Luxury Ryokans That Make For The Most Zen Getaway For 2023
Find some serenity at these plush and peaceful properties.
Japan recently reopened to international travelers and many people (myself included) are beyond excited about the chance to visit the Land of the Rising Sun again. So it’s really the perfect time to start plotting your escape to a ryokan. Staying at a Japanese-style inn is an immersive and authentic cultural experience that goes well beyond just a nice hotel — especially those with private onsen, tatami mat floors, landscaped gardens, and award-winning restaurants. In the same way putting on a certain type of outfit has the ability to shift your mood, guests are invited to change out of street clothes into traditional garments such as yukata (robes) and geta (wooden sandals). Hours unfold in a leisurely fashion. Soothing soaks in natural hot springs. Participating in ancient customs like tea and incense ceremonies. Eating multi-course kaiseki meals prepared with local, seasonal ingredients.
The entire royokan vibe really aligns with the broader trend of slower, more deliberate travel. Some of the best things about the establishments — well, besides the design that’s at once deliberately simple and striking — are all about taking time to luxuriate in each blissful moment, enjoying the pleasures of rituals and relaxation, and connecting to the natural world. Basically, it’s the restorative getaway we all need, nay deserve, after the last few stressful years. Understanding that a trip to Japan may be more of a 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 for Bettei Senjuan. Part of the Relais & Châteaux portfolio, this halcyon hot springs hotel strikes the balance between classic and contemporary. The commitment to craftsmanship is evident from the minute you arrive in the entrance hall, which displays an ink-marbled ceiling and stainless steel tatami mat floors. Original calligraphy by Nobuko Kawahara adorns the exquisitely curved corridor leading to the guest quarters. All 18 rooms feature outdoor baths and breathtaking views of snow-capped Mount Tanigawa.
Hoshinoya Tokyo: Tokyo, Japan
One of the busiest cities might be an unexpected destination to find a serene sanctuary that plays into ancient practices. Leave it to Hoshinoya Tokyo to provide a modern ryokan-style stay that’s so relaxing that the hustle and bustle of the outside world cease to exist. Once inside the high-rise building in the Otemachi business district, guests remove their shoes and surrender to the sumptuous silk kimonos and soft tatami matting. Gagaku performances, Japanese tea ceremonies, and sake tastings are held in the lobby common area. On the top floor, sits an onsen that draws hot spring water from deep below the ground and is open to the night sky.
Gora Kadan: Hakone, Japan
The finest ryokan in Hakone, Gora Kadan is a Relais & Châteaux retreat that offers a deeply sensorial experience. The former summer villa of the Kanin-no-miya Imperial family exudes an undeniable air of regality but does so in a way that feels very understated. Minimally minded rooms embrace a streamlined sensibility with tatami mats, wooden soaking tubs, and silk textiles. Suites add sitting lounges, open-air stone baths, and saunas. Kaiseki breakfasts and pampering massages can both be enjoyed in the comfort of guest sanctums. And troubles simply seem don’t exist while steeping in the hot springs heated by volcanic rocks.
Beniya Mukayu: Yamashiro, Japan
Nature creates an endlessly calming roadmap at Beniya Mukayu in the spa town of Yamashiro. Expansive windows, skylights, and earthy hues bring the outdoors inside. Every room has its own private open-air hot spring bath. This hilltop hideaway honors its history as the site of a sacred Buddhist temple — particularly 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 staff embodies the Japanese principle of omotenashi, which essentially translates to wholeheartedly looking after guests.
Hoshinoya Kyoto: Kyoto, Japan
Nestled in the forested seclusion of the Arashiyama district, Hoshinoya Kyoto — like the former imperial seat then known as Heiankyo, “the capital of peace” — very much brings a sense of heritage and a tranquil spirit into the present. After a scenic 15-minute boat ride, the splendor of this riverfront refuge comes into focus. Sliding screens, lattice lanterns, kyo-karakami (artistic printed paper), and contemporary touches breathe vitality into centurys-old buildings facing the flowing waters of the Oi River. Framed by ancient trees, the meandering stone pathways are the perfect backdrop for a quiet and contemplative stroll.
Takinoya: Noboribetsu, Japan
With its gentle pace and verdant setting near Lake Kuttara in the renowned hot spring resort area of Noboribetsu in southern Hokkaido, family-run Takinoya is a wonderful place to relax and recharge for a few days — whether that entails letting stress melt away in the curative waters fed by the Jigokudani onsen source (long believed to ease the body and mind), reflecting in the Japanese gardens, or sipping Daiginjo sake on the wooden veranda. Interiors are equally elegant and ease-filled with tatami floors, cozy furnishings, handmade accents, and fireplaces to keep guests warm in the colder months.
Sowaka: Kyoto, Japan
There’s an almost meditative quality to Sowaka, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels. Tucked away in Kyoto’s geisha district, this renovated and refined ryokan channels the soothing energy of its environment. The past and present are reflected throughout the property. Tree-shrouded courtyards and trickling water drawn from underground springs encourage guests to slow down. Rooms arranged along leafy lanes grant privacy and show off paper sliding doors alongside handmade cedar speakers. Japanese camellia oil products sit in the bathrooms. The Michelin-starred restaurant is yet another example of the symbiosis between ancient and modern.
Zaborin Ryokan: Kutchan-cho, Japan
Situated in Hanazono on the island of Hokkaido, Zaborin is a luxury ryokan that elicits praise for its sedate atmosphere, idyllic beauty, and gastronomic legacy. It’s a special place that exudes contemporary appeal while still paying respect to deep-rooted traditions. Surrounded by a placid and birch-dotted landscape, modern villas are equipped with private indoor and outdoor baths. Between soaks in the healing hot spring, guests have the pleasure of savoring artfully presented Japanese haute cuisine — specifically a lauded regional rendition of kaiseki dining that showcases seasonality and the bounty of the region.
Nobu Ryokan Malibu: Malibu, California
An intimate adult-oriented respite overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Nobu Ryokan Malibu draws inspiration from traditional Japanese inns while celebrating its coastal Southern California address. Salty breezes and the sound of the waves lapping against the sand instantly induce a sense of calm. The purposefully simple design echoes the philosophy of uncluttered living in Zen Buddhism. Beachfront bungalows soothe travelers with subdued hues, handcrafted teak wood soaking tubs (a nod to onsen), and floor-to-ceiling windows. Aesthetics are complemented by attentive service and exclusive amenities like in-room omakase sushi.