What is a Ryokan? An eco-friendly accommodation in Japan

Japan, a country known for its rich cultural heritage and stunning landscapes, offers travelers a unique and eco-friendly accommodation experience: the ryokan. Similar to the hanok in Korea, a ryokan is more than just a place to rest your head; it’s a connection to Japan’s history and nature.

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Ryokan as part of Japan’s cultural heritage

When you step into a ryokan, you step back in time. These traditional Japanese inns have been around for centuries, with their origins dating back to the Nara period (710-794). The term “ryokan” itself means “inn” in Japanese. Originally, ryokans served weary travelers on their pilgrimages to temples and shrines. Over time, they evolved into spaces where guests could immerse themselves in Japanese culture, offering tatami-matted rooms, sliding paper doors, and exquisite Japanese cuisine.

The ryokan is deeply rooted in the culture and aesthetics of its country. The architecture emphasizes harmony with nature, and its design principles are in line with Japanese aesthetics, promoting tranquility and simplicity.

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Eco-Friendly Features of Ryokans

Ryokans are built using natural materials, including wood, bamboo, and rice straw. These materials are usually locally sourced and contribute to the serene and natural ambiance of the space.

Ryokans are designed to minimize waste and energy consumption. Traditional Japanese design includes shoji screens, which allow for natural light to fill the rooms, reducing the need for artificial lighting during the day. Many ryokans have also adopted modern eco-friendly technologies, such as energy-efficient heating and cooling systems and water-saving fixtures.

The use of tatami mat flooring in ryokans is not just an aesthetic choice; it’s also a nod to sustainability. Tatami mats are made from natural materials such as rice straw, giving them excellent thermal insulation properties. They help maintain a comfortable room temperature while reducing the need for energy-intensive heating and cooling systems.

Additionally, ryokans are renowned for serving kaiseki, a multi-course meal that highlights seasonal ingredients. This culinary approach minimizes food waste and supports local farmers, contributing to a more sustainable food ecosystem.

Finally, ryokans are often family-run businesses deeply embedded in their local communities. When you stay in a ryokan, you’re not just a guest; you’re contributing to the livelihoods of local families and supporting the preservation of Japanese traditions. Many ryokans source their ingredients for meals locally, promoting the sustainability of regional agriculture and fisheries.

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Onsen: The Thermal Baths

No discussion about ryokans would be complete without mentioning onsen.  Many ryokans offer access to natural hot springs, or onsen, which are not only a source of relaxation but also a testament to Japan’s volcanic landscape. These mineral-rich hot springs have been a part of Japanese culture for centuries, believed to have healing properties for both the body and soul. The practice of soaking in an onsen is a quintessential Japanese experience, and ryokans often have their own private onsen baths for guests to enjoy. These baths are a quintessential Japanese experience and are heated geothermally, reducing the need for artificial heating methods.

In conclusion, a stay at a ryokan is not just an eco-friendly accommodation option; it’s an immersion into the rich tapestry of Japanese culture, history, and nature. By choosing to experience a ryokan, you not only reduce your environmental footprint but also support local communities and traditions that have stood the test of time. So, when you plan your trip to Japan, consider adding a ryokan experience to your itinerary for a truly unforgettable and sustainable journey.

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The Oldest Ryokan: Hōshi

If you’re seeking authenticity and historical significance in your ryokan experience, consider visiting Hōshi Ryokan. Located in the Ishikawa Prefecture, Hoshi Ryokan holds the title of being the oldest continuously operating ryokan in the world. Its history dates back over 1,300 years, and it has been run by the same family for 46 generations. Staying at Hōshi Ryokan is not just about comfort and luxury; it’s about immersing yourself in centuries of tradition and Japanese hospitality

Explore more traditional accommodations in Japan

Minsuku, a traditional Japanese guesthouse, is another eco-friendly accommodation option that reflects Japan’s commitment to sustainable living. These cozy family-run inns typically offer an intimate and authentic experience for travelers. Minsuku owners often take pride in preserving their local environment, with many using energy-efficient lighting, minimalistic furnishings, and embracing the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle. Additionally, guests are encouraged to savor homemade, locally sourced meals, further supporting sustainable agriculture and reducing food miles. Minsuku not only allows travelers to enjoy the comforts of Japanese hospitality but also provides a unique insight into the eco-conscious way of life in Japan.