On October 17th and 18th, all of us international students went on a study tour trip to Nikko which is located in Tochigi Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo (you have to pass through several other prefectures to reach Tochigi). During our stay at Nikko, we were fortunate to be able to experience a ryokan (Japanese inn), but the ryokan we stayed at wasn't exactly what we had expected. First off, the name of the ryokan was "Yunoya Hotel" so we were a little confused and thought it was a hotel. However, the sign at the entrance confirmed it was a ryokan, complete with an onsen (hot spring). The decor of the lobby had an interesting, eclectic, East-meets-West feeling, with a shockingly bright green staircase leading up to the second floor. It did not exactly seem very traditional or simple at all.
The rooms were a lot more spacious than expected (we stayed 3 students to a room) and the floor was mainly tatami (straw floor mats). We were also provided with complimentary yukata (cotton kimono). Sadly, we weren't allowed to keep the yukata. As there was no "bedroom", the main room we had tea in (the staff makes you tea when you first arrive) became the place we slept. Traditionally, the Japanese sleep on futons or mattresses laid on the floor. The ryokan staff take out the futons when the guests are at dinner, and put them away when the guests eat breakfast.
We were all a little wary of the onsen because it is a community bath and we would have to be nude (of course, women and men are separated). You can technically take a small towel into the room with the showers and the onsen, but the towel can't touch the onsen water (I'm not really sure why). In the end, it wasn't as embarrassing as we thought it would be and the onsen waters made my skin feel incredibly smooth. I'm probably just weak to heat, but I thought the water was really hot (it felt like my feet were boiling). Boiled egg smell aside (sulfur really has a pungent odor), the onsen was a great experience. There is actually something called "rinse", which is sort of like body wash, and you use it after getting out of the onsen to cut the sulfur smell.
The ryokan provided us with a traditional Japanese dinner on the 17th and a traditional Japanese breakfast on the 18th (traditional meaning there was a lot of fish involved). If you're not a fan of fish, traditional Japanese cuisine might not be for you. We had raw shrimp, raw baby eels, a small trout cooked in sauce, beef shabu shabu (cooking thinly sliced meat in boiling water), pickled vegetables, and many other kinds of dishes. Speaking of dishes, one feature of Japanese cuisine is to have separate tiny plates for everything. On each of our trays, we probably had around 12 dishes. It was kind of hard to figure out how to move things closer to us. During dinner, we had to wear our yukata and sit in the proper manner (seiza), which was somewhat uncomfortable since dinner lasted for an hour. When you sit seiza, both of your legs are folded under you, although men can also cross their legs and women are allowed to sit with their legs to one side. Unfortunately, all of us girls had our legs either go numb or fall asleep.
We slept well on the night of the 17th and the ryokan was relatively quiet (there only seemed to be one other group staying there). My room was a corner room, so I had a nice view of the road on one side and a lake on the other. The morning was quite cool (colder than we had ever felt in Japan so far) and we were grateful for the room's heaters. Despite its eccentricities, Yunoya Hotel was an interesting experience. The staff were extremely friendly and even saw us off, waving flags and bowing good-bye.
(By the way, I'm sorry if my English is getting more confusing. I've noticed that it's harder to make coherent sentences because I mainly use Japanese here.)