Ryokans in Japan's most beautiful places

By , November 04, 2016

When looking for hotels around Japan’s world heritage sites and national parks, anticipate mostly smaller, privately run accommodations such as ryokans. As ryokans in Japan are usually family run you should expect only a few rooms like in a B&B. So, if you have a flexible with your holiday calendar toggle with dates for an opportunity to stay within arm’s length of Arashiyama’s bamboo forest.

1. Ryokan with an onsen in the heart of Hokkaido’s Hell Valley

Under 4 hours from the city of Hokkaido, and under 2 hours from Sapporo, is Jigokudani or Hell Valley; the site of the popular Noboribetsu-onsen. You wont have difficulty finding a place to stay as hoteliers know a lot of wellness travellers frequent the area and have responded in kind by providing a good selection of ryokan and hotels.

colorful leaves view at Jigokudani hell valley, Hokkaido, Japan

Where to stay:

Noboribetsu Onsen Oyado Kiyomizuya

The ryokan Noboribetsu Onsen Oyado Kiyomizuya is a 5-minute walk from the Noboribetsu-onsen and has its own baths; one for men, one for women, and an open-air bath for both.

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Things to do:

Besides its rejuvenating, sulfurous, 50 °C onsen, Hell Valley is known for its captivating autum scenescape. The best time to view autumn leaves is from mid-October to early November. The cascade of red leaves coupled with the ever-present fog that hangs over the city earns Jigokudani the nickname “Hell Valley”.


2. Ryokan overlooking the spectacular volcanic Lake Toya

Drive along the coastline from Noboribetsu for an hour and you’ll arrive at Lake Tōya (also known as Toyako). Somewhat reminiscent of the view of Mt. Fuji we’re accustomed to, peeking behind a vast body of water, Mt. Usu is a sight to behold.


Photo credit: jiashiang via VisualHunt / CC BY

Where to stay:

Windsor Toya Resort and Spa

Stay at the Windsor Toya Resort and Spa and you’ll be able to behold that view daily as a guest while bathing in the hotel’s public baths. The view is particularly splendid when the autumn leaves are in their full glory from the end of September to late October.

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Things to do:

Visit the popular Toyako Onsen, located at the shore of Lake Toya, for a fantastic soak and view of Mount Usu. As the lake is a part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, there are loads of outdoor activities to do including hiking alongside craters to the top of Mount Usu, going fishing, and if you want an even more back-to-basics experience – camping.


3. Mount Takao in under an hour from this ryokan near Tokyo station

Mount Takao is located in Hachiōji, a city in the western part of greater Tokyo. You can stay there or, if you want to centre your holiday around Toyko, where the changing colours of price tags from white to a red are more lucrative, then stay at at Ryokan near Tokyo station where you can take the JR Chuo Line directly to Hachiōji (1 hour 20 minutes journey time).

Where to stay:

Hotel Ryumeikan Tokyo 

Just three-minutes from Tokyo station, this Ryokan is ideal for travellers wanting to experience both Tokyo city and hop a train to explore the small towns and nature that surrounds it. Book the Tatami-style suite for an additional experience of the already distinctive city. Within walking distance to the Imperial Palace.

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What to do:

Within an hour of Tokyo’s city centre is the popular hiking destination Mount Takao. It’s the start/end point of the Tōkai Nature Trail, a long distance walkway that leads to Minoh, near Osaka. It’s approximately two times the distance of the Camino de Santiago and usually takes 40 to 50 days to complete. The best time to go is when the autumn leaves are out, from late October to early December.

4. Ryokan near Tenzan Onsen in Japan’s hot-spring capital

Located between Mount Fuji and the Pacific Ocean is onsen town Hakone, one of the top destinations in Japan for locals and internationals alike. Its prime location would get it a thumbs up from feng shui masters anywhere.


Photo credit: KeroroTW via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

Where to stay:

Kijitei Hoeiso

Stay at Kijitei Hoeiso, a 10 minute walk to the Tenzan Onsen (Yumoto’s most popular collection of hot springs), or the ryokan Lalaca, under 10 minutes to Gora Park.

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What to do:

There’s lots to see in Hakone, namely the French-styled Gora Park which has both a botanical and flower garden as well as a tea house. Try your hand at Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) or performing a Japanese tea ceremony if you’ll be in town for a while. The park is also famous for its autumn leaves. The best time to view them is from early November to the end of November.

Once you’ve soaked in the sights, take a soak in Hakone’s most well-known hot spring: Yumoto.


