Whenever you’re traveling to a place with a different culture, or with traditions that you might not be familiar with, it’s important that you take the time to do some research and prepare.
It shows great respect if you’ve looked up the main etiquette rules beforehand, and it also makes the experience all the better.
If you’re traveling to Japan, you might stay at a Ryokan. If this is the case, we’ve covered the top 10 etiquette rules that you need to follow!
What is a Ryokan?
Before we get started with the etiquette rules, let’s clarify what a Ryokan is.
Ryokans were founded long ago, centuries ago in fact. They were a means to accommodate travelers along the many different roads through Japan, and they’re essentially a traditional Japanese accommodation.
Nowadays, a lot of them are used by tourists. Some have even adapted to a more modern style of accommodation. However, others remain very much the same and are completely traditional.
Most of them are found in more regional parts of Japan, and a good way of finding one is by checking the location near and around rural hot spring towns!
The most basic features of a Ryokan are the tatami mat flooring, and the shoji sliding doors, so this is a good way of identifying one.
Nowadays, there are many different types of Ryokans, depending on how much they’ve changed to suit modern times.
Some are still authentically run like they were in the past, while others have become big chains marketed towards tourists, including different packs of experiences depending on how much you’re willing to pay. So when choosing the Ryokan that you’ll be staying at, make sure you do plenty of research about it!
Some Ryokans will therefore be more strict than others when it comes to the traditional etiquette rules. Nevertheless, it’s good to read up on them so that you can follow them even if the Ryokan you go to isn’t as strict, as it will give you a better feel for Japanese culture and what the Ryokans traditionally represent!
Top 10 Rules when Staying at a Ryokan:
Now that we know what a Ryokan is, let’s get right into the top 10 etiquette rules that you should know about before staying at one.
Here they are:
In Ryokans, there are timetables for each meal, as well as the check-in and check-out, or the times in which you can use the hot spring baths. There isn’t usually a strict bedtime rule, as you can go to bed when you wish to.
However, there will usually be a time limit, after which you are required to respect the silence of bedtime, and in which you are expected to retire to your room for a peaceful night.
In most cases, the establishment will still be open for you to leave or return. But you should do so as quietly as possible. This time limit will usually be around 10 pm, but it can vary from place to place.
We recommend you follow this time limit, because Japan favors early mornings, and there will be plenty for you to do the following day! Plus, the likelihood is that there won’t be much to do after 10 pm anyways!
Breakfast, just like any other meal, will have a time frame during which it will be served.
As with everything else, it is very important that you respect these times, and that you turn up with plenty of time, as opposed to late or on the verge of being late. In fact, it will show a lot more respect if you make the effort to be prepared as early as possible.
A lot of people will wake up earlier to use the hot spring baths before breakfast. After breakfast, it will usually be the time for checking out, and you won’t get another chance. It depends on whether you’re staying a single night, or multiple!
But don’t worry! Breakfast isn’t served at a ridiculously early hour, so you won’t struggle too much!
Most forms of accommodation will have a time frame for checking-in and getting yourself comfortable in your room. In Japan, they’re known for being quite punctual and respectful of time, but in a Ryokan, it’s even more important that you check-in with enough time.
This is because in a Ryokan, there are specific times for each meal, and specific times for the bathing and other activities, meaning it is vital that you respect the times assigned for each and every one of them.
However, the most important reason for a prompt check-in is dinner. Usually served at around 6 pm, it’s a meal with many courses, that is served in a traditional way and that is an experience in itself.
A lot of time and effort goes into preparing it, so it’s only respectful that you are ready for it with enough time. Basically, don’t be late! Plus, the sooner you check-in, the more time you will have to enjoy the place!
4. Checking Out
Checking-out can sometimes be a bit of a stressful process, as you’ll be trying to make sure not to forget anything on your way out. However, it is good if you are able to remember the basics of etiquette while you’re at it!
Essentially, you should aim to leave everything as you found it on the very first day. It shows that you do not wish to disturb the room any more than necessary, and it shows respect out of you trying to minimize the effort that will later go into cleaning and reorganizing it for future guests.
Of course, you should then also return your Yukata robe, and you should express your thanks for the wonderful stay! It’s pretty obvious, but you just have to be kind and polite!
5. Futon Bedding
Futon bedding is the type of bed that is typical in a Ryokan, and one of the main things that tourists are able to identify about them. The beds are essentially soft mattresses that are laid out on the floor.
Then, during the day, they are packed away to make more room for other activities. You don’t have to worry about setting the Futon bedding up yourself, as it will be done for you. They will also pack the bed away while you’re at breakfast or out and about too!
So, what are the etiquette rules around Futon bedding? Anything you should be careful with? Well basically, don’t act surprised that the beds are on the floor, and don’t complain about wanting a ‘proper bed’.
If you’ve chosen to stay at a Ryokan, it should be fully accepting of its traditions. Besides, although it’s just a mattress on the floor, Futon bedding is incredibly soft and comfortable and will provide you with a great night of sleep.
6. Keeping the Peace and Quiet
Keeping the peace and quiet is perhaps one of the most important rules of etiquette to follow when you’re staying at a Ryokan. The place isn’t just an accommodation for travelers or tourists, it is a place of peace and tranquility, where one can rest both the mind and the body.
