Plant Based Eating at a Ryokan in Japan (Traditional Japanese Inn)

plant based eating at a ryokan

A ryokan is an old school Japanese inn.

When I say old school, I’m not talking about ‘80s retro. I’m talking 17th century days of old. Ryokans have been around since the early 1600s- they are some of the world’s first hotels.

You don’t stay at a ryokan, you experience it.

Imagine a Motel 6. Now imagine the extreme opposite of that. Throw in a natural hot spring to bathe in (known as an “Onsen”) and an 11-course plant-based meal served to you in your room, all while being nestled in a tranquil forest.

On our recent trip to Japan we stayed one night at a plant based friendly ryokan outside of Osaka. There were a lot of ryokans to choose from, but not all of them had an onsen and that’s what I wanted to experience.

We chose to stay at Nanten-en because there was availability, I could request all vegan food, and it was a bit less expensive than other ryokans we looked at.

As a side note, staying at a ryokan is not cheap (hence the one night stay), it is a splurge to say the least. My po-dunkness struggled with the cost (around $250 per person per night) until I reminded myself that I don’t have kids so there will be no college expenses for me! Bring on the ryokan – it was time to enjoy.

And I did more than enjoy, I BLISSED.

Here’s a snapshot of our stay at the ryokan.

This is not a sponsored post, nor did we get paid (or a free night’s stay) by the ryokan or travel gear mentioned or photographed in this post.

Here we are on the train from Osaka to Nanten-en. The inn was a 2 minute walk from the train stop.

The entrance of the ryokan. It is only 40 minutes from the city but you feel totally tranquil upon arrival thanks to beautiful nature all around you.

When we walked in we were warmly greeted by two women who took our bags and our shoes and gave us slippers to wear. We were shown to a beautiful waiting room and given tea and a lightly sweetened snack made from rice.

Our room had a traditional tatami floor, sliding doors, a long table to eat and have tea,  and huge windows overlooking a Japanese garden (is it just “garden” since we were in Japan??). Ryokans do not have beds in the rooms.

At bedtime, two women come into the room and move the long table aside. Then they put down futons and make them up with fresh bedding. In the morning after breakfast they remove the beds and put the table back.

The view of the garden from our room.

Here I am exploring the grounds of the ryokan. There were shrines, bridges, flowers, beautiful trees, a flowing river – I was so at peace and happy walking around outside.

If you’ve never seen rice growing, here you go! A small rice field was just across the road from the inn.

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  1. Marcy on August 24, 2019 at 9:12 am

    Oh, this is my favorite blog post you’ve ever written. Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience!

    • Michelle on August 25, 2019 at 8:46 am

      I visited a much simpler one in northern Japan in Nikko about 30 years ago, a drop in the bucket compared to their age. Breathtaking and other worldly begin to describe the experience. Mine was much simpler, meal wise, and the onsen was much much smaller. Each guest reserved their time. Honestly I did not experience the onsen because the water was not changed in between guests and no chlorine is used obviously. My germaphobia just wouldn’t allow it. I remember eating breakfast there but having noodles in town for dinner. I think there must be a wide offering of ryokans. Still, one of the most amazing trips of my life. Fiji was 2nd. So awesome to hear your travel stories and wonderful pictures. In the ho hum in and out of the day it reminds me there is more, I was once more (different?), and it’s still out there for me (once my kids are grown and move out!) Thank you for sharing the beautiful window into your journey!

  2. Tracy on August 24, 2019 at 9:14 am

    Looks like I just added something to my bucket list! Absolutely breathtaking. Thank you for sharing your experience and the link to the ryokan! ❤️

  3. Babette on August 24, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Great review and photos. I learned something completely new. Thank you from Hawai’i Island.

  4. Cheryl on August 24, 2019 at 9:58 am

    Thank you SO much for this wonderful (and thorough) description of your stay! When we get to Japan, this is now absolutely on our list!!

    • Molly Patrick on August 24, 2019 at 11:11 am

      You are most welcome!
      I highly recommend it.

  5. Barbara Cook on August 24, 2019 at 10:00 am

    Thank you for sharing your Japanese travel experience?

    I wonder if we can get an 11 course Japanese meal plan because all the food looks amazing?

    • Molly Patrick on August 24, 2019 at 11:11 am

      The thought has crossed my mind!

    • Shannon Denaux on August 24, 2019 at 11:21 am

      I second that!

