What Is The Difference Between A Ryokan And An Onsen?

Are you wondering what the difference is between a ryokan and an onsen? 

Are you wondering if they are the same? Different? No clue about it? Don’t worry, I gotchu! 

I’ve been reading so much about holidaying in Japan and kept coming across ryokans and onsens! O__O

It took me a while to figure out what the differences are, to be honest!

As they are usually found in the same places and interlinked in the way they operate, it can be hard to differentiate them (well, it’s understandable if you’re only a tourist).

I’m going to make your life easier by explaining to you what they are, what they offer, and how they are different. 

If you are new here, Hi, I am Aisha Preece ! I am an avid solo female traveller and I love helping other females travel safer and better 🙂

What is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen

So, set aside your confusion and keep reading this article!

What is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen?

Onsen is a natural hot spring in the Japanese language. Onsens usually come without an accommodation facility. However, some are inside accommodation facilities such as a Ryokan. Ryokan is a traditional Japanese accommodation facility. This facility is equipped with many traditional Japanese features such as tatami-matted floors, yukata, futon beds, and others. Many ryokans provide onsens in their facilities for the guests to enjoy the accommodation and hot spring. 

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What is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen


Ryokan Vs Onsen

What is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen? This can be confusing and a persistent question to people who don’t know much about onsens. 

So, to clear your doubts, Ryokan is a traditional accommodation, like a hotel in many ways, but not exactly a hotel because it has Japan’s traditional elements to it.

It offers a place to rest as well as traditional dining. 

They are often found around onsens to allow guests to rest and relax after a good bath at an onsen. 

Onsens are hot spring baths around the Ryokans. They are a bathing facility. Even though they are often found in similar locations, they are two different facilities, and they each offer different experiences to their guests. Not all ryokans have onsens, and not all onsens have ryokans. 

They both can enjoyed at the same time if it’s a ryokan onsen or enjoy only one, which is very much dependent on the type of facility that you are visiting.

Onsen Meaning

What is onsen in Japan? Is it a hot spring, or a bath with heated water?

Well, if you’re confused, well, some of us do, I’m going to explain it to you to make our life easier. 

Japan’s status as a volcanic archipelago is closely tied to the abundance of hot spring sources, known as onsen (hot spring) in Japan. 

Onsen pronounced as “oun-saen” is a geothermally heated spring with water with its unique mineral compositions and health benefits. 

Onsens have been an integral part of Japanese culture and relaxation for centuries.  It’s enjoyed by both locals and tourists for its health benefits and beauty. 

What is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen

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What Is A Ryokan?

What is a Ryokan, then? Is this a type of onsen?

Ryokans are Japanese-style inns found in hot spring resorts. They have been a part of Japanese culture for centuries as they were initially built to welcome samurais, traders, and others who needed rest before continuing their journey. 

Now, these Ryokans are available for you and me to stay and experience traditional Japanese accommodation!

The experience of staying in a ryokan is different from a hotel. 

In a ryokan, travelers get to experience authentic Japanese culture, lifestyle, and hospitality. It’s like living and experiencing a traditional Japanese life like a Japanese. 

Most of the ryokans are small with a few rooms, but some are large and luxurious with hotel-like facilities. 

Ryokans come with tatami-mat rooms, futon beds, multi-course kaiseki dinner, Japanese breakfast, onsens, yukata, and slippers that will give you real Japanese life experiences. 

There are many styles of Ryokans, such as Modern, luxurious, traditional, ryokan hotel, etc. 

Of course, the differences will be in the price, amenities, facilities, and services. The average cost of a ryokan stay is between 15,000 to 25,000 Yen (USD 100.10-166.83). 

What is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen

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Ryokan Onsen Meaning

Don’t get confused now. Let’s put together what you have been reading thus far and you’ll be able to understand what is a Ryokan Onsen.

Onsen Ryokan (Hot Spring Inn) is a lodging facility that comes with communal baths, which may or may not be onsens. 

The facility can come with private, public, and outdoor baths and they can be different from one to another. 

There are a lot of ryokans built around onsens for the guests to enjoy the bath and also to allow guests to rest after a rejuvenating bath and experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle. 

It’s a hotel-like experience but not exactly like a hotel. You get what I mean? 