If you’re visiting with young children, you might want to consider whether staying at a Ryokan really is the best option. Be mindful of your presence, and always try to keep quiet. No running or stomping around, no shouting or raising your voice, and no disturbing the atmosphere.
There are, of course, some noises that can’t be avoided. And it’s perfectly alright for you to talk. But the general rule is to be mindful of your surroundings and of other people and to treat the place almost as if it is sacred.
7. Onsen Bathing
Ryokans are almost always located next to or nearby an Onsen bathing facility, so going to the hot spring bath is one of the major activities you’ll be aiming to partake in. These bathing hot springs are very traditional in Japan, and they have many rules, both strict and etiquette.
For starters, if you have tattoos, you can forget about enjoying a bath in one of them. Tattoos are strictly forbidden! Although there are a few tattoo-friendly options in some Onsen baths that have adapted to modern times.
Also, Onsen bathing isn’t for you to clean yourself, but rather for you to soak and enjoy the water and the peace. Many Onsen baths will have an area in which you can wash before entering, to ensure that you’re clean.
There will likely be signs with the do and don’t at the entrance. But as basic rules of etiquette, make sure your towel doesn’t touch the water at all. And make sure you remain calm and quiet. These hot spring baths are a palace of serenity and peace. There should be no splashing about and no talking in a loud voice.
8. Taking Off Your Shoes and Rules Related to Luggage
In Japan, it’s a common rule to take off one’s shoes when entering a home. However, a Ryokan is an accommodation for many different people at once, so what are the rules?
If you’re in a rural, more traditional Ryokan, it’s better to be on the safe side and to take your shoes off. If the Ryokan you’re in is located in a more metropolitan area, and it is bigger with a lot more going on, the rules might be slightly different.
It could be that shoes aren’t required to be taken off at the entrance, but rather at your room or in other areas of the establishment. If you’re in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask, as they will be more than happy to inform you so that you can be as etiquette-correct as possible. And if you’re lucky, there might be some signs around to help you out!
What about luggage? Well, Ryokans are characterized by having beautiful and delicate tatami mat flooring. This is why you should always carry your luggage, instead of dragging it along the floor.
Dragging or rolling your luggage could damage the flooring, and it would be considered a great sign of disrespect. If your luggage is heavy, ask for help, but make a conscious effort to always lift it off the floor!
9. The Neighborhood
The Ryokan is a lot more than the establishment itself. It is also the surrounding area and the overall ambient of peace and tranquility that reigns in the neighborhood.
It is a place of rest and quiet, even outside! This means that you should remain quiet when exploring the neighborhood and surrounding areas. Which basically means no shouting or raising your voice, and no running around.
As you will likely be wearing your Yukata, even when going for a walk or exploring, it is also important that you treat it with great respect.
Avoid getting it dirty or spilling anything over it, and keep wearing it appropriately. If it’s warm, you might be tempted to open up the Yukata a bit more, but this would be considered disrespectful as you would then be wearing it wrong!
10. The Yukata
There are always a lot of questions about whether you should or shouldn’t wear the Yukata, and about the different rules of etiquette around it, so we simply had to break this one down.
The Yukata is a traditional Japanese kimono, and it is usually presented to guests when they check-in at a Ryokan. As it is presented to guests for them to wear, it is completely acceptable for you to wear it, and it is actually encouraged! If anything, it might be rude not to, since it was presented to you as a customary gift.
Putting it on in the right way might be a little trickier. The etiquette rules are in making sure you put it on properly, so as to show the appropriate interest and respect for the custom. The Ryokan attendants will gladly help you out, and you can ask them to guide you in the process so that you can wear it as it is intended.
The main rule when putting it on is to fold the left side over the right side. If you do it the other way around, then you’re wearing it in the way they dress the deceased!
Oh and most times, the Yukata will have to be returned upon your check-out, it depends on the Ryokan you’re staying at. If this is so, make sure you return it without having to be prompted and express your gratitude!
Staying at a Ryokan can be a wonderful experience, and it will be as though you’re being immersed in traditional Japanese culture. We can assure you that after your stay, you will feel refreshed and well-rested, as a Ryokan is a place of rest, peace, and tranquility.
Most of the etiquette rules that we pointed out are pretty obvious rules of politeness, and they show basic respect for the place, the culture, and the ambiance.
Following these rules shouldn’t be too hard, and they will make the experience all the better, not only for you but for those around you and for those working at the Ryokan!
So, just to sum it up, here are the 10 top rules that we talked about:
- Checking out
- Futon bedding
- Keeping the peace and quiet
- Onsen bathing
- Taking off your shoes and rules about luggage
- The neighborhood
- The Yukata
There are other etiquette rules, as well as other things to take into consideration if you want to 100% ensure that you’re being respectful.
But most of the time, you will find out about the specifics of each Ryokan on their website when you’re booking a stay, or upon your arrival when they give you all the necessary information!
The more strict rules will usually be on display for tourists to see and be aware of, so all in all, there’s nothing for you to worry about!
Simply be a nice person, be willing to learn, and enjoy your stay!