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With impeccable accommodations enhanced by kaiseki dinners and onsen bathing, ryokans represent the pinnacle of Japanese hospitality.

Originating in the 17th Century, during Edo period Japan, ryokans are inns that traditionally served travelers such as nomadic samurai and traders along the country’s highways.

Many such establishments still serve such a functional purpose today. Others, however, are much more opulent and a stay in one is a major highlight of many Japan itineraries.

Despite some common features, many of the best ryokans distinguish themselves with design or service quirks, opulence of bathing facilities and by the sheer quality of their food.

With stunning ryokan scattered the length and breadth of Japan it can be difficult to narrow down the selection. Here are some of our picks to help you down the right road.

Ryokan Kurashiki, Kurashiki  

Overlooking the Nakabashi Bridge at the center of the Bikan Historical Quarter, by the banks of a pretty, willow-lined canal, sits this beautiful ryokan. Situated at the center of the waterways and streets of the city of Kurashiki‘s lovingly preserved Bikan quarter, Ryokan Kurashiki is an oasis of elegant calm in the bustling, history-steeped district.

“This is a wonderful ryokan with excellent kaiseki dinners, located right on the charming canal in an adorable little town with narrow windy streets lined with shops and cafes,” says Catherine Heald, co-founder and CEO of Remote Lands. “It pairs well with Naoshima since it’s not too far away (or on the way).”

Zaborin Ryokan, Hanazono

Zaborin embodies the essence of a luxurious hotel experience in perfect harmony with Japan’s renowned subtlety and grace. While it doesn’t overwhelm you with extravagance, it quietly provides everything you could ever desire. This exclusive retreat boasts only 15 villas, each featuring both indoor and outdoor onsen baths filled with the purest volcanic water. Nestled amidst tranquil meadows and pristine forests, Zaborin offers an intimate and secluded ambiance, while granting you easy access to some of Asia’s premier ski slopes right at your doorstep.

“We love the design of the overall ryokan and the rooms themselves, each of which has a private indoor and outdoor onsen,” comments Catherine Heald.

Beniya Mukayu, Yamashiro Onsen

Nestled atop a hill with commanding views of Yamashiro Onsen town in Ishikawa Prefecture, Beniya Mukayu offers a harmonious blend of warm, attentive service and a profound connection with the tranquillity of nature.

The ryokan now stands where a renowned Zen Buddhist temple once thrived, drawing inspiration from the temple’s pure and simple aesthetic to cultivate an atmosphere of serenity and harmony with nature.

This hybrid ryokan has rooms with both tatami mats for guests to sleep on futons as well as thick mattresses on platforms for those who prefer beds. Delicious kaiseki dinners and Japanese breakfasts are a highlight.

Fufu Kawaguchiko, Lake Kawaguchiko

Fufu Kawaguchiko seamlessly combines the unmatched personalized service of a traditional Japanese ryokan with the cozy ambiance of a forest lodge, creating an ideal retreat for guests looking to immerse themselves in the breath-taking natural splendor of Yamanashi.

The establishment skillfully blurs the boundaries between indoor and outdoor spaces.

Its collection of 32 thoughtfully appointed suites offers guests not only stunning vistas of Mount Fuji mirrored in the glistening waters of Lake Kawaguchiko but also the luxury of a private open-air hot spring bath.

Additionally, the floor-to-ceiling glass doors in each suite can be fully retracted, effortlessly transforming the entire room into an expansive open-air veranda, allowing you to fully embrace the surrounding beauty.

Kinosaki Onsen is a fabulous destination, Guests can sample every onsen, each of which is different with varying temperatures, mineral content and design.

Catherine Heald, Remote Lands Co-Founder and CEO

Nishimuraya Honkan, Toyooka

Kinosaki Onsen is one of Japan’s most charming onsen towns. And this is one of its best traditional ryokans. It offers 34 guest rooms, all designed in the traditional Japanese style. Guests at this establishment can indulge in the relaxation of three private hot spring baths and also enjoy complimentary access to all seven public hot springs in the charming Kinosaki Onsen town. Additionally, guests have the option of savoring traditional kaiseki dinners through in-room dining services.

“Kinosaki Onsen is a fabulous destination,” comments Catherine Heald. “Guests can sample every onsen, each of which is different with varying temperatures, mineral content and design.”