There are many ryokan onsens in Japan, and you can plan your stay in one of them if you’re someone who enjoys different cultures and nature because most of the onsens in Japan are surrounded by beautiful green sceneries. 

You can choose to stay in a ryokan after a bath or leave after giving yourself a good soak in the onsen. 

Some Ryokan onsens might have different usage times for day-trippers to use their facility. 

If you’d like to stay in an Onsen Ryokan Japan, book a room in a Ryokan instead of a hotel to experience what I’ve just said above. 

What is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen

Selected Onsen Ryokan

Can You Wear Clothes In A Ryokan?

A yukata (cotton kimono) will be provided to the guests. You can wear the yukata anytime inside and outside of the ryokan, ditching your regular clothes. 

It’s an opportunity for you to go about the facility like a Japanese in that yukata!

What is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen

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Ryokan Vs Hotel

What is the difference between a Ryokan and a Hotel, you may ask? I think by now you already know what a ryokan is. 

However, if you’re thinking Ryokan and the hotel are the same, then you are wrong. Let’s take a look at the differences between a ryokan and a hotel: 

A Ryokan is a minimalistic Japanese-style room that has: 

  • Minimalistic tatami-mat room 
  • Change into Yukata (a Japanese-style robe) and slippers when you’re staying (you will change into yukata and slippers when you’re in a ryokan)
  • Onsen
  • Provides a multi-course Kaiseki Ryori (Japanese Haute cuisine) and Japanese breakfast
  • Futon beds
  • A low central table with legless chairs
  • Great hospitality with a Nakai (room attendant) to show you to your room and help you to settle down

Hotels have beds and some basic types of furniture in their rooms.

However, there are luxury ryokans that call themselves hotels and provide rooms with beds (other than futon beds)  and other facilities like an actual hotel. 

It is said that a stay in a ryokan is typically more expensive than a hotel.

Having said that, you can still find a ryokan to stay a night that suits your budget. They come with a wide range of budgets for everyone.  

What is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen

Boutique Japan

What Makes A Ryokan A Ryokan?

So, an accommodation is a ryokan when it has Japanese-style rooms, architecture, and furniture. 

A ryokan has tatami-mat rooms with futon beds. This is to give their guests an experience of living the life of a traditional Japanese person. 

One of the distinct things about a ryokan is their customer service. 

At a Japanese ryokan, staff visits guests’ rooms very frequently to serve tea, and dinner and make futon beds for their guests. 

Chatting between staff and guests is considered normal and recommended at a ryokan because the staff tends to be friendly and informal enough to strike up a conversation. 

What is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen

Boutique Japan

8 Reasons To Stay At A Japanese Onsen Ryokan (Is Staying In Ryokan Worth It?)

If everything that I shared above didn’t convince you, let me give you more reasons why you should stay at an Onsen Ryokan. 

1. Japanese Onsens for health and beauty benefits. The 100% natural onsens are rich in mineral components with incredible therapeutic effects. It is believed that onsens cure illnesses. 

Japanese-style rooms: Ryokans offer Western-style rooms or Japanese-style rooms. However, the reason why you should stay in a ryokan is for their Japanese-style rooms that are full of traditional behavior. 

These rooms are very simplistic, with straw (tatami) floors and sliding shoji screens.

2. Futon Mattress: This is another traditional feature of a ryokan, futon bedding. I know some of you might be thinking about how to make a futon bed because it looks like a complicated job to do. 

But don’t you worry; the attendants (nakai-san) will make the bed for you before you go to sleep and after you have woken up in the morning. 

You can feel strange with this unique sleeping experience, but apparently, futons are soft and have enough cushion to give you a good night’s rest.

3. Multi-course (Kaiseki ryori) Dinner: It is said that food a meal in a ryokan is an experience that should not be missed. 

You get to experience not only Japanese-style accommodation and soak yourself in the magical onsen bath but also ryokan with the best food that features local and seasonal specialties. 

Typically, dinner is offered as a part of the package and will be served in your room on the small table and legless chairs. 

