One Night In: A Japanese Ryokan

Centuries of tradition mingle with an ageless grace. The refinement and simplicity of a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, is the very definition of understated. Between shoji sliding doors and tatami woven floors, the unparalleled hospitality is paired with a ritualistic sense of etiquette. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns, first set up to care for weary travellers on the road from Edo, the ancient capital, to Kyoto. They are an exquisite, sliding paper doorway to Japanese heritage, both architectural and cultural, opening upon immaculate sculpted gardens.

Ryokan, Japan Inside a ryokan

 

A short way away, steam curls off the waters of an onsen, a naturally occurring hot spring formed by the volatile tectonic plates churning beneath the Earth’s crust. The heat radiates from these pools, turning the air to steamy mist punctuated with soft laughter as people slip into the simmering waters. Heat and relaxation soak into your bones for a holistic spa for both body and mind. Kaiseki ryori is certain to follow: this elaborate dinner is characteristic of the almost overwhelming hospitality of the ryokans. Kaiseki developed from the small dishes served at the famous Japanese Tea Ceremonies, and has since become an elaborate multi-course meal based around seasonality of the freshest ingredients and the individual flair of the talented chefs. After a light-hearted but invariably very strong aperitif, settle down at the traditional low tables, cross-legged having donned a Yukata – ready for the procession to begin.

Dinner at a ryokan Dinner

 

A multitude of delicately flavoured dishes pour out from the kitchen in the arms of gentle waiting staff: clear broths or miso soup, high quality sashimi, crisp and piping hot tempura, sunomono - seafood, often shrimp or octopus dressed with an acidic vinaigrette – pickled vegetables, grilled meat or fish, and of course bowls piled high with perfect fluffy rice. This parade is the ideal way to taste the finest flavours of ancient, feudal Japan invariably with a modern twist – a microcosm of the country itself.

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