Ryokan workers share the little things they appreciate travelers doing before check-out, and the things they’d rather you skip.

When traveling in Japan, a big part of the appeal of staying in a ryokan, or traditional inn, is that spending the night in one gives you a taste of classical Japanese culture. With an elegant minimalism to their interior design and sumptuous multi-course dining, ryokan allow you to experience old-school Japanese hospitality and the tranquil relaxation it aims to provide.

With Japan’s cultural emphasis on mutual consideration, and the underlying atmosphere at many ryokan being that you’re a guest, not just a “customer,” before checking out many travelers feel like they should do something to make things easier for the inn’s workers to get the room ready for the next group that’s coming in. However, it can sometimes be tricky to figure out what sort of guest behaviors are and aren’t appreciated by the staff. So to help clear up some of those quandaries, Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi spoke with a number of ryokan managers and cleaning staff in which four common pre-checkout guest gestures came up, and they found out whether you really should or shouldn’t do them.

1. Should you put all your yukata robes in one spot?

When you check into a ryokan, you’ll always find yukata (lightweight cotton kimono) in your room. Less cumbersome and more comfortable than a formal kimono, and with a simple-to-tie sash, the yukata are provided for you to wear while lounging in your room, and also when using ryokan facilities elsewhere in the building.

So if everyone was wearing a yukata during their stay, should you gather the robes and sashes and set them all in one spot in your room when checking out? Yes, say ryokan operators. If they were used, they’re all going to need to be washed, so assembling them all in the same spot makes it easy for the cleaning staff to bundle them all up and drop them in the laundry cart.

2. Should you fold up your futon?

Ryokan have traditional Japanese interiors. That means tatami reed flooring instead of carpet, and futon sleeping mats instead of beds. When you check in, though, the futons will still be folded up and stored in the closet. At some point in the evening, the ryokan staff will come in and lay out a futon for each member of your party.

When morning comes and it’s time to leave, many guests then fold their futon back up. They don’t put them all the way back in the closet, but they’ll fold them in half, and usually push them over to the edge of the room against the wall. This creates more floor space, and there’s probably a sort of unconscious urge to do this since, in traditional Japanese homes where people still use futons on a daily basis, it’s considered sloppy to leave your futon unfurled all day long.

However, when you’re staying in a ryokan, the cleaning staff would greatly appreciate it if you do not fold up your futon. The mat is covered by a top sheet, and there’s also a blanket cover and pillowcase, and all of those linens are going to need to be washed. That means the cleaning staff is going to need to strip the sheets, and they can’t do that if the futons are still folded up, so it’s better to just leave them unfolded when you leave the room to save the staff the hassle of opening them all back up.

3. Should you put the table back where it originally was?

As alluded to above, the layout of a ryokan room is going to change over the course of your stay. When you first arrive, and the futons are all still in the closet, you can expect there to be a table in the center of the room, but it’s not going to stay there the whole time, since eventually you’re going to need that floor space for sleeping. Unlike the bedsheets, the table doesn’t need to be taken to another room for cleaning, so should you put it back in its original position to help tidy up the room before you go home?

The answer is no. Well, technically the answer is that putting the table back doesn’t help, so there’s no need to do it, but effectively that means that you’re probably best off leaving it alone. That’s because regardless of where the table is, the room’s floor needs to be cleaned after you check out, and doing so is going to require moving the table at least once, so that the staff can clean the section of the floor underneath it. So if you put the table back where it originally was, the staff is actually going to have to move it twice (once to clean underneath it, and once more to put it back in its designated starting spot). In addition, since the table was likely moved out of the way to make floorspace for the futons, putting the table back where it started will probably require you to fold up the futons, which, as we discussed above, is something the staff would rather you not do.

4. Should you leave your room’s door unlocked?

And finally, we come to the very last room-related decision you’ll have to make: Should you lock the door as you head to the front desk to check out, or not?

The ryokan that TV Asahi spoke to say they’d be happiest if their guests left the door unlocked. Since you won’t be coming back to the room before heading home, it’s safe to assume that you’ve already removed all your personal belongings, and while you could supposedly say that locking the room helps protect the hotel’s property, with crime rates being as low as they are in Japan, someone sneaking in to steal the TV or bathroom soaps while the door is unlocked isn’t much of a concern. On the other hand, leaving the door unlocked allows cleaning staff to waltz right in and get to work. This is an especially welcome time-saver in older ryokan that still have physical keys, as opposed to pass cards, since it saves workers a trip to the front desk to pick up the key so that they can get into the room and get to cleaning.

Now, with those four points covered, there’s one other thing to remember. With Japanese culture, and particularly with its more traditional elements, there’s often a preconception that social interactions are rife with opportunities to offend and have your behavior silently judged as shamefully unseemly. In the case of these ryokan pre-checkout scenarios, though, none of them are going to have the staff grinding their teeth and hoping you never come back again, and the fact that even a lot of Japanese people aren’t sure what the best course of action is shows that these aren’t ironclad etiquette rules. They’re simply the ideal, from the ryokan’s point of view, so if you enjoyed your stay they’re a nice, subtle way to indirectly say thank-you to the staff.

Source: TV Asahi via Yahoo! Japan News via Jin
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2, 3, 4)
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!