Ryokans in Japan’s most beautiful places

By Nadia Sheng,

When looking for hotels around Japan’s world heritage sites and national parks, anticipate mostly smaller, privately run accommodations such as ryokans. As ryokans in Japan are usually family run you should expect only a few rooms like in a B&B. So, if you have a flexible with your holiday calendar toggle with dates for an opportunity to stay within arm’s length of Arashiyama’s bamboo forest.


Noboribetsu (Jigokudani)

colorful leaves view at Jigokudani hell valley, Hokkaido, Japan

Under 4 hours from the city of Hokkaido, and under 2 hours from Sapporo, is Jigokudani or Hell Valley; the site of the popular Noboribetsu-onsen. You wont have difficulty finding a place to stay as hoteliers know a lot of wellness travellers frequent the area and have responded in kind by providing a good selection of ryokan and hotels.

Speaking of where to stay…the ryokan Noboribetsu Onsen Oyado Kiyomizuya is a 5-minute walk from the Noboribetsu-onsen and has its own baths; one for men, one for women, and an open-air bath for both.


Besides its rejuvenating, sulfurous, 50 °C onsen, Hell Valley is known for its captivating autum scenescape. The best time to view autumn leaves is from mid-October to early November. The cascade of red leaves coupled with the ever-present fog that hangs over the city earns Jigokudani the nickname “Hell Valley”.

Noboribetsu Onsen Oyado Kiyomizuya

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Lake Tōya


Photo credit: jiashiang via VisualHunt / CC BY

Drive along the coastline from Noboribetsu for an hour and you’ll arrive at Lake Tōya (also known as Toyako). Somewhat reminiscent of the view of Mt. Fuji we’re accustomed to, peeking behind a vast body of water, Mt. Usu is a sight to behold.

Stay at the Windsor Toya Resort and Spa and you’ll be able to behold that view daily as a guest while bathing in the hotel’s public baths. The view is particularly splendid when the autumn leaves are in their full glory from the end of September to late October.


Windsor Toya Resort and Spa

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Kantō region

Mount Takao

Within an hour of Tokyo’s city centre is the popular hiking destination Mount Takao. It’s the start/end point of the Tōkai Nature Trail, a long distance walkway that leads to Minoh, near Osaka. It’s approximately two times the distance of the Camino de Santiago and usually takes 40 to 50 days to complete. Oh, and did we mention that the sturdy maple trees make for great hiking companions? While silent, they’ll elicit deep thought, just like a good hiking partner would. They also don’t ask you to take their photo a million times (though you’ll want to take their photo anyway)! The best time to view autumn leaves in 2017 is from late October to early December.

Mount Takao is located in Hachiōji, a city in the western part of greater Tokyo. You can stay there or, if you want to centre your holiday around Toyko, where the changing colours of price tags from white to a red are more lucrative, then stay in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward where you can take the JR Chuo Line directly from the Shinjuku Station (40 minute journey time, 550 yen). If you’re in Shinjuku, you have to check out the Godzilla-themed Hotel Gracery and other fun themed-hotels in the area.

Hotel Gracery

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Hakone (Gora Park)


Photo credit: KeroroTW via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

Located between Mount Fuji and the Pacific Ocean is onsen town Hakone, one of the top destinations in Japan for locals and internationals alike. Its prime location would get it a thumbs up from feng shui masters anywhere. There’s lots to see in Hakone, namely the French-styled Gora Park which has both a botanical and flower garden as well as a tea house. Try your hand at Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) or performing a Japanese tea ceremony if you’ll be in town for a while. The park is also famous for its autumn leaves. The best time to view them is from early November to the end of November.

Once you’ve soaked in the sights, take a soak in Hakone’s most well-known hot spring: Yumoto.

hakone-lalaca-hotspringbathStay at Kijitei Hoeiso, a 10 minute walk to the Tenzan Onsen (Yumoto’s most popular collection of hot springs), or the ryokan Lalaca, under 10 minutes to Gora Park.

