Yukata: the Traditional way of Relaxing at a Japanese Ryokan

Yukata at Onsen Ryokan

When I think about staying at a Japanese Ryokan, the first thing that comes to mind is relaxing in a yukata. A yukata is a type of light cotton kimono that all onsen ryokan have available to guests. Yukata are popular even among our international guests, and they allow you to relax during your stay at a ryokan while experiencing Japanese culture on a deeper level.

We’ve put together some essential information about yukata and how to wear them here.

First, the yukata is just one type of traditional kimono in Japan. This means there are many other kinds in Japan. For example, women can wear one of two kinds of kimono at formal occasions: tomesode for married women or furisode for unmarried women. There are also plain black kimono for mourning, which traditionally have a family crest embossed on them. There are even special kimono just for guests.

Furisode - Kimono
Furisode

For men’s formalwear we have the nagagi robes, haori jacket, and hakama trousers which form the base of the outfit. On these robes there may be as many as 5 family crests depending on the person’s rank. There are also black habutae kimono made from silk. And for men’s everyday wear, there are the iromuji, samue, and jibei robes.

kimono at formal occasions
kimono at formal occasions

Finally, there is the robe that both men and women can wear casually: the yukata.

They say that originally yukata were only meant to be worn when going to the bath and when coming out. They are generally made from cotton, but there are also yukata made from a blend of hemp and polyester.

These days in Japan, many people wear yukata as fashionable summer wear. From fireworks displays and summer festivals to traditional obon dances and holidays during the summer, people young and old enjoy wearing yukata during the summer.

And yet another place to wear yukata is at an onsen ryokan, including our own Kashiwaya Ryokan in Gunma Prefecture.

As I mentioned at the beginning, most onsen ryokan have yukata prepared for guests to use as sleepwear and for relaxing around the inn. You can even wear the ryokan yukata while walking around town. That means these robes are used all year round, not just in summer! When it comes to ryokan, the yukata is a type of resort wear for guests to enjoy and relax in.

walking with Yukata
walking with Yukata
Exploring the Onsen town with Yukata
Exploring the Onsen town with Yukata

Originally many onsen ryokan just had simple indigo-dyed yukata available. These days, however, many ryokan – including Kashiwaya, of course – have a variety of designs and colors. So guests can now enjoy not only wearing, but also choosing a yukata that perfectly suits them!

Yukata are very popular among our international guests, and many of them have been kind enough to post photos of themselves wearing yukata to their social media profiles.

Kashiwaya Instagram
Kashiwaya Instagram

Since they are difficult to find abroad, I’d like to give a brief introduction of how to put a yukata on. As it’s such a rare opportunity, you’ll want to wear your yukata correctly and really immerse yourself in Japanese culture.

But don’t worry! Yukata are the most casual form of kimono, which means they are very easy to put on.

The most important thing to remember is that both women and men wear yukata in the “right-front” (migi-mae) style. This simply means that, for someone looking at you, the right-hand collar should be in front of the left-hand one.

Wearing your yukata the opposite way is a real faux pas. This is because the “left-front” style is only used in funeral garb, so please be careful!

How to wear the Yukata
How to wear the Yukata

The basic steps to putting your yukata on are:

  • Put both arms through the sleeves.
  • Fold your right-hand sleeve over your front first, followed by the left-hand sleeve. This will ensure you are wearing your yukata in the proper, right-front style.
  • Tie your obi sash to keep your yukata in place. Men should wear their sash at the hip, and women at the waist. This is considered an attractive way for women to wear their obi.
  • If it’s cold, put on the small overcoats called hanten or chabaori, which should be available at your ryokan.

As I said before, yukata lent to guests at ryokan are not just for sleeping, but for relaxing during your stay. Feel free to take a stroll around town in your yukata, and if you do, don’t forget to share all your cute photos on Instagram or other social media!

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Onsen Ryokan with Beds and Western Style Meals

western style single bed

Anyone who speaks English probably knows the proverb, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In Japanese we also have a very similar saying: 郷に入れば郷に従え(go ni ireba go ni shitagae). It means that if you enter a foreign country or region, it is wise to follow the customs and ways there.
I believe that travelling is about not only seeing new sights, but also learning more about another country and culture.
However, during a long journey you will naturally miss the customs of your home country. We Japanese sometimes visit Japanese restaurants abroad. I think this is because many of us become homesick while travelling. Of course, I also believe it is a benefit for international travellers to step out of their comfort zone and learn about other cultures. That’s why I highly recommend staying at a Japanese ryokan.

