Ryokan are traditional Japanese inns; the key difference from a hotel (which in Japanese are ホテル – “hoteru”) being that ryokan will have Japanese-style bedrooms: think tatami mats on the floor and futon to sleep on. Ryokan range from the cheapish to the very expensive; at the best you can expect to be served traditional kaiseki meals in your room, and in resort towns many are attached to onsen (hot spring baths).
Pictured above is just one part of an evening meal at the Senkei ryokan, Hakone – the biggest, and most expensive, ryokan I’ve ever stayed at. It’s an amazing place, with an outdoor onsen bath looking out over the hills – a great experience, but not one I can afford to repeat often, sadly!
If you want to experience something similar at a budget price, though, there are options. I’ve stayed in other ryokan for prices comparable with a cheap business hotel – think £50 per night, which often includes a simple breakfast of toast* and coffee or tea, rice and fish.
In particular, I’d recommend the Ikawa Ryokan in Hiroshima. It’s over to the West of the peace park, and so something of a hike from the station (get a tram if you can), but I found it a friendly, low cost place, and a good base for visiting the city and nearby Miyajima.
* Japanese “toast” is made with the bizarre type of sliced white bread found in Japan – big and puffy. It’s an acquired taste, I’d go with the fish..