Unique to Japan, the ryokan is a traditional inn where you can experience Japanese hospitality at its warmest. Often the ryokan will have its own hot spring baths for guests to relax in. In the evening, your hosts will serve a kaiseki (a multi-course meal featuring seasonal delicacies) that will sate even the hungriest traveller, before you settle down to sleep, often on a comfortable futon mat on the floor, although some properties offer raised beds. Our Japan Specialists have selected six of their favourite luxury ryokans…
You'll get to this historic merchant's residence by boat - a tradtional cedar-wood boat - on a tranquil 10 minute journey along Kyoto's Hozugawa River. Inside the complex of carefully restored buildings, you'll find a stylish balance, with traditional design features such as sliding doors and hand-blocked wallpaper complemented by modern comforts like heated floors and raised beds. The natural setting is simply gorgeous, with the river sweeping around the ryokan's peaceful wooded estate.
Hakone National Park is a volcanic hot spring area famous for its onsen bathhouses, and we love the charming Gora Kadan for its beautiful indoor and outdoor onsen, fed by local springwater. Many rooms also have their own hot spring tub and a beautiful private garden area. The food here is outstanding, too, with a traditional kaseiki served in your room each evening.
The service at the Honjin Hiranoya Kachoan is fantastic, with nothing too much trouble for your hosts. Add to this the excellent seasonal cuisine, which focuses on regionally sourced, quality seasonal ingredients, and you're onto a real winner! The property itself is modern, with simple furnishings and traditional, but the finish and facilities are that of a contemporary high-end hotel.
Hidden away in the centre of Kyoto, this former residence of a wealthy merchant is everything you might wish from a historic Japanese home, right down to the kimono-clad staff, koi drifting in the elegant garden pools and tatami mats on the floors. It's tiny and popular, so we recommend booking early.
Kanazawa is famous for its historic buildings, and the Asadaya is no exception, dating from the 1860s and offering an irresistable taste of the authentic ryokan experience. Built in the style of a tea ceremony house, the property feels more like a private home than a hotel, and is furnished with antiques, and each of the five rooms has its own ornamental inner garden.
Although the super-deluxe Amanemu isn't a ryokan per se, it's ryokan-style, and sits in splendour within Ise Shima National Park, where ancient pilgrimage trails weave around the grandest shrines in Japan. Although it's a great base for exploring, the hotel is so luxurious that you might not feel very holy, especially with the delightful onsen & Aman spa facilities on offer. Perhaps just keep telling yourself that cleanliness is next to godliness!