Q&A website explains the good and the bad of hotels and traditional Japanese inns

For many of those who work in Japan, long holidays are few and far between but one of those periods, the obon summer holidays, when every office worker and their dog takes to the beaches, hotels and roads of Japan, is almost upon us. For those staying in Japan who aren’t travelling back to their hometowns to pray to their ancestors or dance and enjoy local festivities, the big question is whether to go for a hotel or a ryokan Japanese inn.

To get closer to the reasons Japanese travellers pick one over the other, we’ve compiled answers to the question ‘Ryokan or Hotel?’ from Japan’s biggest Q&A website, Oshiete! goo.

The Question:
User wao2323 asked, ‘If you’re staying somewhere, which do you prefer? For me, it’s hotels. Simply put, I feel a greater sense of freedom there.

The Answers:
User gonta-99:

Ryokans. Not only is the food there delicious but you can enjoy the baths. I even really like the corridors in a ryokan, looking at things like the names of the rooms, some of which are pretty unusual. I also like the tatami bamboo mats on the floors and the way you can roll around the room after they put out your futon for you. If I’m going somewhere for sightseeing I’ll stay in a hotel but with a ryokan I can just enjoy the stay and strolling round the local area.

Gonta-99 is far from the only one to enjoy ryokan as a place to visit in itself, where guests can relax and enjoy the sumptuous meals, characteristic rooms and the hot spring baths often attached.

User s-401:

Hotels. The biggest reason for me is not sleeping on a futon on a tatami floor. It’s also because I’m not really interested in the baths – I want to be able to eat when I actually want to eat rather than at a set time, and I’m a bit chuffed to be able to use fancy shampoos and soaps and things from brands like L’Occitane en Provence.

The main advantage of the hotel seems to be the freedom, as guests can come and go as they please without feeling constrained by set meal times or having to sleep on the floor, which is not to everyone’s taste.

User iscreamy:

I’m for hotels, too. It’s just so much easier to stay in one, isn’t it? I actually quite like those cheap hotels aimed at people travelling on business; the ones in Japan are really clean.

Certainly, it’s a lot easier for solo travellers to stay in a regular western-style hotel than it is to stay in a ryokan. While cheaper hotel rooms may verge on the cramped or cosy side, compared to a ryokan’s more expansive rooms, they’re cheap and cheerful and increasingly popular with non-business travellers.

User hyakkinman:

Ryokans. At a ryokan there are so many chances to chat to the proprietors, the staff, and other guests. The huge baths are another major plus point. Then, after eating dinner in your room, I love it when someone comes to tidy up the dishes and make up your futon for you.

With plenty of opportunities to meet and talk to other people, the ryokan has a warmth that hotels often lack, especially in the baths where nothing gets people talking like being naked around strangers, especially if one of them stands up a little bit too quickly from the near-scalding water and gets all dizzy. Not that that has ever happened, ahem.

User petunia:

Put me down as one for hotels. Stay in a ryokan and you’ll get to have your meal in your room, but the waiter or waitress will be in and out of your room like it’s got revolving doors; it feels like you’re staying at someone’s house so you can’t really relax. You also feel guilty for having someone come and lay out the futon for you.

The ryokan’s warmth has its downsides, too. While, in my experience, the staff at ryokan have always been happy to natter away and tell you all about the local area and the gorgeously presented feast they array before you, for those who would rather have some time to themselves, it can be a bit of an intrusion. With a hotel, there’s far less contact with members of staff, meaning you don’t feel the need to make an effort in your own room.


I would choose ryokans. Recently, most hotels have western-style bathrooms with the toilet and bathtub in the same room, and in many cases the bath isn’t all that big. I want to be able to soak in a bathtub as big as the bathroom itself.

User yuyuyunn:

More and more people split it by destination – if you’re going to an area with onsen hot springs, the answer is a ryokan; for other places, they go to a hotel. Although, certainly there are people who go to one or the other just to stay there.

For Japanese people, or those who have been in Japan for a while, travelling within the country might be less about going somewhere in particular than about getting away from their home and work lives, with hotels or ryokan providing an opportunity to stay somewhere luxurious or just relax in your room without all the distractions and housework you would have at home. Even not having to cook dinner, wash the dishes or make up the bed is a little luxury in itself.

User cosomo7:

When I go somewhere on business, I spend weekdays in a single room in a hotel, but at the weekend I stay in a ryokan. In the hotel you can do stuff like use the Internet so it’s not a problem staying there but if you’re going somewhere for nearly a fortnight, you get fed up with the food and you can’t spend the whole day there, whereas you can with a ryokan or minshuku guesthouse. They both have their good and bad points.

Of course, the choice for someone holidaying in Japan might be a very different matter, and would likely come down more to budget. While the category ‘hotel’ includes a wide range of hotel types, from the cheap and cheerful ‘business hotels’, to capsule hotelslove hotels and through to palatial accommodations, ryokan lodging also comes in all shapes and sizes. For a real experience of travelling in Japan though, at least one night in a ryokan is highly recommended.

For this particular writer, the choice of hotel varies by season and budgeting success, but a birthday treat each year sees a relaxing stay in a ryokan with a rotemburo bath and a pile of books. Take from that what you will.

Which camp do you fall in?

Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1,2,3,4,5)

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