My First Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Inn)

Upon entering this picturesque Ryokan (4 hours outside of Tokyo) and seeing the vast rows of slippers, I thought quietly to myself….maybe, just maybe they might have something for a size 12 USA (46 Europe) foot. I soon found out there was nothing even close.

The welcoming staff, dressed so elegantly, made us feel special from the start.  They showed us our room, the onsen (hot springs) locations and all the other particulars. I understood very little despite studying the language currently, although my wife took it all in well as her Japanese (especially understanding) is much better than she would admit.

It wasn’t long before we were outdoors, exploring the lovely nature surrounding the Ryokan. The powerful sounds from the creek were refreshing and would provide us with perfect sleeping conditions later that night. A short 2 km (1.2 miles) climb was next, which was exactly what we both needed. We were alone in the woods, the sun was shining and the air was remarkably fresh.

Back at the Inn, we wasted little time getting to the onsen; which was peaceful, soothing and a wonderful way to relax before dinner. In the early evening, we were served a healthy and traditional dinner (a variety of 20+ dishes), made with fresh ingredients from the local area.

We slept for 8 hours, although we were tossing and turning at night as the mattress on the tatami (straw flooring mat) made it quite firm. The next morning I arose at 6:00am, in order to get a taste of the outdoor onsen before it closed at 7am for men. It was total bliss, with the wind still and the sky a cloudless blue. The vast assortment of trees made the moment even more magical.  Matilda was there shortly after 7am when it changed to ‘women only’.

After an early breakfast (again a multitude of dishes - fish, soup, rice, pickled vegetables, etc), we took a quick walk, enjoyed green tea by an open fireplace and departed at 10am. With the local bus taking us to the Shinkansen (bullet train to Tokyo), the spectacular weather and views of the Japanese countryside were plentiful.

There were a few mishaps, which were only due to my carelessness. At numerous places inside the Inn, the beams were only 183-185 cm (6 feet), so the top of my head hit them at least 3 times. Once the force was so strong that it knocked me over – at which Matilda couldn’t stop laughing. Fortunately, I move at “The Speed of George” (slow) so the damage was only minimal. It was difficult adjusting to frequent ducking, as I rarely encounter low beams in Tokyo.

Getting to the Inn was a combination of the aformentioned Shinkansen, local bus and a hitchhike, as there were no taxi’s or buses for the last part of the journey (about 5 km), so we were fortunate to get a lift from a kind lady at the local post office. Along the way, we met (and conversed) with a nice Japanese couple who reside in Berlin. 

Although short, it was my first Ryokan experience and one I had been looking forward to. To be child-free and spend quality time with my dear wife was fantastic. We could have easily stayed for a few more nights.

The expat life is full of interesting experiences and this 24 hours will be high on that list. 

Happy Gswede Sunday! 

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