Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn dating from the Edo period (1603-1868). They typically feature tatami-mat rooms, traditional cuisine, communal baths, and other public areas. Ryokan are usually located in scenic areas outside the major cities, so that their guests can enjoy natural surroundings. Ryokan serve the purpose of relaxing the body from fatigue of travel.
In a typical ryokan, guest rooms are designed using traditional Japanese style with tatami floors and sliding doors. The doors usually open into a small entranceway where guests must take off their shoes before entering and stepping on the tatami mats. The bedding is a futon which is laid out on the floor. When guests first enter their room, they will find a table and some supplies for making tea. While guests are out, staff (called nakai) will come in, move the table aside, and set up the futon.
Ryokan usually feature a common bathing area, which may be sourced from a hot spring (onsen) or heated tap water (sento). In each room, guests are provided with a Japanese robe known as yukata. This is to be worn by the guests while they walk around the facilities and especially when visiting the baths. Recently, many high-end ryokan have added private bathing facilities to their guest rooms en-suite.
Most ryokan offer dinner and breakfast with overnight accommodations. They boast high quality seasonal dishes and foods local to that area. Many ryokan give guests the option of enjoying their meal in the privacy of their own room, whereas some ryokan have a communal dining area. Meals typically consist of traditional Japanese cuisine known as Kaiseki, which features small dishes of seasonal and regional specialties (vegetables, meat, fish). Ryokan usually have set meal times for breakfast and dinner, or they will ask when the guest wish to take their meals. In order to enjoy each dish freshly prepared, ryokan stress that guests should abide by the appropriate meal times.