I stayed at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. I didn't have a bed frame, but I still preferred it to a Western-style hotel.

I stayed at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. I didn't have a bed frame, but I still preferred it to a Western-style hotel.
  • I stayed at a ryokan, a Japanese inn with a tatam-mat floor, futon mattress, and bath.

  • Although sleeping on the floor hurt my back, the room was very peaceful and I loved the breakfast.

  • Staying at a ryokan was a nice break from Tokyo and I preferred it to a Western-style hotel.

While on my honeymoon, I traveled to Japan and took the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto.

As Japan's former capital city, the historical area is known for its Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. While there, my husband and I stayed at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn.

Ryokan are possibly one of the oldest forms of hotels, dating back centuries. They can be found throughout Japan.

Although the types of ryokan can vary, most include a tatami-mat floor, futon mattresses without a bedframe, communal or private baths, and multi-course Japanese meals.

Our ryokan was modern with a nod to tradition

Image from the street of an off-white and brown building. There are rows of windows with small balconies, a tall fence on the ground level with an opening by the entrance, and planters in front of the fence with green bushes in them. Behind the fence is a wall with a wooden sign that has the hotel name written on it.
Entrance to the author's ryokan, Sakura Urushitei.Courtesy of India Kushner

The ryokan my husband and I stayed at was called Sakura Urushitei and was located in Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto.

The building itself looked modern but had curved Eastern-style eaves on the first two floors and a small Japanese-style garden to the left of the entrance.

The lobby was modern, but everything was made of wood and featured display cases with lacquerware, as well as Japanese ceramics and art.

A collage featuring two images. On the left is a painting with a gold background featuring an image of bamboo stalks and white cranes. On the right are a series of orange wooden gates over a stone walkway leading to an entrance to a building.
The decor in the ryokan.Courtesy of India Kushner

Our room, which was in an adjoining building, was "Sukiya-style" — a type of architecture that uses rustic materials and mimics natural surroundings.

On our way, we walked past a wall of beautiful Japanese art, then several orange torii gates.

Our room was minimalist and made with natural materials

A photo of two wooden chairs without legs resting on the tatami mat floor around a small wooden table. Opposite, in the right corner of the room is a small alcove with a shelf that has a wooden box and below that two sliding cupboard doors. The walls are white with a thin carved wooden tree running from ceiling to floor. The ceiling is made with bamboo beams.
The author's room.Courtesy of India Kushner

As is common in Japan, we took our shoes off when entering our room, left them by the entrance, and put on the slippers that were left for us to wear.

The space was fairly small with a short table and chairs without any legs. The overhead light was covered with a shade that looked like it was made out of paper and there was also a small lamp on the floor.

The room itself was made out of natural materials and felt very minimalist but serene and comfortable.

Our room also didn't have a TV, which felt a bit like an escape from constantly being surrounded by screens.

Sleeping on the floor was a little uncomfortable but surprisingly cozy

Photo of India Kushner sitting at a small wooden table wearing red earrings in the shape of a flower and a blue cotton robe with a floral abstract print. India has dark brown hair pulled into a ponytail and dark brown eyes. Behind her is a small lamp on the floor.
The author in her Yukata robe.Courtesy of India Kushner

On the left side, we found a small closet containing our bedding and two Yukata robes made from cotton. There was also a special corner of the room to place our luggage so it didn't damage the tatami mat.

When it was time for us to go to sleep, we unrolled our futon mattress, covered it with a sheet, and put the duvet on top.

Since the room was so small, we had to move the table and chairs out of the way, but they were so lightweight, it wasn't much of an issue.

A Japanese-style futon bed on a tatami mat floor next to a small floor-level window. The bed has a colorful duvet cover on top.
A Japanese futon bed.Courtesy of India Kushner

Although the mattress was a little thin, it was surprisingly cozy and comfortable.

However, because I have lower back issues (a perk of being in my mid-30s), I don't think I could sleep like this every night.

This sleep style is somewhat common in some parts of Japan, and I wonder if my body would've adjusted if I'd slept like this for a longer period of time.

After all, some research suggests there are numerous benefits to sleeping on the floor.

For example, some soft mattresses can allow your spine to curve and cause back pain. A firmer mattress — or a thin one on the floor — may help keep your spine neutral.

Plus, using a futon mattress that you can roll up and store during the day is a great way to save space.

Our private bath was inviting and hot — but maybe a little too hot

A room with black stone tiles on the floor and walls. On the left side of the room is a deep bathtub with turquoise tiles and a wooden edge. There is water coming from the tap. To the right is a small wooden stool with a wooden bucket on top, a metal shower tap, and three bottles. There is a window to the left of the bathtub. Outside is a small stone lamp with light coming out.
The private bath at the ryokan.Courtesy of India Kushner

Many ryokans feature a private onsen, also called a hot spring or bath, that guests can reserve for multiple people at once.

The one at our ryokan wasn't a hot spring, just a regular bath, and could be rented for 40 minutes for the equivalent of $4.

Since my husband and I saw another couple wearing their robes right before entering the bath, we did the same, although it felt a little strange walking around the lobby in them.

Guests are encouraged to rinse off before a bath, so the room includes a shower, a short stool to sit on, and a wooden bucket to pour water over your body.

The bath itself was scalding hot. Despite loving hot showers, I couldn't manage more than a few minutes with just my feet in the water.

I'm unsure if we were supposed to, but my husband and I used the bucket to add cold water from the shower.

Once the water was at a more manageable temperature, we were able to submerge ourselves and found it very relaxing. It still was quite hot, and I actually had to take a break and get out a few times.

After the bath, I was extremely sleepy and ready for bed.

As with many places in Japan, we had to pay extra for breakfast

A picture of a tray with various bowls containing a piece of salmon, a Japanese omelet, shredded daikon radish, miso soup,  greens, seaweed, broccoli with sesame seeds, carrots and tofu and rice. At the bottom is a set of chopsticks on a wooden chopstick rest.
The author's Japanese breakfast.Courtesy of India Kushner

At our ryokan, we were given the option of Japanese breakfast, American breakfast, continental, or fruit and granola.

My husband and I chose the Japanese breakfast for our entire stay.

The main dish had a piece of grilled salmon, grated daikon radish with a sauce on top, and a small Japanese omelet.

We got miso soup and many small bowls featuring local greens, seaweed, steamed broccoli with sesame seeds, carrots and tofu in a light sauce, and rice.

Breakfast was delicious. Despite how much food we were given, it was very light.

The back pain was worth the unique cultural experience

My stay at the ryokan was very different from a traditional hotel.

Although we could've opted for a typical Western room, I was excited at the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the local culture.

The ryokan also offered cultural workshops, like a tea ceremony and sake tasting, but we didn't get to try any.

Still, despite the slight back pains, I'm also glad we were able to try the Japanese-style beds.

If I lived in a big city like Tokyo, I could see how coming to a place like this would feel rejuvenating and relaxing.

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