-air hot tubs which take in this tranquil setting, while there are also indoor hot spring pools and a small museum on site. Modern conveniences include satellite television and mini fridges in each room, while complimentary Wi-Fi allows you to stay connected during your stay.
Both breakfast and dinner are included, with multi-course kaiseki dinners featuring local specialties such as Matsuba crab and Tajima beef served in the privacy of your own room.
Half-board (incl. breakfast and dinner) from 17,280JPY to 27,000JPY per person
Located on the banks of the Nagara River below Gifu Castle, Juhachiro has been treating guests to traditional Japanese “Omotenashi” hospitality for the last 150 years. Originally named Yamamotoya, the ryokan owner changed its name to honor an essay entitled “Juhachiro” by famed Haiku composer Matsuo Basho, praising the scenic beauty of the region.
Tatami-style rooms with futons are combined with two large onsen bath houses (one for men and one for women), together with a small library to relax in. Artistic dinners are served as well as buffet breakfasts, together with complimentary tea and afternoon treats.
It’s the service that really sets Juhachiro apart, having been awarded the “Great Service Ryokan and Hotel Prize” by one of Japan’s largest travel companies, JTB. For something extra special, combine your visit with the annual Ukai cormorant fishing festival which showcases this centuries-old fishing method.