Ryokans, iconic Japanese inns celebrated for their harmonious blend of culture and hospitality, are deeply rooted in Japan's history and customs. Offering a unique glimpse into Japanese living, this property type usually features tatami rooms (‘washitsu’ in Japanese) – furnished with traditional tatami mat flooring – and restorative onsen (hot springs) as their hallmark features.
As each year ends, with businesses and schools closing in Japan, ryokans become centres for reflection and renewal, making them an integral part of the winter season. Guests can cleanse body and mind as they conclude the old year and start the new one, often while enjoying breathtaking views, including the first sunrise for good luck.
To help you discover sought-after havens during the peak winter season and beyond, we've handpicked six must-visit ryokans in Japan. Each promises a one-of-a-kind and immersive stay, allowing you to unwind and rejuvenate in luxury.
In the heart of the city Kaga, Tachibana Shikitei beckons with its Meiji period allure. This venerable ryokan exudes a sense of rich history, featuring meticulously tended gardens, antique furnishings and tranquil tatami rooms.
During your stay, indulge in the tradition of kaiseki dining – a multi-course meal comprised of fresh and locally sourced luxury ingredients – once exclusively reserved for royalty. This culinary delight embodies the Japanese concept of omotenashi, signifying wholehearted and impeccable hospitality. For the ultimate ryokan experience, consider a room with a private onsen.
Tachibana Shikitei's is also located just 30 minutes by car from Komatsu Airport. For those who prefer train travel, Tachibana Shikitei provides staying guests with a complimentary pick-up service from Kaga-Onsen Train Station, which is only a 10-minute drive away.
Perched on a hill with panoramic views of Gero's hot spring area, you’ll find the stunning Yunoshimakan. Whether you prefer soaking in the serene atmosphere of the glorious open-air baths or the privacy of indoor options, your complimentary Yukata (bathrobe) awaits, as this ryokan offers a reinvigorating onsen experience tailored to your preferences.
In the winter, Yunoshimakan is often covered by a blanket of snow, making the mountainous vistas and the Hida riverscape even more magical. The surrounding area also offers various cultural activities and events, enabling guests to engage in traditional Japanese customs, such as tea ceremonies, kimono dressing and more.
Outside of relaxing at this luxurious ryokan, only a short 6-minute drive away, travellers can peruse the local Ideyu Morning Market or explore Gassho Village (‘Gero Onsen Gassho Mura’). Gassho Village is an outdoor museum of ‘gasshozukuri’ farmhouses (steep-roofed houses from the Shirakawago region). Here, you can peek inside the farmhouses, watch cultural reenactments or participate in classic folk art.
If you have a deep connection with water, Hamachidorinoyu Kaisyu in Wakayama Prefecture is the ryokan for you. This hidden gem offers awe-inspiring vistas of the Pacific Ocean from its mineral-rich onsen – gifting a perfect mix of the ocean's natural splendour with exceptional Japanese hospitality.
Find solace in the cosy wooden-clad rooms equipped with conveniences like a TV, humidifier, safe, refrigerator and hairdryer. For a touch of pampering, treat yourself to their massage service, available on request, or simply sit back, with a complimentary plum juice in hand, at the Lounge Shiraho. As part of your journey in Wakayama, seize the opportunity to hike the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails, a UNESCO World Heritage site – a two-hour drive, but worth the journey.
Along the way, a visit to the remarkable Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine is a must. This architectural wonder graces the mouth of the Kumano-gawa River, where waters from the sacred Kii Mountains meet the sea. Continue your aquatic-themed hike by venturing into the Nachi Primeval Forest to marvel at Japan's tallest waterfall, Nachi Falls, standing at an impressive 436 ft.
Zaborin, a stylish ryokan retreat, resides near the snow-peaked mountain of Niseko Annupuri in Hokkaido. Strikingly modern in its contemporary design, it’s also rooted in tradition, offering private onsen, Japanese breakfast and kaiseki multi-course dinner daily.
The staff at Zaborin are renowned for their impeccable service, one previous guest noted that ‘staff members are gracious and thoughtful, going out of their way to make you feel welcome and taken care of. They truly make the experience. The meals, particularly the dinner, were the best dining experience ever. Perfect in concept, quality and taste, execution, flow and service’.
In between onsen soaks, visit the nearby Niseko Village to hit the slopes in style.
Explore the enchanting Suwa region in Nagano Prefecture, affectionately known as 'the belly button of Japan' due to the mesmerising Lake Suwa located at the heart of Suwa City. Sui-Suwako, an intimate ryokan, graces the picturesque shores of the lake. The very essence of the ryokan is embodied in its name.
'Sui’ in Japanese symbolises the flourishing of nature and a commitment to fostering meaningful connections and personal rejuvenation. With just eight rooms, each featuring private onsen and dining facilities, Sui-Suwako not only provides the expected luxuries of a premium ryokan but also presents uninterrupted, spectacular views of Lake Suwa.
As an added bonus, this ryokan has Travel Sustainable Level 2 status and is dedicated to implementing eco-friendly practices to preserve the natural environment. When you choose to stay here, you contribute to offsetting approximately 15 kg of CO2 emissions generated during your visit. As a token of appreciation from Sui Suwako, you'll be presented with an ‘Offset STAY Certificate’ – plus, you’re offered a complimentary drink during dinner.
For deeper exploration, its sister hotel (only a few minutes away), Kamisuwa Onsen Shinyu, extends an invitation to the complimentary 'Suwa Taisha 4 Shrines Free Tour Bus,' also known as 'Shinyu Go.' This popular activity, guided by knowledgeable drivers doubling as insightful guides, delves into Suwa's cultural tapestry and unravels the significance of the iconic Suwa Taisha shrines.
For a family retreat, Onyado Shikishima-kan is the ideal ryokan, located just a 15-minute drive from the thrilling 'New Reoma World’ amusement park. The property has free WiFi, a lift and a 24-hour reception desk, ensuring quality service.
Onyado Shikishima-kan elevates the guest experience with beautifully designed rooms, including amenities like air conditioning, flat-screen TVs and safety deposit boxes. Some rooms even offer private terraces, adding an extra touch of serenity.
Relish a Japanese breakfast each morning before exploring the ryokan's extensive range of facilities, including a sauna, onsen and spa. Beyond the ryokan, more adventure awaits with attractions like Kotohiragu Shrine, as well as the scenic beach of Chichibugahama, which is around a 30-minute drive away.