Relaxing the Japanese way

(See page 2 for the German version)

As there is no word in Japanese for ‚to sleep in‘ (朝寝坊する, asanebou suru, ‚to oversleep‘ has a rather negative connotation), and for ‚to relax‘ in general ‚rirakkusu suru‘, which was borrowed from the English verb, is beig used, I was seriously worried that the myth of the hard-working and never resting stereotype Japanese person is actually true. Now that I live in Japan, I know that fortunately it is not a 100% true (- although we Germans with our weeklong holidays, leisurely days on our balconies and Sundays without any open shops are most certainly better at relaxing and comfortably doing nothing than the average Japanese person).

Like I once again found out during my last stay in Hakone, in Japan, a great place to relax would be a ryokan. Ryokan are traditional Japanese inns that originated in the Edo period. Unfortunately, with an average price of 10.000 to 20.000 yen per person and night (including dinner and breakfast), they are far from being a cheap alternative to a hotel. Still, for foreigners, staying at a ryokan can be an exciting way to experience original Japanese culture: When you enter the ryokan, you need to take off your shoes and change into slippers, and after being lead to your room, which of course is a tatami room with traditional Japanese interior, you can change into a comfortable yukata. Not to mention the onsen that you may use without any time limit. For Japanese people, staying at a ryokan probably means two things: Relaxation and high quality Japanese food. People would often go somewhere, just because the food at a ryokan there is supposed to be famous.

Although thinking about the price is a little scary for me, too, I actually love staying at a ryokan. The best part of it is probably that you arrive in the late afternoon or evening and then really have the freedom to simply do nothing. You don’t feel the need to go out again and explore the new surroundings, because you mainly just came here to stay at the ryokan. The food, one of the most important components of a stay at a ryokan will be served in the rooms. So you just sit at the table and wait for all the beautifully decorated delicacies to be served. The portions are very small, but there are a lot of different dishes – during our dinner we just sat there and ate for an hour, so-called slow food at its finest. One could argue about the taste, as many dishes may taste strange or too fishy, but the attention to detail and the variety of the food served never ceases to amaze me.

After dinner, the ryokan staff will prepare your futon, and you can enjoy a bath in the onsen for as long as you would like. So, what better way could there be to relax, than with eating well, taking a long bath and sleeping…?

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