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Image: Pakutaso

Two things to do, and two things not to do, when leaving a traditional Japanese inn

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

When traveling in Japan, a big part of the appeal of staying in a ryokan, or traditional inn, is that spending the night in one gives you a taste of classical Japanese culture. With an elegant minimalism to their interior design and sumptuous multi-course dining, ryokan allow you to experience old-school Japanese hospitality and the tranquil relaxation it aims to provide.

With Japan’s cultural emphasis on mutual consideration, and the underlying atmosphere at many ryokan being that you’re a guest, not just a “customer,” before checking out many travelers feel like they should do something to make things easier for the inn’s workers to get the room ready for the next group that’s coming in. However, it can sometimes be tricky to figure out what sort of guest behaviors are and aren’t appreciated by the staff. So to help clear up some of those quandaries, Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi spoke with a number of ryokan managers and cleaning staff in which four common pre-checkout guest gestures came up, and they found out whether you really should or shouldn’t do them.

1. Should you put all your yukata robes in one spot?


When you check into a ryokan, you’ll always find yukata (lightweight cotton kimono) in your room. Less cumbersome and more comfortable than a formal kimono, and with a simple-to-tie sash, the yukata are provided for you to wear while lounging in your room, and also when using ryokan facilities elsewhere in the building.

So if everyone was wearing a yukata during their stay, should you gather the robes and sashes and set them all in one spot in your room when checking out? Yes, say ryokan operators. If they were used, they’re all going to need to be washed, so assembling them all in the same spot makes it easy for the cleaning staff to bundle them all up and drop them in the laundry cart.

2. Should you fold up your futon?


Ryokan have traditional Japanese interiors. That means tatami reed flooring instead of carpet, and futon sleeping mats instead of beds. When you check in, though, the futons will still be folded up and stored in the closet. At some point in the evening, the ryokan staff will come in and lay out a futon for each member of your party.

When morning comes and it’s time to leave, many guests then fold their futon back up. They don’t put them all the way back in the closet, but they’ll fold them in half, and usually push them over to the edge of the room against the wall. This creates more floor space, and there’s probably a sort of unconscious urge to do this since, in traditional Japanese homes where people still use futons on a daily basis, it’s considered sloppy to leave your futon unfurled all day long.

However, when you’re staying in a ryokan, the cleaning staff would greatly appreciate it if you do not fold up your futon. The mat is covered by a top sheet, and there’s also a blanket cover and pillowcase, and all of those linens are going to need to be washed. That means the cleaning staff is going to need to strip the sheets, and they can’t do that if the futons are still folded up, so it’s better to just leave them unfolded when you leave the room to save the staff the hassle of opening them all back up.

3. Should you put the table back where it originally was?


As alluded to above, the layout of a ryokan room is going to change over the course of your stay. When you first arrive, and the futons are all still in the closet, you can expect there to be a table in the center of the room, but it’s not going to stay there the whole time, since eventually you’re going to need that floor space for sleeping. Unlike the bedsheets, the table doesn’t need to be taken to another room for cleaning, so should you put it back in its original position to help tidy up the room before you go home?

The answer is no. Well, technically the answer is that putting the table back doesn’t help, so there’s no need to do it, but effectively that means that you’re probably best off leaving it alone. That’s because regardless of where the table is, the room’s floor needs to be cleaned after you check out, and doing so is going to require moving the table at least once, so that the staff can clean the section of the floor underneath it. So if you put the table back where it originally was, the staff is actually going to have to move it twice (once to clean underneath it, and once more to put it back in its designated starting spot). In addition, since the table was likely moved out of the way to make floorspace for the futons, putting the table back where it started will probably require you to fold up the futons, which, as we discussed above, is something the staff would rather you not do.

4. Should you leave your room’s door unlocked?


And finally, we come to the very last room-related decision you’ll have to make: Should you lock the door as you head to the front desk to check out, or not?

The ryokan that TV Asahi spoke to say they’d be happiest if their guests left the door unlocked. Since you won’t be coming back to the room before heading home, it’s safe to assume that you’ve already removed all your personal belongings, and while you could supposedly say that locking the room helps protect the hotel’s property, with crime rates being as low as they are in Japan, someone sneaking in to steal the TV or bathroom soaps while the door is unlocked isn’t much of a concern. On the other hand, leaving the door unlocked allows cleaning staff to waltz right in and get to work. This is an especially welcome time-saver in older ryokan that still have physical keys, as opposed to pass cards, since it saves workers a trip to the front desk to pick up the key so that they can get into the room and get to cleaning.

