A standard ryokan offers guests a basic, “no-frills” version of a Japanese ryokan. The building is usually a plain, concrete building and it looks more like a small inn or hotel than a Japanese ryokan. Inside a standard ryokan there is little traditional atmosphere or character, and while the rooms are Japanese-style they are very plain and simple. A standard ryokan is a ryokan experience “on the cheap,” a ryokan experience without the usually higher ryokan prices found in other traditional or modern-style ryokans.
From the outside, a modern ryokan usually looks like a small hotel and indeed it has all the modern conveniences of a hotel. It is very comfortable and has Japanese-style rooms and baths. It is well maintained so both its interior and exterior look fairly new. There is some traditional Japanese atmosphere, but there is little or no history to the place. It is close to a Japanese-style hotel but with touches of traditional Japanese culture here and there. The comfort of the guests is the number one priority, and the Japanese cultural experience takes second place.
A traditional ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn in the truest sense of the term. The owners take great pride in preserving the building’s traditional atmosphere and history. Indeed, the preservation of the ryokan in its original form is deemed more important than catering to the comfort of the guests. Staying in a traditional ryokan would be like staying in a European castle – wonderful atmosphere but at the expense of hotel-style comfort. The Japanese-style rooms and baths are comfortable, but they can be dark and drafty. There may be few modern conveniences. The building is made entirely of wood and there is usually a beautiful, traditional Japanese garden.
A luxurious ryokan has a long history, traditional atmosphere, and the owners pamper their guests with comfort and all the modern conveniences. The owners and staff go out of their way to make sure the guests are treated like royalty; in other words, Japanese hospitality at its finest. The Japanese-style rooms and baths are very comfortable, and the traditional, “kaiseki-style” meals are outstanding. The ryokan is made entirely of wood and there is also a beautiful Japanese-style garden. Luxurious ryokans are very expensive and usually located in the major hot spring and tourist areas.
From the outside, a ryokan hotel looks like a normal hotel and when a guest enters the building the lobby is like a hotel lobby. A ryokan hotel also has such amenities as a karaoke room, a bar, a gift shop / convenience store, a coffee shop, and a restaurant. The ryokan hotel is brightly lit and very comfortable. The only real difference between a hotel and a ryokan hotel is the ryokan hotel has Japanese-style rooms and baths but there may also be Western-style rooms. Guests can also often choose between having Western or Japanese-style meals.