17m 04s

Enjoying a Japanese ryokan

Living in Japan

Broadcast on August 7, 2022 Available until August 7, 2023

For visitors to Japan, and international residents too, staying at a traditional inn is often high on the list of things to do. In the main section of the program, guide Daniel Moore explains how to enjoy a ryokan. The staff may be quick to forgive mistakes, but tourists can show their respect by finding out, in advance, some common practices. After listening to Daniel, you’ll know what to do. In the latter part of the program, mountain guide Brent Potter tells us about the appeal of Mt. Fuji and some precautions that climbers should take.

photo
photo
【Guest for the mein section】 Daniel Moore: Private guide based in Nagano Prefecture
photo
【Guest for the latter part】Brent Potter: Guide for Mt. Fuji
photo
Brent's sunrise photo of Mt.Fuji

[Transcript]

Living in Japan. Hello, everyone. Thank you for tuning into our show. I'm Ruth. I'm Stuart. Living in Japan is a program for international residents in Japan, whether now or in the future.
Yes, we share hints and tips to make the most of your life in Japan.
 
In Japan, many people take their summer vacation around August 13 to 15th. This period is called Bon and is used to welcome the spirits of the ancestors. During the Bon vacations, people usually return home, visit the graves of their ancestors, and go on trips and leisure activities.
 
This year again, unfortunately, depending on the status of the spread of COVID- 19 infections, it may be difficult to enjoy summer vacations to the fullest. But many people may want to enjoy traveling Japan once the situation settles down.
 
Yes, and Japan was named the world's most attractive tourism destination in 2021. This was a ranking released by an independent international organization called the World Economic Forum. That's a big deal.
 
It's a big deal. Huge. I hope people from all walks of life will enjoy their travels in Japan.
Yeah, so do I. And the one thing you should definitely experience when you travel to Japan is a uniquely Japanese inn or ryokan. So today, we are going to show you how to enjoy a Japanese ryokan.

HINTS FROM SENPAI

It's time for our main section, Hints from Senpai. Senpai is a Japanese word for whoever has more knowledge or experience. Every single show, we will invite a different senpai that can give us tips and hints on how to do things better.
 
And today's senpai is Daniel Moore. Yay. He spent half his life in Japan and half in the US and is now a private guide based in Nagano Prefecture. Welcome, Daniel. Hi, Daniel. Thanks for having me.
 
Now, you're a private guide based in Nagano Prefecture. What kind of places do you take your guests?
I love taking people hiking and snowshoeing, and on long trails. There's so many beautiful places in Nagano.
 
Great. And on average, how many days and how many people do you travel with?
It could be up to about ten days. Normally, it's probably about a week. And the group sizes are anywhere from just two or three people all the way up to maybe even twelve or fifteen that I've done before.
 
Wow. It must be tough to organize all the different types of guests, but I've heard that you are a very experienced guide.
So today we'd like you to share with us memories of those tours and how to enjoy the Japanese inn or ryokan.
 
First of all, how would you respond if someone asked you, what is the Japanese ryokan like?
Basically, it's a Japanese style inn. A few of the features that are most common are they have tatami mats, which is kind of a straw mat on the floor, and you sleep on a futon mattress on that tatami mat.
 
Also, ryokans have yukata. It's a type of light kimono that we can wear around the inn, and then Japanese style meals called kaiseki. And a lot of times they'll have an onsen or a natural hot spring bath too.
 
Nice, I want to go already.
Tatami, yukata, futon, these are all absolutely new for international travelers. I wonder if many travelers from overseas make all kinds of mistakes at ryokans though, because they don't know how to use them. Exactly.
 
Yes, there are a few common mistakes. One is slipper etiquette, where to wear the slippers and where not to. And that's kind of a hard thing that takes a little bit of time to get used to.
 
Oh, I know. It happens all the time. I have a few, really, experiences I'd like to keep to myself, related to slippers, of course.
So, when you go into a Japanese house, you take off your shoes, and usually you put on your slippers right there at the door. Right.
 
The confusing thing is that's fine to wear the slippers around the ryokan and everywhere else, but when you go into the tatami room, you actually have to take your slippers off.
You can't wear slippers on top of tatami.
 
What was that: because it damages the tatami or what is it?
Yeah, it's not great for the tatami. Just lasts longer if you don't wear slippers on it. So, make sure to wear socks or even barefoot is fine. One other confusing thing is there's another type of slippers specifically for the toilet, and you have to take off your regular slippers and put on the toilet slippers when you're going into the restrooms.
 
Well, I've heard that… well, the way that it was explained to me, which I totally understood, was that the Japanese people in general are concerned about where the bottom of the slipper has touched. So, if you think about the bottom of the slipper touching inside the toilet, you wouldn't want to wear that slipper out to where the bath is, right?
 
You wouldn't.
So, when you think about slippers at a ryokan, you think about where the bottom has touched. Makes total sense.
Okay, what other episodes do you have, Daniel?
 
Yeah, so another aspect is the yukata. So, the yukata is kind of a casual summer kimono, and you can actually wear the yukata anywhere inside the ryokan. Usually after the bath, you put it on and then you wear it to dinner. Sometimes you can even wear it around town and walk around town in it.
 
