When visiting Japan there is nothing more relaxing than a short escape into the Japanese countryside, to complement days of exploring Tokyo and strolling Kyoto’s backstreets.
And when visiting the Japanese countryside, there is no better way to immerse yourself than with a stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inn).
But if you only have 1 or 2 nights to spare in between visits to Tokyo and Kyoto, which region of Japan should you visit – and what are some of the best, most authentic ryokans?
Take our virtual ryokan tour to see if a ryokan stay is right for you.
Our Favorite Luxury ryokans
Japan has countless beautiful and authentic ryokans, but not all are convenient for travelers en route from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka, or vice versa.
Of course, if schedule is not a factor you may have time to travel to more remote parts of Japan.
But if you don’t have unlimited time, then journeying to a remote corner of Japan may not be the best use of your efforts – and will probably leave you with little time or energy to enjoy the destination or the journey.
We created this short list of our favorite luxury ryokans especially for travelers with discerning taste, but a limited amount of time.
The carefully-chosen properties below are perfect if you want to stay in one of Japan’s best ryokans, without traveling terribly far from the Tokyo-Kyoto path.
They are located in a small handful of picturesque areas of Japan – Hakone, Izu, Hokuriku and Hida – that are relatively easy to reach whether you’re traveling to Kyoto from Tokyo, or vice versa.
Some are slightly more remote than others, but all are well suited to short stays. You’ll have time to kick off your shoes, settle into the gentle pace of the countryside, and spend a peaceful day or two in bliss as you soak it all in.
Most importantly, each of these luxurious ryokans offers wonderful Japanese hospitality, soothing onsen (hot springs), and impeccable kaiseki cuisine featuring seasonal and local specialties.
Luxury ryokans in Hakone
Hakone is almost always the first place people ask us about when considering a ryokan stay.
The Hakone region is a well-known national park area full of ryokans and onsen, and on clear days offers stunning views of Mount Fuji.
Because of its convenient location (of the regions featured in this article, it is the most convenient), Hakone is a perfect stopover for 1 or 2 nights if you’re traveling in between Tokyo and Kyoto or Osaka.
Plan on about 60-90 minutes by train or bullet train from Tokyo, and 2-3 hours by bullet train from Kyoto.
If there is a drawback to Hakone, it’s that its fame and convenience make it a very popular, and sometimes crowded, destination for travelers from around the world, as well as from within Japan.
Hakone has too many excellent ryokans to name. Some of our favorite luxury ryokans in Hakone include:
*Gora is simply the name of an area within Hakone
Luxury ryokans in Izu
The Izu Peninsula (Izu Hanto in Japanese) is a rugged and beautiful area located south of Mount Fuji and Hakone.
Izu, which encompasses a much larger area than Hakone, is blessed with pristine forests, stunning coastlines, and more than its fair share of ryokans and onsen.
Izu is only a little more out of the way than Hakone, and also makes for a perfect stopover in between Tokyo and Kyoto or Osaka. If you can afford to spend 2 nights here it will likely be worthwhile, but even with 1 night you can have a wonderful experience.
Plan on about 2 hours from Tokyo by train, and about 3 hours 30 minutes from Kyoto by train and bullet train.
Since Izu is less known or visited than Hakone, expect a slightly more off-the-beaten-path feel than you would likely find in Hakone.
Some of our favorite luxury ryokans in the Izu Peninsula include:
Luxury ryokans in Hokuriku & Hida
Located in central Japan, the scenic areas of Hokuriku along the Japan Sea Coast, and Hida deep in the Japanese Alps, are subregions of the larger Chubu region.
In this vast section of Japan you’ll find a variety of lovely landscapes, culture and cuisine, including the beauty and bounty of the Japan Sea (and some of Japan’s best seafood), the historic city of Kanazawa, and the remote mountains and villages of the Japan Alps.
Even though they are a bit further geographically than the Hakone or Izu regions mentioned above, we often recommend Hokuriku or Hida as a perfect stopover for 2 or more nights in between Tokyo and Kyoto or Osaka – particularly since the 2015 launch of the Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train. Typically we recommend at least 2 nights, but if you have 3 or more nights there is plenty to do and see.
To reach the Hokuriku ryokans mentioned below, plan on about 3-4 hours from Tokyo by train and bullet train, and 2 hours from Kyoto by train. To reach the Hida ryokans mentioned below by train and bullet train, plan on about 4 hours 30 minutes from Tokyo and 3 hours 30 minutes from Kyoto.
Some of our favorite luxury ryokans in Hokuriku and Hida include:
More Luxury Ryokans & Hotels in Japan
Hopefully this list of our favorite luxury ryokans within easy reach of Tokyo and Kyoto helps you find the right ryokan for you!
For even more ryokan-related inspiration, enjoy our Luxury ryokans & The Japanese Countryside trip.
And to see our favorite accommodations throughout Japan, have a look at our article on Japan’s best luxury and boutique hotels and ryokans.