First-person look ~ staying in a Japanese Ryokan. What’s it really like?

Photo: Jenss family in Japan

Have you always been itching to find out about certain travel experience that you’ve harbored venturing for one day in the future. These would commonly involve unique travel experiences to different cultures or environments. Take a the Ryokan, for example. For those less familiar, a Ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn that is fashioned like a paper house (and somewhat feels like staying in one!), but promises a truly unique stay experience. Here’s a look at how one family with two young sons experienced it (as appeared in National Geographic’s Intelligent Traveler).


Three of our immersion into the world of Japanese culture brought us to Tokyo, the city that fueled my longing to return to this country after my first visit there some fifteen years ago. Since we had gotten acclimatized to city life from our time in Kyoto (not to mention Beijing and Shanghai the previous month), dealing with crowded train stations, especially the subway platforms of Shinjuku, which are the city’s busiest, didn’t faze us. Besides, the boys were too fixated on the various types of trains that shuttled us around the country to even notice.

So besides zipping around on the Japan Railways, we aimed to find some activities that would strike a balance between kid-friendly and culturally enriching. Sorry guys, we didn’t come all this way to go to Tokyo Disney!  Fortunately, this proved to be far less challenging than I originally thought because Tyler and Stefan were becoming fond of Japan. Furthermore, they enjoyed learning the basic phrases and didn’t seem bothered at all by the language barrier. This proved quite helpful as we headed out on our first day trip in Tokyo.

But while seeking cultural experiences, we had to admit that there’s only so much that will hold the interest of an eight- and eleven-year-old. If Carol and I had been here by ourselves, we surely would have attended the Kabuki Theatre to take in one of the oldest and most traditional Japanese art forms. Instead, we found ourselves in a place called Kidzania, a child-sized replica of a real city that enables kids to learn about the adult world, and the value of money and work, by experiencing various professions. So what could possibly be so culturally relevant about that?  For starters, I must admit that I was growing rather fatigued from continuously asking the kids to mind their manners since we arrived in Japan. After all, this is a country that from early childhood emphasizes discipline and restraint, and nowhere was this more evident than in a children’s entertainment center. With all due respect to American families back home, Kidzania confirmed that the Japanese by-and-large have their children under control and very well behaved, which only added to my anxiety of scrutinizing our children’s every move. Nevertheless, Carol and I were amazed at how well they adapted to the culture. Kids are certainly known for their resilience, but I never would have imagined that they both would be eating several varieties of raw fish, pickled vegetables, soups and noodle dishes by the time we left. Stefan has even gone so far as to say he’d rather eat a meal with chopsticks than a knife and fork.  And Tyler was completely serious when he requested a heated toilet seat for his next birthday.

Inspiration: National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel

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