You can expect many small courses starting with miso soup and several other flavourful and tasteful dishes. Yummy! 🤩

4. Breakfast: Many ryokans provide breakfast as part of the package. Breakfast will be served in your room in the morning, but as I mentioned earlier, the nakai-san will come and fold the futon and serve breakfast for you.

Amazing service, isn’t it?

This will certainly be an experience for those who haven’t eaten breakfast in Japan because it will be very similar to a multi-course dinner with multiple courses of fish and rice. 

You might not be a big fan of this type of breakfast, but it’s worth trying!

5. Wear Yukata: A type of Kimono along with slippers will be given to the guests to wear in the guest room and to sleep in. 

This is traditional clothing that has been worn by the Japanese for years. These yukatas come in different colors and designs.

You can even buy one as a souvenir!

6. Japanese Garden: Many Ryokans will have traditional Japanese gardens that were designed with Japanese aesthetics and philosophical ideas. 

You can take a walk in the garden wearing your yukata and enjoy the refreshing breath of air and the beauty of nature. 

This is a moment for you to live in your anime dreams!

7. Their hospitality: We’ve heard so much about how people in Japan are friendly and very happy to help you regardless of whether they can speak English or not. 

You can experience warm and generous hospitality when you’re staying in a ryokan. 

The nakai-sans in the facility will be there to guide guests through their stay, serve green teas and snacks upon arrival, make and put away the beds, and help you with anything that you need help with throughout your stay. 

8. Surrounded by natural scenery: Many onsens are located near some of the best scenic spots.

It’s a perfect getaway for those who need relaxation and some time away from their hustle and bustle lives.

It’s a luxury to enjoy the views of the mountains, cherry blossoms, autumn leaves, snow, and the blue sky. 

What is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen

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Onsen Vs Sento

Next up is Sento! What is a sento? When you thought that this was going to end… 😅 This is it! I promise.

Sento is a Japanese public bathhouse that is gender-segregated and open to all. 

Back in the day, Japanese houses didn’t have baths in their homes, so they went to public bathhouses to bathe. 

These sentos were located in every neighborhood so the locals could bathe and socialize. 

In the present day, of course, there are baths in everyone’s houses, but some still enjoy a sento bathing experience.

Unfortunately for them, a lot of sentos all around Japan are closing down due to modern culture, rising costs, and people having their baths in their homes. 

The biggest difference between an onsen and a sento is the water. Onsen water is natural geothermal heated water, while sento water is artificially heated. 

That’s it, that’s the biggest difference. That’s why sento is a bathhouse that is very similar to the one at our homes. 

The water is not rich in various minerals and has healing and beauty benefits.

However, the rules for using a sento are pretty much the same as the rules for using an onsen. 

What is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen

 Julia Filirovska

FAQs On What Is The Difference Between A Ryokan And An Onsen

Can You Go To An Onsen Without Staying In A Ryokan?

It is possible to visit onsen as a day visitor. Some public onsens are available for day-trippers, and others are attached to ryokan. 

You can check at the front desk and get information about the onsen facilities that are available for day visitors and the operating times. 

What Defines A Ryokan?

A ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn that typically features tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and other public areas where visitors may wear yukata and talk with the owner.

What Is Special About Ryokan?

Ryokans are special because they are traditional Japanese inns where travelers can experience authentic Japanese culture. 

You get to experience the Japanese lifestyle for a day with local food after your refreshing onsen bath. 

Why Can’t You Wear Clothes In Onsen?

You can’t wear clothes in onsen because wearing clothing in the waters of an onsen would contaminate the water. 

Some onsens allow you to wear swimsuits that you can look for if you’re a shy person. 

Do Ryokans Have Private Onsen?

Yes, most of the Ryokans have private onsen. You can choose ryokan with private family onsen or guestrooms with private onsen attached.

All you need to do is check with the ryokan that you’re staying for a private one if you’re too shy to bathe in a public one. 

I think now you can explain to those who are asking what is the difference between a ryokan and an onsen with your newly gained knowledge from this article. 

If you found this article helpful, do drop a comment and let me know. 

Are you planning to get lost in Japan? Check out the articles that I wrote under the related posts to help you. 

There are a lot of ryokan onsen booking websites available for you to book a nice ryokan getaway. 

Hope you will have a wonderful time and don’t forget to have lots of fun and adventure! 

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