Japanese style room and Washoku
Japanese style room and Washoku

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Accomodating Onsen Ryokan for Solo Travelers in Japan

solo travel to Japan

The number of international visitors to Japan has been increasing at an incredible rate. According to the Japan Tourism Agency, there were 8.3 million international visitors in 2007, while there were 29 million in 2017. That means in just 10 years the number of international visitors has more than tripled. These visitors come in many forms: some in groups, some on business or with family, and, of course, many travel alone.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, 11.8% of tourists come alone. Travelers from America are especially likely to travel on their own. While 30% of all visitors who visit Japan for sightseeing travel alone, if we include travelers on business this number increases to 52.9% among Americans.

So, where do you think these travelers are choosing to stay?

Of course, some stay in traditional Japanese accommodations such as ryokan, while others stay in standard hotels, rental houses, or Airbnb rentals. And still others choose to stay in Japan’s capsule hotels, an oddity you can’t find anywhere else in the world.

Japanese style room of Ryokan
Japanese style room of Ryokan

While there are a variety of options for accommodations, all can be suited to the solo traveler. Though many guidebooks state that traditional ryokan did not originally accommodate individual travelers, this is no longer the case. In fact, many onsen ryokan now welcome guests traveling alone.

We at Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan in Gunma Prefecture have had the pleasure of boarding many international guests traveling alone. Whether men or women, such travelers have indeed been increasing steadily in recent years.

Our onsen ryokan has even been featured on Japanese media because of how accommodating we are to solo travelers. Once when we were being featured on TV, there happened to be an American woman staying here by herself, and she was kind enough to speak with the TV crew.

trip to japan

TV show about solo traveler
TV show about solo traveler

There are many reasons we have been recognized as an onsen ryokan that is particularly accommodating to solo travelers. Below are just a few of those reasons:

  • Our facilities include 3 private open-air baths for individual guests to enjoy Shima Onsen’s waters in privacy.
  • Dinner is served in guests’ rooms, so everyone can enjoy dinner at their own pace.
  • We have many room types, including single or twin beds, and Japanese-style rooms with futon.

Above all else, our staff always gives a warm welcome to solo travelers staying here.

Private open-air Onsen

Example of the dinner
Example of the dinner

Traveling alone truly has its own unique charm. You can do things at your own pace without having to worry about bothering others. If you have a chance to visit Japan on your own, feel free to stay at Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan!

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A Rural Japanese Onsen Ryokan that Provides English Support!

Rural Onsen Ryokan

We at Shima Onsen and Kashiwaya Ryokan are so happy to see more and more visitors from other countries. The number just keeps growing with each year! Some visitors are looking for a quiet getaway near Tokyo, while others have been to Japan before and are looking for new experiences.

Most of our international visitors are from America, but many others come from Australia, Canada, and Singapore too. This means that we at Kashiwaya Ryokan really need to brush up on our English communication!

Currently, only 2 members of the Kashiwaya staff can speak English conversationally. Language level varies among the rest of our staff, but most are far from perfect. Despite this, we seem to have developed a reputation as a rural onsen inn that can accommodate English speakers. Just take a look at some of the glowing reviews our international visitors have written for us.

“As someone who barely speaks Japanese I was a little worried about travelling out into the countryside but my concerns were put to rest by the kind staff who were able to patiently explain things about the inn, in English.” ~Trip Advisor
“The staff is very friendly and can speak English, which is a great plus for the foreigner discount they already include!” ~Trip Advisor

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Shima Onsen and Spirited Away – a Surprising Connection

Sekizenkan Honkan
Sekizenkan Honkan

Did you know that right here at Shima Onsen, there is a building said to be have inspired the setting for the famous animated film, Spirited Away? Today we’re going to talk about the little-known connection between Spirited Away and Shima Onsen.

Manga, TV anime, and animated films are one aspect of Japanese culture that we Japanese are very proud of. One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Captain Tsubasa are just a few examples of manga and anime titles that are popular all around the world. And you often hear Studio Ghibli, the producer of so many feature-length animated masterpieces, touted as one of the most beloved names in Japanese animation.

Among Studio Ghibli’s many works, Spirited Away (winner of Best Animated Feature Film at the 75th Academy Awards) is one of the most famous of all. The setting for this movie is the supernatural bathhouse for spirits called “Aburaya,” run by the witch Yubaba.

In the book, Ghibli no kyokasho 12 (the Spirited Away volume in a series of books about Ghibli films), it says that “there is no specific bathhouse in existence on which Aburaya’s design was based.” Despite this, the question of where director Miyazaki got his inspiration from is a question of great interest to the Japanese.

The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum and the Meguro Gajoen hotel are commonly believed to have influenced Spirited Away, and even Studio Ghibli recognizes this influence. Among other locations said to have influenced Spirited Away are Dogo Onsen Honkan, Shibu Onsen Kanaguya, Tsurumaki Onsen Jinya, and finally Sekizenkan Honkan, located here in Shima Onsen.

