Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sitting On My Bookshelf: Ryokan

"Travelers lodging at a ryokan- a Japanese inn- can experience at first hand and in depth Japan's handed-down customs and traditions.  They are privy to the perfection of a way of life that combines buildings and nature harmoniously...the Westerner crosses the threshold of the genuine ryokan, which is almost ascetic in its simplicity, and is swallowed up in a past, almost overrefined culture, uniquely luxurious, with exquisite rooms, gardens, baths, and a sophisticated cuisine.  The utmost attention is paid to every detail, no matter how minute."

An excellent resource- as well as stunning coffee table eye candy- Ryokan is a book worthy of any Japanophile's library.  Reflecting the nation's love affair with nature, Ryokan categorizes its Japanese inns according to the Japanese seasonal calendar. Which lodging is the most perfect for Cherry Blossom Viewing?  Which inn is surrounded by the most vibrant autumn leaves?  Of course, an exquisitely designed ryokan and its surroundings are always beautiful, no matter what the season.  Ryokan tempts the reader to book a room, immediately!

"You will be greeted, at the porch of a Japanese inn, by a number of maids, who, sitting in the Japanese way, on the floor, either of matting or of wood, bow so politely with their hands nicely put side by side on the floor.  Your shoes have to be taken off, for the Japanese wear no shoes inside a dwelling house, and a pair of slippers will be given you, instead...a Japanese kimono is soon brought in, because a Japanese feels more comfortable and at home in it than in foreign clothing."

In addition to beautiful photographs, Ryokan is chock-full of useful information: what might be on the menu, how to take a bath, what kind of bedding to expect, what each element of a ryokan actually is.  Ryokan etiquette is something completely foreign to most visitors to Japan, and this book takes the time to explain everything in detail.

"Visiting a ryokan is often an excursion into Japanese history.  Many ryokan are either located at historical sites or themselves have an illustrious past, rich in history."

"Thus, a ryokan is a combination of Japanese art and culture of bygone centuries.  Here we find: architecture, painting, color woodblock printing, ceramics, lacquerwork, ike-bana, sho and, furthermore, everyday utensils, the traditional clothing and the exquisite cuisine. Morever, the reader will learn about the traditional rituals, ceremonies and pleasures such as the The Way Of Tea, no theater, the martial arts, seasonal festivities, The Way of the Samurai, as well as legends and customs."

The only thing not well explained is how exactly one might make a reservation at one of the featured ryokan.  Each ryokan is named and its general location is given.  Perhaps, actually staying at one of these ryokan might require some legwork (and a Japanese-speaking friend), but the reward will be well worth it.  A ryokan's purpose is not merely lodging.  A ryokan's purpose is also to bring peace to a traveler's soul.

Ryokan: A Japanese Tradition.  Photographs by Narimi Hatano and Klaus Frahm.  Copyright 2005. Available on Amazon.

Disclaimer:  I do my best to make sure all my information is accurate.  However, details may change or I may just be flat-out wrong.  Please let me know if something needs a correction.  Thank-you!

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