Written by Morgan Stone, (Texas Tech University) Student Correspondent CET Japan, Fall 2016
Whether you’re a fan of traditional-style lodging or not, you can’t deny that it absolutely brings you closer to a culture, and makes you a part of it in a way that sightseeing simply can’t. This past weekend, I got to take an overnight trip with my CET program to Okayama, where after a full day of exploring the area, we had the opportunity to stay at a ryokan, or traditional style Japanese inn. As someone who had never stayed in one before, allow me to share the main joys of this unique and traditional experience.
Dinner: Who doesn’t love food? In this case, washoku, or traditional Japanese food. As we entered the hotel, we were shown to a large tatami-mat covered room, where rows of short-legged tables and sitting cushions awaited us. After everyone had sat down, the tea was passed around, and wait staff began bringing bowl after bowl of wonderfully delicious washoku, including tempura, sukiyaki, and miso.
Onsen: Onsens are traditionally “hot springs”, but thanks to modern technology, we can enjoy one without the natural spring! Ryokans in particular take care to have nice, relaxing, and spacious onsens, as it is typically a point of pride, and something guests look forward to visiting. Japan is very particular about bathing, so before you can even get into the baths, you must first wash yourself entirely in a nearby shower area, so that the hot water can be clean for everyone. The baths are often mineralized and good for the skin, and are a wonderful place to relax after a long day. Some onsens even have a spring in an outside area, so if you visit in the fall like me, the cold air and hot water are a wonderful combination.
Futons: The rooms guests stay in are a wonderful representative of traditional Japanese style, with a tatami-mat covered floor, sliding paper doors, shoe and slipper area by the door, small floor furniture, and a sitting area. But in addition to that, of course, are the futons! A futon is a traditional Japanese bed composed of a mat, a sheet to cover it, and a huge, fluffy comforter. Guests can lay their futons out themselves, or request staff to do it before arrival. In the morning, the futons can be easily folded up and stored out of the way so the room can be used in the day. In case you are a sleep diva and think “no, way! I need a mattress!” I assure you, the futons were incredibly comfortable and not to mention, very fluffy.
Friends: A trip like this, of course, would be nothing without friends to enjoy it with! All of the friends I’ve been able to make this semester, both CET students and Japanese roommates alike, enjoyed the hospitality and unique experience of the ryokan together. That night before bed, everyone found themselves in one of the rooms, playing card games and just generally enjoying the time off from studying.