But one thing to remember is just the order that you fold the yukata. So you put your right side of the yukata first, and then the left over the right. The other way is that how people are buried and cremated.
 
But wearing it wrong is not a huge problem. One thing you do really want to remember, though, is to wear something underneath the yukata. Right. Because one time I was guiding some customers, and we were all sitting on the floor cross-legged. And after dinner, this lady took me aside and said, "Can you please tell John to wear some underwear? Because there's too much visible." So, please remember to wear some underwear. Or preferably even shorts underneath the yukata if you don't want anything flashing.
 
So if you feel a breeze in an unusual area, you should be careful.
That's probably a sign.
Yeah, maybe this guy John wore his yukata like a bathrobe.
I also have an episode about dining manners at ryokans. When using chopsticks, a lot of people don't know where to put them when they're not actually using them. Right.
 
And so people sometimes put them in their food. And especially in the rice, it's a big no-no in Japan, also because it's associated with Buddhist funerals. So, there's almost always chopstick holders. That's a good place to put your chopsticks to rest them when you're not using them.
 
And then you can also put them across the bowl: rice bowl or soup bowl. And that's totally fine as well.
This happens not only in ryokans, of course, but also in regular restaurants. It's really good to remember that.
 
Now, many ryokans have large public baths or onsen. Do you have any episodes about those places?
Yes, onsen is a natural spring, whereas not all the ryokans have natural springs, but just hot water baths anyway.
 
But first is to take a shower before getting in the bath. Even if you have actually showered in your room or something, it's nice to just wash off to show everyone that you're clean and sanitary. And then the other thing is to just not take the small towels into the bath itself.
 
So, none of the towels can actually go into the bath, because the small towel is actually for washing your body.
Like a washcloth.
Like a washcloth, and the large towel is for drying off afterwards. Both of those are actually in the ryokan rooms, typically in a little basket or something like that. So, take the whole basket down to the onsen, and you can put your dirty clothes in there afterwards, too, and take it back to your room. Great.
 
I have one more story I thought of. There's always a men's side and a women's side into the onsens. And most of the time these days they're in English, the signs, but sometimes it's not in English. So typically, the blue or navy is men's and the red or pink is women's. Yeah.
 
But sometimes the ryokans in the evening, the men's will be on one side and the women's will be on the other side, but then they'll switch in the morning. Because maybe the bath is different, or one is wood and one is stone or something.
 
So they want to give guests the chance to try both baths. So, I had a female customer who was on a tour of mine who, without even thinking, went into the same bath in the morning that she had gone into in the evening, the next morning.
 
And so she went in, but no one was in there. So she was just taking her bath, having a good time. And then two men came into the bath, and they all go "Ahh! Ahh!" Everyone had a good scream and was shocked. So, please make sure to look at the signs, which one is the men's and which one is the women's, because sometimes they do change.
That's true.
 
Today we welcome Daniel Moore, a private guide living in Nagano Prefecture, to tell us about how to enjoy the Japanese inn, or ryokan in particular. As a guide, is there anything you would like to tell international travelers who want to enjoy traveling in Japan?
 
Yeah, I think, first of all, some people are a little bit nervous coming to Japan, because they do know there are so many rules and etiquette things to remember. And one thing I would say is just, you know, Japanese people are really forgiving and really appreciate you making the effort, whether that's learning a few words of Japanese, or just trying to remember a few etiquette rules, they're going to be really appreciative and thankful that you're even trying.
 
Another thing I would say, a piece of advice is just to look around you.
Japanese people are really good at this, and they always look around and see what everyone else is doing and adjust what they're doing accordingly. So, you know, if everyone's taking their shoes off or if people are sort of talking softly or not too loud on the train, you know, just try to notice things like that and adjust to the people around you, and you'll be totally fine.
 
Especially the talking in public, I find that on public transport as well. Just, yeah, as Daniel said, take a look around and see what other people are doing. If you follow what they're doing, you cannot go wrong.
Right.
 
So, that was fantastic. Today our guest was Daniel Moore. Thank you so much, Daniel. Thank you, Daniel.
Thanks so much for having me.

GOOD TO KNOW

Now we move on to Good to Know. In this part, our guests will tell us what they recommend we do to enjoy our life in Japan, that little much better. Today we invite Brent Potter. He's a guide for Fuji Mountain Guides. Hello, Brent. Hi, Brent.
Hi, guys. Nice to meet you. Thanks for having me on.
 
Terrific. Now, in Japan, August 11th is a national holiday known as Mountain Day, when people enjoy hiking and climbing mountains. And Mt Fuji, one of Japan's symbols and the tallest mountain, is in the midst of its climbing season now, right Brent?
 
Yeah, that's right. The climbing season is early July to early September.
Great. Today we would like to ask you about the charms of Mt. Fuji. As a mountain guide, what do you find attractive about Mt. Fuji?
 
I think Mt. Fuji is very interesting because it's the most recognizable mountain in the entire world. Everest is the highest mountain, very famous. But you show people a picture of Everest and they won't really know, (Exactly), what they're looking at. Right.
 