Kijitei Hoeiso

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Central Japan

Karuizawa (Kumoba Pond)


Photo credit: Jun Takeuchi via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

You don’t have to be the Emperor of Japan to vacation in the affluent resort town of Karuizawa. An hour northwest of Tokyo, Karuizawa has hot springs, activities such as skiing and golfing, a historic shopping street known as Ginza Street, and Kumoba Pond – the emperor’s favourite spot in Karuizawa. Do you already have a lot planned on your trip through Japan but really want to see what’s caught Emperor Akihito’s eye? Since Kumoba Pond is relatively near the Karuizawa Station, you can hop off the train on your way from Tokyo to your next destination for a brisk 20 minute walk around the maple lined-pond. Sounds like the ideal leg stretcher to us, particularly when the leaves start changing colour from the end of November to early December.


If you’re weekending from Tokyo however, stay at top rated Karuizawa Prince Hotel, south of the Karuizawa Station, just beyond the popular Prince Shopping Plaza.

Karuizawa Prince Hotel

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Toyama (Kurobe Gorge)


Check out that gorge! When the train pulls up to Kuronagi Station, the first stop along the Kurobe Gorge Railway, you’ve officially crossed over to the realm of make believe. From there to the gorge’s ultimate station, journeyers should hop off and explore the area and, if time allows, spend a day soaking in the magic in a riveside on sen. Pictured above is the Okukane Bridge – if you’re only doing one pedestrian bridge, do this one as it cuts right across the Kurobe River and stands a majestic 34 metres tall. Talk about inspiration.


Given its natural, undeveloped setting, the best area accommodations are ryokans. And the best of the ryokans is 5-star Enraku Ryokan Toyama. Located in Unazuki Onsen, the point of departure for trains going through the Kurobe Gorge, the ryokan is an ideal home base for explorers wanting to experience the sites offered at all 3 stations along the gorge. Seriously, with that advanced level of scenery going on, you and your camera will be thankful that a powersource will be within reach so you can recharge both yourself, by virtue of the hot spring, and your camera’s batteries, by virtue of a power source. If you can, plan a trip between the end of October to early November when the colours of the autumn leaves will be richest.

Enraku Ryokan Toyama

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Kansai region



Photo credit: kubotake via Visual Hunt / CC BY

If Hayao Miyazaki hasn’t been here yet, when he does we suppose he’d cast it as the backdrop of any new film he’s working on. Arashiyama is a forested district on the frindge of Kyoto that’s known for its bamboo forest. Continue living the courtly existance by visiting the many Zen and Shinto temples and shrines, such as the Nonomiya Shrine that appeared in the Tale of Genji, and taking in the many sights of nature that’ve earned it the government designation of “Place of Scenic Beauty”.

Stay at the Ryotei Rangetsu ryokan which is mid-range, is rated excellent, and is just under 10 minutes to both the bamboo grove and to the area’s most important temple: Tenryuji Temple.


Coming up at the end of November is one of the most popular autumn leaf viewing spectacles in Kyoto, let alone Japan. The district is consumed in reddish brown hues through till early December. From the tops of the mountains right down to temple grounds, maple trees are everywhere.

Ryotei Rangetsu

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Photo credit: gtknj via VisualHunt / CC BY

Former villa and garden of Meji era businessman, Kunenan, aka Nine-Year Hermitage in reference to the 9 years it took to complete, is a tea house style, Edo period house that’s open to the public just 13 days a year – nine days in November for maple leaf viewings and four days in May. Since when have we ever passed up a rare spectacle? Just as we’re fascinated by the Northern lights for their out-of-this-world colours, so too are we drawn to the wondrous hues of autumn – from the pink skies to the red leaves. The best time to view their autumn leaves is from early November to end of November.

As there aren’t many hotels in Kanzaki, the city where Kunenan is located, journeyers should stay in the neighbouring town of Saga.

Transportation routes, entrance fee costs and the lot can be found on japan-guide.com