What is the difference between a ryokan and a minshuku? 旅館と民宿の違いとは？
Inside a ryokan in Japan.
Often ryokan have a rotenburo, an outdoor onsen.
Oyado Iseya minshuku in Narai
Credit: macknz.smith , Flickr
A traditional minshuku
Traditional inn or guest house?
Japan offers several forms of traditional accommodation. Among them, ryokan and minshuku are very popular with travelers looking for authenticity. Here are their characteristics and their differences.
Ryokan and minshuku are just part of a whole range of accommodation options for travelers in Japan. Aristocrats on pilgrimage, merchants, samurai, monks, pilgrims and tourists have long explored the plains and mountains of Japan. From modest rooms for travelers in Buddhist temples, to the first ryokan offering lodging and shelter in an idyllic setting, this accommodation has evolved over the centuries. Far from business hotels or Western hotels, ryokan and minshuku are a uniquely Japanese experience.
Ryokan: luxury accommodation, Japanese style
Sleeping in a ryokan means taking a trip to a Japan of yesteryear, discovering the subdued and refined world of these unique accommodations that so many poets and writers in Japan have praised.
Ryokan (旅館, literally "travel building") are traditional Japanese inns. There are about 60,000 in the whole of the Japanese island chain.
Often located in nature and near hot springs, the buildings are made of traditional materials, wood and bamboo. Rooms have tatami floors and rice paper partitions.
Arriving at a ryokan is an experience in itself. The mistress of the place, okami, dressed in a kimono, comes to welcome guests personally. Outdoor shoes are replaced with slippers at the entrance. An employee, also wearing a kimono, then takes over from the okami and escorts guests to their room.
Read also: Ryokan customs
The room often includes a small veranda with a nice view. While serving welcome tea and snacks, the employee will inform the guests, with great reverence and multiple bows, of the meal times (usually fixed) and the opening times of the hot spring baths, including alternating schedules for the use of baths between men and women.
Meals (dinner and breakfast) are often served in your room, on a low table. The kaiseki ryori dinner (Japanese haute cuisine) is a feast for the eyes and stomach. The breakfast is also very hearty, and usually consists, among other things, of rice, egg and fish.
Read also: Japanese breakfast
After dinner, a maid comes to clear the table and lay out the futon. The next morning, guests fold them and put them in a corner before breakfast is served.
Ryokan always have common baths (most often supplied with natural spring water). The most luxurious rooms will also have a private bathroom, and even a private rotenburo (outside bath). A yukata is provided to all guests, and can be used as pyjamas or loungewear during your stay.
In general, guests should arrive at a ryokan between 3pm and 6pm (no later, because of the dinner service) and depart no later than 10am. Ryokan are closed at night.
Rates start at around 10,000 yen ($90) per night and per person, half board.
Minshuku: home-style accommodation
Minshuku are the equivalent of guest houses or B&Bs, and there are about 20,000 in Japan. They are usually farms in the countryside or mountains, or fishermen's houses by the sea, sometimes in very remote places, but mostly near hot springs.
Sleeping in this kind of family-run establishment offers the opportunity to live in a typical Japanese home and make contact with Japanese people.
Less luxurious than a ryokan, a minshuku most often has shared toilet and bathroom facilities (with a large bath like at Japanese public baths). In general, there is no towel or yukata provided. Unlike ryokan, guests must lay out their own futon for the night.
Meals (dinner and breakfast) are generally taken together with other travelers, and sometimes one or more family members, at a fixed time. They serve delicious and hearty family cuisine made of local produce.
A room in a minshuku costs between 6,000 and 9,000 yen (between $55 and $80), half board.