The famous hot spring spot “Hakone” is well known among the Japanese for its rich nature and natural hot springs.
Instead of hotels, we can find many of Japan’s special form of accommodation – the “Hakone Ryokan”.
Wouldn’t you like to spend your time at a “Hakone Ryokan” if you were to visit Hakone?
To be able to fully enjoy “Hakone Ryokan”, there are several things to take note of.
“What are some things we should know?”
“What should I do if something like this happens?” etc.
Let’s fully understand the rules we should abide by at Hakone Ryokan while we prepare for the trip ahead.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Become an Expert of “Hakone Ryokan” by learning some of these Japanese customs.
We call Experts “Tatsuzinn” or “Tsuu” in Japanese.
You will be respected as someone who understands Japan and “Hakone Ryokan”.
Hotels and Ryokans are different!?
Before learning the rules, I shall explain the difference between a hotel and a Ryokan.
While they are both forms of accommodation, there are differences between the two.
The building of a Ryokan has a Japanese architectural style and is largely made of wood, along with a Japanese style interior design.
Majority of the staff are female, and the female hostess “Okami” and the staff “Nakai-san” will take care of you. There are also places with male staff, “Bantou”.
Basically, the Nakai-sans in a Ryokan will look after the surroundings, carry food to the guest rooms and lay out the mattresses for you.
They will enter and leave the room even when you are not around so please don’t be shocked.
This is service (Omotenashi) that you can only get in a Ryokan.
It is thanks to these Nakai-sans for bringing our food at the right timing that we are able to eat hot food while it’s hot and cold food while it’s cold.
At night, the mattresses are laid out when you return to the room after a bath because of them as well.
Well then, let me introduce the rules to observe at “Hakone Ryokan”.
1. Greetings – Let’s greet properly!
Japan is a very polite country. Greetings are very important here.
When entering the front door, we start with “Konnichiwa”.
You will probably be welcomed with “Irrashaimase” by the staff who have been awaiting your arrival and will most likely notice you coming.
Try calling out “Konnichiwa” if no one is around you arrive at the ryokan.
Also, let’s not forget to say “Sayounara” when leaving, and “Arigatou” when your meals are brought to you.
Hello → Konnichiwa
Goodbye → Sayounara
Thank you → Arigatou
2. Reservations – Always remember to book your Ryokan
Problems will arise if you try to stay at a Ryokan without a booking.
Always book beforehand through a call or the internet if you would like to stay in a Ryokan.
Japan is mostly a cash-based society and some of Hakone Ryokan may only accept cash or may require prior payment, so please confirm the payment methods beforehand.
3. At the entrance – Let’s remove off our shoes at the entrance
Many of “Hakone Ryokan” have a Japanese style, with a wide entrance.
You will not be allowed to go up to your rooms with your shoes on.
Let’s arrange our shoes neatly when taking them off.
The Nakai-sans will help you tidy them up.
There will be slippers prepared for you so please change into them.
There are also some Hakone Ryokans that do not require you to take off your shoes. In these cases, most of the guest rooms have tatami flooring so please remove your shoes before entering the rooms.
Also, slippers are not allowed in guest rooms either so lets leave them outside neatly.
4. At the bath – Let’s not dirty or create a ruckus in the baths
Most of the baths in Hakone Ryokans are communal baths. In order for everyone to have a comfortable and enjoyable time at the baths, we should refrain from acting however we want to.
Firstly, place your clothes in the designated areas. There will be shelves and baskets prepared for you to leave your clothes in. Fold your clothes properly before entering.
We have to carry out “kakeyu” before entering the bathtub. Kakeyu is the act of rinsing your body before entering to prevent yourself from dirtying the water in the communal baths.
Also, you are not allowed to enter in a swimsuit even if you feel embarrassed. Everyone is naked at the baths.
You are not allowed to bring a towel into the bathtub either. This is also to prevent the dirtying of the bath water.
You have to wash your hair and body at a designated area. Please do not stand while showering and instead, sit on the chairs provided. Please take note of this to avoid splashing water onto others.
Also, while the bathtub is big, please do not treat it as a pool and swim in it. This will pose as a nuisance to others.
Most people go to the baths to relax. Let’s make full use of the baths and not create a ruckus inside.
5. Yukatas (Casual summer kimono) – Let’s put on our Yukatas properly
You can freely walk around the Ryokan in the Yukatas prepared for you in advance. At a hotel, it’s considered rude to be in a yukata at the lobby, corridors and other shared spaces. However, this is permitted at shared spaces in a ryokan.
There are no problems with wearing a yukata out, but remember to put on the “hanten (short winter coat)” and dress suitably when leaving the guest room.
If you are unsure of how to put on the Yukata, do approach one of the Nakai-sans and they will kindly teach you how.
6. Bedding – Let’s sleep on the futon (Traditional Japanese bedding)
There are many rooms in Hakone Ryokan that do not have a bed. We sleep on a futon instead. After dinner, the nakai-sans will help you lay them out as it approaches bedtime.
In order to have a comfortable sleep, it would be best to avoid walking on top of the clean sheets that come with the futon.
7. Inside the building – Let’s not create a ruckus or run around
Many of Hakone Ryokans are Japanese-styled buildings. Most of them have thin walls and minimal soundproof equipment. Let’s take note of the noise when opening or closing a door or when walking, and avoid talking in loud voices.
Let’s try to lower our volume especially past 9pm, so as to not be a nuisance to other guests.
8. Japanese-styled buildings – Let’s treat them carefully
We can find lots of “Tatami” and “Fumasu”, signature items of Japanese-styled buildings, in Hakone Ryokan.
They are made of natural materials and are easily damaged if treated roughly.
Dragging things over the tatami can hurt its weaves. It does not like liquids either, so do be careful not to spill any food or drinks on it.
The white paper sliding doors are made of paper, and will tear if treated roughly. Please treat them with care.
9. Eating – Let’s eat with the right posture
It varies according to each Hakone Ryokan, but there are places where you will have your meals at a short table, seated on the tatami.
It may be difficult to kneel in seiza (traditional way of sitting in Japan), but please do not sit with your knees upright, or stretch your legs out.
Let’s enjoy our meals in the correct posture.
10. Equipment – Let’s not bring the ryokan’s property home
You are usually not allowed to bring the things prepared for you at the Ryokan home.
There are places where you will be able to bring things like hand towels with the ryokan’s name on it back with you.
If you are unsure, do check with the staff there.
How was that introduction? You’ll be able to use Hakone Ryokan and have a great time as long as you know these rules. Following these rules, enjoy the hot springs and get your fill of Hakone Ryokan!