Luxury ryokans in Japan – and one in the United States – that make the most zen getaways for 2023
Japan has recently reopened to international travelers and many people (myself included) are beyond excited to be able to visit the land of the rising sun again. So now really is the perfect time to start planning your escape to a ryokan. Staying at a Japanese-style inn is an immersive and authentic cultural experience that goes far beyond just a nice hotel – especially ones with private onsen, tatami floors, landscaped gardens and award-winning restaurants. In the same way that putting on a certain type of outfit has the ability to change your mood, guests are encouraged to change from street clothes to traditional clothes such as yukata (dresses) and obtain a (wooden sandals). The hours pass quietly. Soothing soak in nature hot Springs. Participate in ancient customs like tea and incense ceremonies. Eat multi-course kaiseki meals prepared with local, seasonal ingredients.
The whole royokan vibe really aligns with the larger trend of slower, more deliberate travel. Some of the best things about establishments – well, besides the deliberately simple yet striking design – are taking time to bask in every happy moment, enjoying the pleasures of rituals and relaxation, and connecting to the natural world. Basically, it’s the restorative getaway we all need, if not deserve, after these past stressful years. Understanding that a trip to Japan may be more travel fantasy than reality right now, it’s also worth noting that you don’t actually need to leave the United States for a luxurious stay at a ryokan. Here’s where to find your Zen from Minakami to Malibu.
Bettei Senjuan: Minakami, Japan
The melodies of gentle breezes, rustling trees and the Tani River create the soothing soundtrack of Bettei Senjuan. Part of the Relais & Châteaux portfolio, this dream spa hotel strikes a balance between classic and contemporary. The commitment to craftsmanship is evident the moment you step into the lobby, which features an inky marble ceiling and stainless steel tatami floors. Nobuko Kawahara’s original calligraphy adorns the exquisitely curved hallway leading to the guest quarters. All 18 rooms have outdoor baths and stunning views of snow-capped Mount Tanigawa.
Hoshinoya Tokyo: Tokyo, Japan
One of the busiest cities could be an unexpected destination to find a serene sanctuary that plays on ancient practices. leave it at Hoshinoya Tokyo to provide a modern ryokan-style stay that is so relaxing that the hustle and bustle of the outside world ceases to exist. Once inside the skyscraper in the Otemachi business district, guests kick off their shoes and surrender to the sumptuous silk kimonos and plush tatami mats. Gagaku shows, Japanese tea ceremonies, and sake tastings take place in the common lobby area. On the top floor is an onsen that draws hot spring water from deep within the ground and is open to the night sky.
Gora Kadan: Hakone, Japan
The best ryokan in Hakone, Gora Kadan is a Relais & Châteaux retreat that offers a deeply sensory experience. The former summer villa of the Kanin-no-miya imperial family exudes an unmistakable air of royalty, but does so in a very understated way. Minimalist rooms take on a streamlined sensibility with tatami mats, wooden tubs, and silk textiles. Suites add living rooms, open-air stone baths, and saunas. Kaiseki breakfasts and relaxing massages can both be enjoyed in the comfort of guest sanctuaries. And problems just seem non-existent when soaking in the hot springs heated by volcanic rocks.
Beniya Mukayu: Yamashiro, Japan
Nature creates an endless calming roadmap to Beniya Mukayu in the hot spring town of Yamashiro. Expansive windows, skylights, and earthy hues bring the outdoors inside. Each room has its own private outdoor hot spring bath. This hilltop hideaway honors its history as the site of a sacred Buddhist temple, especially when it comes to spa rituals with geothermal water and medicinal herbs. There are daily yoga sessions for an extra dose of mind-body-spirit alignment. Hospitality is also at the heart of everything. The stick embodies the Japanese principle of omotenashiwhich basically translates to caring wholeheartedly for the guests.
Hoshinoya Kyoto: Kyoto, Japan
Nestled in the forested seclusion of Arashiyama District, Hoshinoya Kyoto – like the former imperial seat then known as Heiankyo, “the capital of peace” – brings much of a sense of heritage and peace of mind into the present. After a scenic 15-minute boat ride, the splendor of this riverside hideaway comes into view. Sliding screens, trellis lanterns, kyo-karakami (artistic printed paper) and contemporary touches breathe life into centuries-old buildings facing the flowing waters of the Oi River. Framed by hundred-year-old trees, the winding stone paths are the ideal setting for a calm and contemplative walk.
Takinoya: Noboribetsu, Japan
With its gentle pace and verdant setting near Lake Kuttara in the famous hot spring resort of Noboribetsu in southern Hokkaido, this family-run property Takinoya is a wonderful place to relax and recharge for a few days – whether it’s letting the stress melt away in the healing waters fed by the Jigokudani onsen spring (long considered soothing to body and mind), reflecting in Japanese gardens or sipping from Daiginjo sake on the wooden veranda. Interiors are equally stylish and cozy with tatami floors, cozy furnishings, handmade accents, and fireplaces to keep guests warm in the colder months.
Sowaka: Kyoto, Japan
There is an almost meditative quality to sowakamember of the Small luxury hotels. Nestled in Kyoto’s geisha district, this renovated and refined ryokan channels the calming energy of its surroundings. The past and present are reflected throughout the property. Tree-lined courtyards and trickling water drawn from underground springs encourage guests to slow down. Rooms arranged along leafy walkways ensure privacy and feature sliding paper doors alongside handmade cedar speakers. Products based on Japanese camellia oil take pride of place in the bathrooms. The Michelin-starred restaurant is another example of the symbiosis between old and new.
Zaborin Ryokan: Kutchan-cho, Japan
Located in Hanazono on the island of Hokkaido, Zaborin is a luxury ryokan that garners praise for its calm atmosphere, idyllic beauty, and gastronomic heritage. It’s a special place that exudes contemporary appeal while respecting deep-rooted traditions. Surrounded by peaceful landscape and dotted with birch trees, the modern villas are equipped with private indoor and outdoor baths. Between soaks in the healing hot spring, guests are treated to artfully presented Japanese haute cuisine – especially a lauded regional take on kaiseki cuisine that showcases the region’s seasonality and richness.
Nobu Ryokan Malibu: Malibu, California
An intimate respite for adults overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Nobu Ryokan Malibu is inspired by traditional Japanese inns while celebrating its Southern California coastal address. Salty breezes and the sound of waves lapping on the sand instantly induce a sense of calm. The deliberately simple design echoes the uncluttered philosophy of Zen Buddhism. Beachfront bungalows appease travelers with muted hues, handcrafted teakwood tubs (a nod to onsen), and floor-to-ceiling windows. The aesthetic is complemented by attentive service and signature amenities like in-room omakase sushi.