Also, it's very prominent, which means it's very stark. It rises from the ocean, and it's very exposed. I think it really punches above its weight class in a really interesting way. Of course, this makes it very beautiful to look at, very picturesque.
 
But the weather it gets is really extreme as well. So, it can be a very real mountain, even though it's not, by international standards, considered to be very high.
 
Well, that sounds fantastic. And I think there are quite a few people who do not usually climb mountains, but who would like to climb Mt. Fuji (Yeah, me. That's me.) at least once. (Like you, yeah.) Yes. Is it actually safe for these people to climb Mt. Fuji?
 
You know, Fuji attracts a really interesting clientele. It could, for many people, be the only hike they ever do in their lives. And so, there's always a question of is it safe, how should I do it? A lot of anxiety about how to climb it or not. And I would definitely say, you can definitely do it, and you definitely should do it. It's a very cool mountain.
 
For first-timers, I would definitely say you got to get in shape, get on the StairMaster, climb the stairs in your building many times a week. Join a guided trip makes things really easy, and make sure, make sure, you have the right gear. Right.
And you should definitely be sure to climb over two days and spend a night on the mountain, just so that you can take your time, take it easy, see the sunset.
Let's take our time and have fun. So, for first-timers on Fuji, I think it's a great hike, just take it seriously. Right. Yeah.
 
So how far do you climb on the first day of your two-day climb?
Right, so the first day is up to 3,400 meters, is the 8th station where you spend the night up there.
And from there we'll have dinner and watch this, you know, beautiful, underrated sunset. And the sunset, we climb from the east side of the mountain, which is the Tokyo side, and the sun sets on the west side.
 
And as the sun sets, it just creates this beautiful long shadow of Fuji going off into the distance. And seeing that, sipping a beer, having a hot chocolate, whatever, is truly just one of the best experiences on Fuji. Not as good as sunrise perhaps, but well worth the trip for sure.
 
So you actually walk to the top of the mountain in total darkness, is that what you're saying? Yeah, that's right. So, whatever the sunrise time is, we start about two hours or two-and-a-half hours before that and leave the hut in total blackness.
 
Okay. With our headlamps, that's all we can see everything is… headlamps. Just headlamps. And it's just a trail of headlamps up this side, you know, zigzagging up the mountain. And the higher you get, the closer the sunrise comes to approaching.
 
This horizon turns dark blue and then light blue, and the stars start to fade. And then, the light starts to come, and anticipation and excitement starts to build for the sunrise. And then, we get to the summit just before then and see the big goraiko, as we call it, the Buddha's halo, at the summit.
 
Yes. What other excitement awaits you up at the summit there? The summit is a really unique experience. We got two shrines up there that sell all kinds of interesting shriny gizmos and gadgets. We got omamoris, we got stamps.
 
There's also, of course, a post office. Although sadly, you can't mail yourself off the mountain. As well as that, there's huts up there that sell all kinds of trinkets as well, as well as food. And of course, you have to have vending machines.
 
And also, I've heard about people doing wedding proposals, marriage proposals up there.
Yeah, that's right. That's pretty common, actually. And then it's funny, because the proposals turn into anniversaries, don't they, as they mature, (Right) over time. And so, we get all manner of things like this. People find good reasons to go to the summit of Fuji for really many life occasions. So, we get proposals pretty often.
Could you imagine if you climbed all the way up there and somebody said "No"? So sad.
 
So today you talked about the cases where the weather is good, right, and favorable. But of course, there is also the case of bad weather. What should we keep in mind when climbing Mt. Fuji in terms of bad weather?
 
Right. First of all, you really need to have the right gear. Right.
Definitely bring jackets, warm clothes for temperatures of zero to minus five Celsius. And it can be that temperature without rain and wind, right? So, you really need to bring your warmer stuff. And this time of year in Tokyo, it's very hard to imagine being that cold. You got to have at least that, a good headlamp, and waterproof shoes.
 
I'd also say you need to watch out for altitude sickness, because everyone has that effect on Mt. Fuji to some degree. OK. Unless you live at high elevation, and altitude sickness looks like the loss of appetite, nausea, you can get a headache. And so you can control that by drinking water, waiting for it to pass, taking a rest, or going down the mountain. It always has this magical way of solving altitude sickness.

Right, thank you for all your advice. I'm going to climb it next year. All right, sounds good. I'll be waiting for you.
 
Thank you so much, Brent. Right on.
Thanks very much, guys. Thanks for having me.
Cheers. Thank you. Right on.
 
The highlight of summer. August moves along so very quickly. It will be over in a blink of an eye. We hope you too will make the best memories this summer in Japan.
 
Right. Let's enjoy this summer while taking the COVID-19 infection countermeasures very seriously.
Yes, please. We're looking forward to more and more listeners joining us. You can listen to this show on our website too.

Go to NHK WORLD-JAPAN website, click on On Demand, choose Audio and find Living in Japan. Also, if you have any comments or requests, please send us a message through our website. We will be back on September 4th with another edition of Living in Japan. We will. Have a great summer. Bye.

Program Outline