Shima Onsen’s Sekizenkan Honkan, designated one of Gunma’s Important Cultural Properties, was built in 1691 and is said to be the oldest wooden bathhouse (Ryokan) in Japan. As such, the nostalgic atmosphere of the period is perfectly preserved there. As an Important Cultural Property of Japan with as much prestige as Nikko’s Yakushido, Sekizenkan Honkan is one of the most historically significant structures in Shima Onsen.

Sekizenkan Honkan
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Shima Onsen Ale, Shima’s Original Craft Beer

Shima Onsen Ale beer

Many of us enjoy travelling all around the world, and there’s one drink you can find just about anywhere you go. That’s right – beer!

I myself never miss a chance to try the local beer, no matter what country I’m in. In Japan, Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo, and Suntory are the four biggest breweries, and the most popular beers among them are, of course, Kirin Ichiban Shibori and Asahi Super Dry.

But here at Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan, we have much more than your standard beers; on top of Kirin and Asahi, you can enjoy Yebisu on tap or “Shima Onsen Ale,” our very own locally brewed beer and the feature of today’s blog post.

As the name implies, Shima Onsen Ales are ale-style beers made in Shima Onsen. Shima Onsen Ale brews the following 3 beers, listed from palest to darkest:
– Blond     Maya Hime
– Amber     Oketsu
– Stout     Yoru no Otozure

Shima Onsen Ale line-up

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The Slopes Near Shima Onsen: A Skiers Paradise, a Snowboarder’s Dream!

Norn Minamai

Japan is world-renowned for its abundance of ski resorts and top-notch powder snow.
Niseko in Hokkaido and Hakuba in Nagano are particularly popular among international visitors and residents.
In fact, many come to and live in Japan for the sole purpose of enjoying some of the best slopes in the world.

Of course, some visitors may have other things in mind when visiting.
Some prefer just a taste of the snow while enjoying the scenery, shopping, or onsen. Shima Onsen offers the perfect solution to such visitors.

Although there are no ski resorts in the direct vicinity of Shima Onsen, it takes a mere 2 hours by car to get to the world-class slopes in Naeba or the powdered dreamland of Karuizawa.
Imagine taking a day-trip to a snowboarder’s paradise and returning to relax your weary muscles in Shima Onsen’s healing waters.
For international visitors who decide to rent a car, such a day-trip could be the perfect way to spend your time here at Shima Onsen.

Check here for car rental information

Read on for more information on the many ski resorts in the Shima Onsen Area!

Ski Resort(Naeba)
Naeba Ski Resort

Naeba Ski Resort is a world-renowned ski resort which has hosted the Alpine Ski World Cup in the past.
Although located in the neighboring Niigata Prefecture, the ski resort is surprisingly close—only an hour and a half by car!
Just take the Kan-Etsu Expressway’s Tsukiyono Interchange (IC) to get there in a flash.

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Winter in Japan: Open-air Onsen, Scenic Snowscapes, Skiing and More!

SnowInShimaOnsen

As we’ve written before on our blog (see links below), the Japanese take pride in the distinct charm of each of the four seasons.

The cherry blossoms of spring and the dazzling autumn leaves, the electrifying buzz of the cicadas in summer and the calm, sheer white snow of winter beckoning you to come play!

Hanami
Autumn Leaves

The winter season is upon us now, so you may be asking yourself: what is there to do here in Japan? Well, let us give you just a few ideas!

In winter, you can enjoy snowy landscapes stretching over a wide range in Japan, from Hokkaido in the far north to the more central Northern Kanto where Shima Onsen and our Kashiwaya Ryokan are located. Although it depends on the conditions in each region, generally the snow season is from December until March.

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We got the 2018 Traveler’s Choice Hotel Awards

Travelers choice 2018

Thank you for your support!

We, Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan placed 9th in the Japanese Inn category of the 2018 Traveler’s Choice Hotel Awards, which is run by TripAdvisor.

This follows on our success at the end of last year, in which we placed fourth in TripAdvisor Japan’s “Picked by Travel Enthusiasts! The Most Popular Japanese Inns Among Foreigners 2017” ranking.

All our staff will continue to work together and do our utmost to ensure that guests have a wonderful experience out our inn.

Traveler’s Choice Hotel Awards 2018

Thank you.
Masuo Kashiwabara

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Are people with tattoos allowed in onsen?

Kashiwaya Onsen

In Japan, people with tattoo are often rejected to take onsen. You must feel unreasonable in spite of taking all the trouble of visiting Japan to take onsen. Aren’t there any ways to take onsen even with tattoo?

In fact, at ryokan with private onsen and rooms with open bath, such as Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan, you can enjoy onsen in peace even with tattoo because there is no chance to have somebody sees your tattoo.

Differences in Perception of Tattoo in Japan and Abroad

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