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Living Like A Samurai At A Ryokan

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We are met by a sweet and smiling woman who greets us with a bow and a “Konnichiwa” (hello in Japanese) at the entrance of the classic and stylish Yamakyu Ryokan in Takayama where we have booked a night.

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The Yamakyu Ryokan in Takayama

A young man comes out and helps us with our bags, while we are kindly asked to take off our shoes in the hallway and put on a pair of bright red slippers before the woman follows us through narrow corridors up to our room on the second floor. We are ready for our first ever Ryokan experience! 🙂

What Is A Ryokan?

A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. You will find Ryokans all over Japan, but especially in the Onsen (hot springs) areas in the Japan Alps and by the coast. There are in fact more than 50 000 Ryokans nation-wide! Ryokans date back to the Edo period (1603-1868) when they served travelers and Samurais along the Japanese highway.

There are many different kinds of Ryokans in Japan, from small family-owned ones with only a couple of rooms to large hotel-like facilities with hundreds of rooms. A Ryokan room typically has tatami matted floors, futon beds (mattresses on the floor) and the guests are provided with “yukata” (summer kimono made of cotton), slippers and tea and biscuits in their room.

Ryokan also typically have public areas where the guests can socialize and talk to each other. Usually, the guests wear the provided “yukata” when inside the Ryokan, also in the public areas.

Almost all Ryokans have common bathing areas, called “ofuro”, with water from a nearby Onsen (hot spring).

A Ryokan is not only a place to sleep; it is a way of experiencing the traditional Japanese culture and lifestyle, and their hospitality. A stay at a Ryokan usually also includes traditional local Japanese food, as dinner and breakfast are often included in the price.

Yamakyu Ryokan in Takayama

The receptionist guides us through narrow corridors beautifully decorated with Japanese art. It feels like we are entering an old Japanese castle and can easily picture the hallways and living rooms full of Samurais! 🙂

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The hallway at Yamakyu Ryokan

The woman stops in front of one of the doors in the corridor and hands over the key. We slide open the door and step into our Ryokan hotel room. The floor is covered with tatami mats, while the room is empty except for a little table with three chairs without legs.

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Our Ryokan room

The woman soon returns to serve us green tea and some small cakes in the shape of “Sarubobo”, a Japanese amulet special for the town of Takayama. Sarubobos are red human-shaped dolls, with no facial features, made in a variety of sizes and materials. Traditionally, sarubobos are made by grandmothers for their grandchildren as dolls, and for their daughters as a charm for a good marriage, healthy children and to ensure a well-rounded couple. The Sarubobo cakes are delicious!

And we even have WiFi in our room, yay! 🙂 Very few hotels in Japan have WiFi (mostly cabled ethernet), so we are pleasantly surprised!

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Tea and blogging time in our Ryokan room

After some tea and cakes, we decided to go for a little stroll around the neighborhood. Just across the street from our room, there is a beautiful temple that we want to have a closer look at.

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A nice temple and garden just across the raod from Yamakyu Ryokan

Onsen

After our afternoon walk in the temple and its surrounding park and forest, it is time to check out the Ryokan`s Onsen! So we put on our yukatas (kimonos) and walk down to the common bath area in the basement.

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This Ryokan has Onsen both inside and outside.

Read more about our Onsen experience here!

Dinner Time

Well back in our room, fresh and clean, it is time for the dinner which is included in the price of our stay. Most Ryokans serve meals in the guests`room, but this Ryokan has a communal dining area. It was nice to dine in a dining area like this, cause then we get to talk to the other guests, and it is social and fun. We enjoyed it very much!

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Cheers!!! Sake from the local brewery in Takayama

Ryokan meals consist of traditional Japanese cuisine known as “kaiseki”, which features seasonal and regional specialties. So our dinner consists of some small, varied dishes of fish, calamari, noodles, meat, vegetables and rice beautifully served on small plates. Here are some of the dishes we had for dinner:

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Kaiseki – Traditional Japanese cuisine

After all the delicious main courses, we even get dessert which is some kind of sweet jelly stuff with milk (a little bit strange), and of course green tea:

It is a delicious dinner with all kinds of Japanese specialties that we would never have tried if it was not for our stay at the Ryokan.

Futon Bed

All full and satisfied, we go back to our room where the staff has laid out our futon beds. The bed is two mattresses laid out on the tatami mat floor, which is surprisingly comfortable.

