My Most Embarrassing Travel Story Involving a Japanese Ryokan

PicForNewsletterJapan2005KinosakiMyRoomIn 2005 I went on a where they took me to all the sites that were mentioned in the book/movie.  We checked into an above average ryokan called Sento (a traditional Japanese inn). It was located in the center of Kinosaki and it did not look like much from the . Inside, however, was a whole other world. I was escorted to my straw-smelling minimalist room (one of 40) by a friendly, non-English speaking, kimono-wearing . She politely reminded me (by pointing) to take my 6-sizes-too-small slippers off before I walked on the tatami (straw mat). The place was basically one big empty room, with a connected indoor  divided by a shoji (sliding paper wall). For the first time in my life I felt like I was in a James Bond movie (minus the hot babes). I was so tired I just wanted to lie down on the bed — but there wasn’t anywhere to do that. That’s right: My  (a futon) only miraculously appeared at night, in the center of the room. I never thought sleeping on the floor could be comfortable, but it was. Before my bed showed up the  contained only a very low table, a cushion, a dresser and a television that got three Japanese channels.

Fortunately, the bathroom didn’t have a hole in the ground like many I read about. This one had a modern Western toilet with a heated seat, and some crazy bidet buttons I was afraid to press. But once I pressed them I didn’t want to get off the can (whole other story).

Inside the tiny bathroom was a separate pair of miniature bathroom slippers to be worn only in there. My big toe couldn’t even fit in these, so I just stepped on the tops.

Hot Springs
Like the others, my room had no shower. Instead  was a towel, washcloth, and a yukata (robe) which was to be worn down to the hotel or public hot spring. Luckily, I didn’t slip the yukata on right away, because five minutes after the first woman left, in came  with a cup of  and manjuu (a sweet bean paste bun). After drinking my tea and trying that nasty tasting bun (must be an acquired taste), it was time to wash up before dinner. I donned my yukata, making sure it was tied correctly. It’s important that the left side overlaps the right. Only dead people wear them the other way, and I don’t want negative karma swirling around. I didn’t learn until later that you’re also supposed to wear underwear beneath them. That was a HUGE mistake, which I won’t get into — except to say those robes don’t stay tied too well.

Spa at the Ryokan
I first walked across the street to check out one of the popular public baths in town. My imagination pictured something totally different. Stupid me expected to see a room filled with beautiful women wearing angel wings as they frolicked around the pool. When I took one peek inside, I quickly put on my shoes and ran back to the hotel. I have no desire to bathe in a crowded, steamy room filled to the rim with naked Japanese men. Instead I went to our hotel spa. It was not only free (well, included in the price of the hotel room – at the time — ¥130,000 = $130 for two people), but empty as well.

There are more rules, which are good because you don’t want people running in doing cannonballs without showering. Before  the communal natural hot , it’s important to shower. To do this you sit on a 6-inch high, not very wide stool. Who were these things built for? I was so relieved there was no one else in the room, because I kept falling off that damn thing.

Wrong Room
At  ( most  dish was ), the women in our group were complaining that the women’s bath was really small. I thought that was odd, because the men’s bath was huge. There was even an outdoor tub, with a very peaceful mini-waterfall trickling down the rock wall. I must have been in the bathroom when they told the women, “Don’t worry. You’ll get to see the other spa tomorrow, because every day they swap the facilities at the Sento ryokan. Everyone gets to experience both spas.” You should have seen the look on the Japanese woman who came strolling into the bath stark naked the next morning, only to find King Kong trying to scrub his arse on the miniature stool. Talk about a deer in headlights! I had no idea I was using the women’s bath. Hey, like I can read the Japanese  in the front that says “Female,” “Women,” “Ladies” or “Jackasses”.

When I told that story at , everyone (but me) was in tears from laughing. It’s funny now, but the scene was ugly. The poor woman didn’t speak any English, and me speak no Japanese. All I know is we both broke Rule #1 in Japanese public baths: Don’t make eye or stare.


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My Most Embarrassing Travel Story Involving a Japanese Ryokan
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About the Author

I used to be afraid to fly and at times even leave the house! I conquered my fear (long story) and now I travel to 20+ countries a year sharing my firsthand knowledge, tips and deals with friends, family and readers. Please sign up to our free newsletters and tell your friends!

5 Comments on "My Most Embarrassing Travel Story Involving a Japanese Ryokan"

  1. Been to Japan and experienced all you mentioned. I loved the BATHS. You wear your “robe” to the pools, and a woman scrubs your back. You must be CLEAN to get into the baths. Unisex. It was great. And I experienced the Japanese toilet — Complete — some even have music. They sell these toilets in San Francisco Japan Town! And when you go to DINNER men are ALWAYS SERVED FIRST —

  2. Oh I loved this! It reminds me, rather painfully, of the time I ended up naked except for something my grandmother would have called a “tea towel” over my lady bits and I was on a marble slab on my back. I was getting scrubbed (nearly to death) in a Turkish haman while two Germans sat and talked and smoked and watched (with little interest, thankfully). Sometimes things can just be WAY too authentic!

  3. Love that story, you learn something new every day :) Japan isn’t that easy either with all the culture, traditions and rules.

  4. thanks for posting nice views….

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