Now, with those four points covered, there’s one other thing to remember. With Japanese culture, and particularly with its more traditional elements, there’s often a preconception that social interactions are rife with opportunities to offend and have your behavior silently judged as shamefully unseemly. In the case of these ryokan pre-checkout scenarios, though, none of them are going to have the staff grinding their teeth and hoping you never come back again, and the fact that even a lot of Japanese people aren’t sure what the best course of action is shows that these aren’t ironclad etiquette rules. They’re simply the ideal, from the ryokan’s point of view, so if you enjoyed your stay they’re a nice, subtle way to indirectly say thank-you to the staff.

Source: TV Asahi via Yahoo! Japan News via Jin

Insert images: Pakutaso

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

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-- Hilton Japan apologizes for “disrespectful” ad disparaging traditional Japanese inns

-- Learn all about enjoying a traditional Japanese-style ryokan inn from this nine-minute video!

© SoraNews24

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many travelers feel like they should do something to make things easier for the inn’s workers

I -- and I'm sure most others -- do that wherever I'm staying, whether it's Japan or Timbuctoo. Fold and stack the used towels, straighten the bedding, close the drawers and closet doors, etc., ie, some light tidying up before dashing out. Japan's ryokans ain't no different nor so special.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

And wash up the cups or glasses, rinse out the beer bottles, straighten any curtains or open the shoji, clean the sink, maybe give the toilet the once over with the brush, ...

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

Moonraker...you can stay at my place anytime.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I guess common sense would let most people know what is best, and making small mistakes in the situation described is not really that much of a trouble, but with the reputation of manners being so important in Japan I can understand foreign tourists worrying about leaving a good impression on their visit.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I think these matters would be less relevant for foreign clients.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

However, when you’re staying in a ryokan, the cleaning staff would greatly appreciate it if you do not fold up your futon. 

Yeah, yeah, but the whole point of going to a ryokan is to relax. Its easier to relax if you do not have a futon in the middle of the floor waiting you to trip over it and spill green tea everywhere. It is not a cardinal sin to move it out of the way. Visiting a ryokan is not like meeting the Emperor where tiny matters of etiquette are important. It is not the tea ceremony with Sen no Rikyu himself.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I've stayed at some lovely ryokans over the years and always try to follow the rule of keep the place neat, but it's getting hard to find them for future bookings since Covid.

I certainly don't want to be reduced to standard western-style hotels for my next trip!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

The staff are paid to clean the rooms and it has - and never will - occur to me to do their job for them. I don't deliberately make their life more difficult, but it's not like the place is kindly putting me up for free. It's all included in the price. Relax, guys.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

However, when you’re staying in a ryokan, the cleaning staff would greatly appreciate it if you do not fold up your futon.

Unless it is the most basic no thrills Ryokan, generally you go for breakfast quite early and by the time you return to your room the staff has picked up the futon put it away, if you are leaving that day they have also removed or changed the covering and sheets!

I cannot actually recall a time when I returned from breakfast and the futons were still out!

And I tend to stay in some very inexpensive places!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It's all about enjoying the omotenashi, which is essentially about directing your own attention and your own training into what you should like and how to react. For ryokan you can get the "cultural experience" of staying in a "traditional inn" and say to the folks back home, "and we did all the jobs correctly too." Same with other things. You would probably never go in a bar back home with just a few high tables and a counter. But call it a "Japanese stand-up bar," and you are hooked by a new "cultural experience" and might even wash your own glasses if asked.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )


Today 12:34 pm JST

but it's getting hard to find them for future bookings since Covid.

We have two nearby one our station one the next station over.

Both are family run, 3 generations working together, no non family staff.

No internet booking system one does have a basic homepage the other doesn't.

You can only make reservations by phone!

They are insanely cheap ¥4,500 a night per person including breakfast ¥5,500 including both breakfast and dinner.

But breakfast is at 7:00.

By the time you return from breakfast, the room is cleaned up, new hot water for tea and clean tea cups are ready!

I book these places for family and friends visiting Japan but 90% of their clients are business people in Tokyo for work a few days at most.

These two places are well inside the Tokyo 23 wards in two very shitamachi areas!

No English available, so I act as the go between for family and friends.

So there are still some gems out there, problem is you need to be able to search in Japanese and often call directly, no online booking in many cases.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Western hotels for me, proper bed and decent facilities.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

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