5. Hot-spring hotel in the resort town of Karuizawa near Nagano

You don’t have to be the Emperor of Japan to vacation in the affluent resort town of Karuizawa. An hour northwest of Tokyo, Karuizawa has hot springs, activities such as skiing and golfing, a historic shopping street known as Ginza Street, and Kumoba Pond – the emperor’s favourite spot in Karuizawa.


Photo credit: Jun Takeuchi via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

Where to stay:

Karuizawa Prince Hotel

If you’re weekending from Tokyo, stay at top rated Karuizawa Prince Hotel. Near the Karuizawa Station, and with a hot spring bath, and sauna, the hotel is both well located and well equipped. If you want to get your shop on, there’s also the Prince Shopping Plaza next to the hotel.

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What to do:

Do you already have a lot planned on your trip through Japan but really want to see what’s caught Emperor Akihito’s eye? Since Kumoba Pond is relatively near the Karuizawa Station, you can hop off the train on your way from Tokyo to your next destination for a brisk 20 minute walk around the maple lined-pond. Sounds like the ideal leg stretcher to us, particularly when the leaves start changing colour from the end of November to early December.


6. Ryokan at the Shin Yamabiko Bridge in the magical Kurobe Gorge

When the train pulls up to Kuronagi Station, the first stop along the Kurobe Gorge Railway, you’ve officially crossed over to the realm of make believe. Photographers, the level of scenery is so advanced here that you’ll want to bring many rechargeable batteries within reach. Given its natural, undeveloped setting, the best area accommodations are ryokans.


Where to stay:

Enraku Ryokan Toyama

The best of the area’s ryokans is 5-star Enraku Ryokan Toyama. Located in Unazuki Onsen, the point of departure for trains going through the Kurobe Gorge, the ryokan is an ideal home base for explorers wanting to experience the sites offered at all 3 stations along the gorge. Rejuvenate your sore muscles from a day spent sightseeing with a theraputic massage, a soak in the onsite hot spring bath, and visit to the sauna.

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What to do:

Check out that gorge! From Kuronagi Station to the gorge’s ultimate station, journeyers should hop on and off and explore the areas. If time allows, spend a day soaking in the magic in a riverside onsen. Pictured above is the Okukane Bridge – if you’re only doing one pedestrian bridge, do this one as it cuts right across the Kurobe River and stands a majestic 34 metres tall. Talk about inspiration.

If you can, plan a trip between the end of October to early November when the colours of the autumn leaves will be at their richest.


7. Best ryokan near the Arashiyama bamboo grove in Kyoto

Arashiyama is a forested district on the frindge of Kyoto that’s known for its bamboo forest. If Hayao Miyazaki hasn’t been here yet, when he does we suppose he’d cast it as the backdrop of any new film he’s working on.


Photo credit: kubotake via Visual Hunt / CC BY

Where to stay:

Ryotei Rangetsu

Stay at the Ryotei Rangetsu ryokan which is mid-range, is rated excellent, and is just under 10 minutes to both the bamboo grove and to the area’s most important temple: Tenryuji Temple.

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What to do:

Live the courtly existence by visiting the many Zen and Shinto temples and shrines in the area such as the Nonomiya Shrine that appeared in the Tale of Genji. Also, take in the many wondrous sights of nature that’ve earned it the government designation of “Place of Scenic Beauty”.

Coming up at the end of November is one of the most popular autumn leaf viewing spectacles in Kyoto, let alone Japan. The district is consumed in reddish brown hues through till early December. From the tops of the mountains right down to temple grounds, maple trees are everywhere.


8. The best of Japanese zen gardens at this Ryokan near Nine-Year Hermitage in Kyushu

Kunenan, also known as Nine-Year Hermitage, is a tea-house-style, Edo period house that’s open to the public just 13 days a year – nine days in November for maple leaf viewings and four days in May.

As there aren’t many hotels in Kanzaki, the city where Kunenan is located, maple hunters should stay in the neighbouring town of Karatsu.


Photo credit: gtknj via VisualHunt / CC BY

Where to stay:

Ryokan Yoyokaku

An onsen-style public bath, traditional-style guest rooms, and serene gardens make Ryokan Yoyokaku the most inviting guest house in the coastal city. The ryokan ensures guests have a rich experience of the wonderful surroundings by providing filling country-style breakfasts, Kaiseki and Shabu-shabu.

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What to do:

Visit Kunenan of course! Also known as “Nine-Year Hermitage” in reference to the nine years it took to build, the house is the former villa and garden of a Meji era businessman who invested a lot in the construction of beautiful gardens.

Transportation routes, entrance fee costs and the lot can be found on japan-guide.com