Do’s and Don’ts While Staying in a Traditional Japanese Ryokan

On the hunt for expert tips for a vacation in Japan? Youve come to the right place.
On the hunt for expert tips for a vacation in Japan? You've come to the right place. | Su San Lee / Unsplash
Christine Bagarino

Those seeking an authentic stay in Japan should look no further than a traditional ryokan inn. With their tatami guest rooms, hot spring baths, and traditional cuisine, ryokan provide a quintessentially Japanese experience paired with an impeccable level of service and hospitality known as “omotenashi”, which makes for a truly luxurious visit. Here are 10 do’s and don’ts for staying at a traditional ryokan inn.

Do be on time

Punctuality is highly valued in Japanese culture. Make sure to arrive to the ryokan at the time specified in your reservation, be punctual for your time slot if you’ve booked a private bath, and be ready for dinner at the scheduled hour. Meals are served course-by-course to every guest staying in the ryokan, so being late can disrupt the dinner service. In the morning, your futon will need to be cleared away by the ryokan staff so that breakfast can be served in-room, so make certain you’re up and ready before they arrive.

Do put the yukata on correctly

Do let the ryokan staff know if you have any special dietary requirements

Ryokan are known for their elegant multi-course meals featuring the traditional cuisine of Japan, known as kaiseki, served either in-room, in a private dining room, or in a dining hall for larger establishments. The menu typically highlights local dishes of the region and are made with seasonally available ingredients. Because the menu is fixed in advance, you should notify the ryokan before your stay if you have any food allergies, particularly wheat, soy, seafood, and egg as these are all widely used in Japanese cuisine. While veganism and vegetarianism still aren’t very common in Japan, it doesn’t hurt to ask in case the ryokan is able to accommodate you.

Do cover up tattoos when using the onsen

One of the primary reasons to stay at a ryokan is to enjoy the onsen, or hot spring baths. Many hot springs have strict “no tattoo” policies as tattoos have historically been associated with crime in Japan. Now, some onsen are beginning to make exceptions for non- Japanese visitors as foreign tourism increases. However, if your tattoo is small enough, it’s polite to cover it up with a bandage, especially when sharing the onsen with others not in the same party.

Do make use of private bath time

If you’re bashful about bathing with strangers, many ryokan offer private bath times for your exclusive use of the onsen facilities. This is done either by reserving a time slot for the bath when you arrive or by asking for the key at the front desk. A private bath is a good option for families or for those with extensive tattoos.

Don’t wear your shoes indoors

In Asian cultures, it’s polite to remove your shoes when entering a home, and the same goes for Japanese ryokan. When you arrive, you’ll receive a pair of slippers to wear around the facilities. Make sure to remove these slippers when you get to your room, as the tatami flooring is made of straw mat panels and should only be trodden on barefoot or in socks.

Don’t place your luggage on the tokonoma

In your guest room, you’ll find a decorative wooden alcove called a tokonoma. Although this may seem like a good out-of-the-way spot for your luggage, you should refrain from placing anything here as the tokonoma is made for admiring, not storage, and can be damaged by a heavy suitcase. Similarly, don’t roll your luggage across the tatami as it can damage the straw mats.

Don’t wear the bathroom slippers around the ryokan

Ryokan often have shared restrooms, as private in-room bathrooms are typically reserved for only the most expensive tier of guest rooms. Leave your ryokan slippers outside of the restroom, and switch to the bathroom slippers found just inside the doorway. These are usually rubber or plastic slippers, or traditional wooden sandals called “geta”, and are only meant to be used inside the restroom. Take care not to accidentally walk out of the restroom wearing these bathroom slippers –it’s more common than you think.

Don’t take any clothes or towels into the bath

You wouldn’t wear clothing or a towel into the shower, and the same goes for a hot spring bath. Before getting into the onsen, you can use the small towel provided by the ryokan to scrub your body while showering or to cover up for modesty when walking around the bathing area. However, this towel should not be immersed in the hot spring itself. Most people set the towel to the side before entering the bath or fold the towel and place it on top of their heads.

Don’t miss a meal

Room and board are factored into the price of the stay, and the ryokan prepares and painstaking delivers meals course-by-course to every guest, so missing a meal is inconsiderate to the staff and means that both food and effort go to waste. If you’ve made dinner reservations elsewhere, it’s best to look for a breakfast-only plan for your ryokan stay.

Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article