But to be honest, only Espen sleeps through the whole night. The windows are rather thin, so it is a bit noisy from the outside traffic and in the early morning when the sun comes up the room becomes incredibly bright because there are no curtains. But it is a memorable night! Almost like being on a camping trip! 🙂

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ZZZZZZ – Our Futon bed

Breakfast Time

The breakfast (also included in the price of the room) is a bit similar to the dinner, with several small dishes of different vegetables, soup, fish and meat (both raw and cooked), as well as some western food like yogurt and croissant. Some of the dishes are a bit strange, while others are delicious:

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Plenty to choose from at breakfast

Before checking out, we went for a little walk in the Ryokans small but beautiful garden.

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The beautiful Ryokan garden

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We enjoyed our stay at the Yamakyu Ryokan! It was a nice experience, where we got to see and feel the Japanese culture and least but not all try authentic traditional Japanese cuisine. The highlight for us was the food and the Onsen.

Staying at a Ryokan can be very expensive, so we search a lot and found this which is one of the cheaper Ryokans in Japan, which still has the authentic old  Ryokan feeling and private bathroom. We paid 150 us$ per night for two persons (75 us$ per person) for one night, including dinner, breakfast, and Onsen.

We really recommend a stay in a Ryokan if you go to Japan! I would say it is A MUST when visiting Japan! It is a special and relaxing experience that everyone should take the opportunity to try. It is entirely worth the money!

Check out what else you should do in Takayama in our Takayama Guide


How Much Does Ryokan Cost?

Ryokans can be quite expensive, normally ranging between 15000 and 25000 JPY = 140 – 240 us$ per person per night.

We paid 150 us$ for two persons (75 us$ per person) for one night, including dinner, breakfast, and Onsen. A very good deal! One of the cheapest Ryokans in Japan. Click here to check the latest prices

Where Is Yamakyu Ryokan?

Yamakyu Ryokan is in Takayama City, in the middle of Japan (Japan Alps).

It`s full name is: Oyado Yamakyu Hida Takayama

Address: 58 Tenshoji-machi, Takayama City, Japan

How To Book Yamakyu Ryokan?

Click here for latest prices on Yamakyu Ryokan

How To Get To Yamakyu Ryokan?

Yamakyu Ryokan has a free pickup service, so we called them from the Takayama Train Station, and they picked us up within a few minutes. You can easily get to Takayama city by train.

Travel Guides

We used Lonely Planet`s Japan Travel Guide on our trip. You can get that and other great books by clicking on the pictures below which will take you to Amazon.com (affiliate links):



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Hover over the image below, and press the red “Save” button that pops up:

Living Like A

Have you stayed in a Ryokan? If not, can you picture yourself staying in a Ryokan? Please leave a comment in the comment area below! If you liked this article and found it useful, please share on social media! Thanks! 🙂 

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Written by Maria Wulff Hauglann

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a master's degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. In 2014 while on a year-long trip across South East- Asia, Maria co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads to help others get out and explore the world. In 2018 she left her day job permanently for a life of full-time travel. See our about page for more about Maria.

23 Comments

  1. Wow guys, these photos and post bring me back to Japan. There is so much I loved about that country and I’d go back there right now if I had the chance, I still have loads to experience there like staying in a Ryokan.

    Reply
    • Thanks Franca!! Ah, we really loooooove Japan too! The culture, the people, the food, the temples, the nature…..everything is great! Staying at a Ryokan was one of the highlights of our Japan trip! You should definitely try it on your next visit to Japan! We absolutely loved it! Except for the beds, I did not sleep that good on the floor, hehe. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Your post took me back to my Ryokan experiences and really captured the rhythm of those traditional retreats. Didn’t you love the meals with all the little dishes and tastes?!

    Reply
    • Ah, we loved those Ryokan meals too! Staying at a Ryokan is the prefect way to get to try out different traditional Japanese dishes. Some of them were delicious, while others were a bit too strange and tasted awful, hehe.

      Reply
    • You should definitely include Japan on your RTW trip Leslie! It is such a great country to visit, and a bit crazy too! 🙂

      Reply
    • Staying at a Ryokan is definitely a must-do when visiting Japan! It is the best way to experience a bit of the old traditional Japan and their hospitality.

      Reply
  3. Hi guys! We were already planning a trip to Japan, but this gets me even more excited about it!! Great post! Thanks! 🙂

    Reply
    • You will love Japan!! Especially Buddy will find a lot of fellow friends, and get a lot of attention from the Japanese girls as they love cute things like Buddy!! 🙂 So Buddy: be prepared to be treated like a celebrity and super star over there! 🙂

      Reply
  4. How did you find takayama? I’m planning at the moment and came across your site! We have two nights between takayama and kanazawa, and I’m not sure which, as one night in each place seems a bit too much!

