One of the travel delights is to immerse yourself in local culture and when you are travelling in a stage of your life when you are not backpacking anymore, the experience truly becomes delightful. So on our trip to Japan we decided to stay at one of the most authentic Ryokan (Japanese Inn) in the Takayama located in Gifu, Japan. The Ryokan was called ‘Sumiyoshi’ and is about 3 hours from the capital city of Tokyo.
A ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn that originated in the 17th century. The Ryokan’s used to serve travellers along Japan’s highways. The Japan Ryokan Association estimates that there are more than 1200 such inns around Japan.
This is a shot of a typical room in a Ryokan. The Guest rooms are constructed using traditional Japanese methods: flooring is tatami, and doors are sliding doors. Our ryokan rooms also featured a balcony, also set off with a sliding door. The warm, simplistic and UBER functional architecture of the room completely blew us away.
Our room opened into this hallway. The light and the decor tempted us to walk down and held the promise of a magical discovery.
This Ryokan had tons of 18th century Japanese art. The owner of the Ryokan showed us a vase that was 3 centuries old and she did NOT speak English. It was a universal win for the medium of ‘sign communication’. Most Ryokan’s have a collection of arts and crafts on display, but I bet it was not this impressive.
When we were immersed in 18th century Japanese war stories, the ‘nakai’ (or the staff) quickly replaced the table with the supplies for making tea. The Japanese tea ceremony is well renowned in the world and most hosts take it as an insult if you refuse the tea. When it tasted as good as it did, who in their right mind would refuse?
Next came the meals in the communal kitchen. Doesn’t the picture speak for itself? Most ryokan offer dinner and breakfast, which are often included in the price. This meal consisted of a traditional Japanese cuisine known as kaiseki, which features seasonal and regional specialties. (Kaiseki refers to a meal consisting of a number of small, varied dishes.) Vegetarians have to notify the owners during check in to give them time to prepare the menu. For sea food lovers, there is NO BETTER PLACE . The sashimi was divine and each dish was served at the proper temperature. The best part of the meal was the amazing hostess who did not speak English but managed PERFECTLY to tell us how to enjoy every dish.
That’s us having the gastronomical time of our lives. At a Ryokan, the guests are given the traditional japanese garment, Yukata, which is a casual summer kimono usually made of cotton. That dinner still gets me excited? It was a year ago, we visited this place and I can recall the taste of the food at will.
When we were having dinner, the naiki replaced the tea setting with the bedding. Bedding is a futon spread out on the tatami floor. It was a really comfortable sleeping on the futon. For anyone visiting Japan, we cannot recommend highly enough the experience of staying in a Japanese Ryokan. It is at once comfortable, intriguing, educational, and a divine treat for your tastebuds. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I will do my best to answer.
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Further References and Reading:
Ryokan Sumiyoshi: http://sumiyoshi-ryokan.com/englishgallery.html
Japan Ryokan Association: http://www.ryokan.or.jp/index_en.html
More Ryokan images: http://www.ryokan.or.jp/english/photo/index.html