    Reply
    • Hi Michelle,

      We really liked Takayama. Kanazawa and Takayama are two very different cities, as Kanazawa is a big modern city with a population of 500 000 whereas Takayama is more like a village with its 90 000 people. Takayama has kept its traditional charm and feels very authentic Japanese with its present layout dating back to the 17th century. It is beautifully located in the hillside with lots of hillside shrines and temples and rivers that run through the city. There are plenty of museums and galleries in Takayama, and you can easily get around by foot or rent a bike as we did. We also took a bus from Takayama to Shirakawago and the village Ogimachi to see the beautiful farmhouses in the thatched gassho-zukuri style. So there are plenty to see and do in and around Takayama.

      Kanazawa also has a lot to offer: https://nerdnomads.com/kanazawa

      We enjoyed both Kanazawa and Takayama, they are both great cities and I`m sure you will like either one. Have a great trip to Japan!

      Cheers,
      Maria

      Reply
  5. Hi! Loved this post. It influenced me on deciding going to Takayama. Do you recommend two nights at the ryokan or one is enough?

    Reply
    • Hi Dario,

      Wow, great to hear that we inspired you to visit Takayama! It is a great little city! I would say that one night at the Ryokan is enough. Then you can do Onsen in the afternoon, have traditional Japanese dinner in the evening and breakfast in the morning the next day.

      Have a great time in Takayama! You can consider going on a day trip to Shirakawa-go from Takayama: https://nerdnomads.com/guide_to_shirakawa-go

      -Maria-

      Reply
  6. Maria, your website is a wealth of great information on Japan. Thanks so much! Did you have to book accommodations in advance? is it easier to find something when you get to a town? what is your recommendation? Did you use a specific website to book rooms? Sorry, lots of questions, but I need help!! thanks!!

    Reply
  7. Hi Adriana,

    Thank you so much for your nice words about our Japan articles!

    We actually booked all our accommodations in advance in Japan. Both because it is nice and convenient to have a place and address to take the underground or taxi to once you get to a city. And many of the Japanese cities are pretty big, so walking around randomly looking for a place to stay takes a lot of time and is exhausting. Accommodation in Japan can also be expensive, so by booking in advance, we could find a good hotel that was within our budget. Also, English is not spoken by all Japanese, even at some of the hotels they don`t speak English very well so by booking in advance you can just show them your reservation and you will get the keys to your room without any hassle.

    If you are planning on traveling to Japan during high season (cherry blossom season in April and May, and autumn color season in August) you definitely should book your accommodations in advance as the most popular cities usually get fully booked.

    We used Booking.com to book most of our accommodations.

    Have a great trip to Japan!

    -Maria-

    Reply
  8. Hi Maria ,
    Your blogs helped me to plan my japan trip ; i would never have thought of going to Takayama. I have one question , can the ryoku do a fast checkin as we want to visit the Shirakawa-go village . Is it culturally appropriate to ask for a fast check in ; actually just want to keep our luggage and leave . Theck in time in their website is 14:00 , and i am requesting 10:00 – 11:00.
    Thanks again,
    Avithal

    Reply
    • Hi Avithal,

      Thank you so much! Glad to hear that our blog could be of help to you when planning your Japan trip!

      You should just email the Yamakyu Ryokan and ask if it`s ok to put your luggage there (in the reception or luggage room) while you go to Shirakawa-go. If they have available rooms, they might let you check in at 10/11, you should just email them and ask: mail@takayama-yamakyu.com

      There are also lockers at the train station and the bus station in Takayama, where you can store your luggage till you get back from Shirakawa-go. This might be easiest. The bus station has large lockers too if you have big suit cases (the bus station is just next door from the train station).

      Have a great trip to Japan! I`m sure you will love Takayama and Shirakawa-go!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  9. Hello Maria,

    I absolutely love your blog, not only for the information you put in there (which by the way is vast and makes me want to absorb every little piece of it – even the comments) but for the way you put it (how, when, how much, how long). Among all the blogs I have read for our trip to Japan, yours have inspired me the most. We have made a 14 day plan and will be staying in Yamakyu Ryokan on 27th of Aug, so excited for the experience.

    Thank you very much for this blog,
    Kind regards,
    Ezgi

    Reply
    • Hi Ezgi,

      Wow, thank you sooooo much!!! Really appreciate it! Your comment made my day!!! We loved our stay at the Yamakyu Ryokan, hope your`s was great too.

      Happy travels to Japan!

      -Maria-

      Reply

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