  6. Cathy Strine on August 24, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Incredibly educational and most beautiful. Many thanks once again for taking the time to share. xo

  7. Robin Ciani on August 24, 2019 at 10:56 am

    I lived in Japan for 3 years and had the opportunity to experience several wonderful onsens. This post brought back so many wonderful memories. Natsukashii, as they say in Japanese (a word that refers to the feeling of having fond memories of the past). ❤️

  8. Holly in Utah on August 24, 2019 at 10:58 am

    Molly, I LOVED reading this post and seeing all of your beautiful photos! Wow!! My husband and I are headed to Osaka in October. It’s our first time to Japan, and to Asia in general. We will be taking a train South to the Kii peninsula where we will hike the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage (bucket list!). Each night of our 6 day journey we are booked in a different ryokan or guest house. I cant wait!! I don’t expect them to be quite as fancy as this one and although we requested Vegan we are not sure how that will turn out (part of the adventure) but we know it will be similar with the tatami mats, futons, multi course meals, robes and an Onsen. I can’t wait!!! I’ll blog about it for sure.
    I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Molly Patrick on August 24, 2019 at 11:10 am

      That’s so rad! I would love to hear about your trip when you return home.
      It sounds like an amazing trip you have planned!

  9. Janice Hines on August 24, 2019 at 12:42 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your post this afternoon. It brought back many memories of my life in Japan. I lived there for about five years. I did a lot of traveling while there. Your photos brought back my memories of life experiences in this unique culture. I miss the onsen and the quaint ryokan experiences with my friends.

  10. Dee on August 24, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    That was outstanding! What a wonderful gift to give yourself. Thank you for sharing the experience.

  11. Kim on August 24, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing. Your photos are gorgeous and I’m glad you and Luanne treated yourselves!

  12. Caroline on August 24, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    Oh Molly, Thank you so much for your post. I’m planning a trip to Japan next year to visit my birthplace as we left when I was very young. I am now going to add a stay at a ryokan for a day or two…and definitely looking forward to onsens. When you were in the SF Bay Area, did you ever go to Osento’s on Valencia Street? Miss that place. ❤️

  13. Beth on August 24, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experience and photos with us! I’m adding a ryokan stay to my bucket list. I have a luggage question for you. You you mind saying the brands of the backpacks on the bench in the next to last photo?

    • Molly Patrick on August 24, 2019 at 2:41 pm

      Yay! I highly recommend it.
      The blue backpacks are Granite Gear. They are awesome.

    • Luanne Teoh on August 24, 2019 at 4:55 pm

      Beth, the backpacks on the bench are from Lululemon. The blue luggage on the ground are by Granite Gear.

      • Beth on August 24, 2019 at 6:16 pm

        Thank you Luanne and Molly!

  14. Dee McLarty on August 24, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    Thankyou for helping me relive my recent most beautiful experience at Hoeiso Ryoken in Hakone, just outside of Tokyo. Just after that visit my Japanese trip blew apart when my granddaughter decided to make an early and rocky entry into the world and I had to abandon my travel and return home to Australia. As things started to settle down I have drawn on my wonderful experience at the traditional inn and truly believe it something everyone should try. True simplicity in its finest form.

  15. MJ on August 24, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    Staying at a ryokan is on my bucket list so I loved this! The food looked fantastic (the onsen too).

    I bet that the umami tofu dressing for veg was shira-ae – tofu mixed with sesame and some miso. Nutritious and tasty and works with most veg.

  16. Anna Luna on August 24, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    Ah! The beauty of traditional Japan. I lived there in the 70s for thee years as a child. I never knew about these inns.
    I was fortunate enough to experience a Japanese home, so simple and compact. We were bathed and then soaked on a deep hot tub. Eating at the low tables and sleeping on futon laid on tatami mats. I feel so blessed.
    I don’t know if I’ll ever go back, but if I do this will be on my list.
    Thanks for sharing.

  17. Jacqueline Lewis on August 24, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    Oh MY—I could just feel the PEACE coming thru just reading about your experience! And, Yes, I love to sleep on Futons on the floor….Thank you for a wonderful HEAVENLY post!!!!! I love ALL of you!!!

  18. Debra Chan on August 24, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    I have stayed in many ryokans and was in one this past spring. It was nestled under Mt Fuji and the hot spring came right to our room. This brought back wonderful memories, so thank you ❣️ The pictures were lovely as well of the beautiful gardens Japanese people design. So happy you could experience one!

  19. Vegan Minshuku Sanbiki Neko on August 24, 2019 at 7:45 pm

    We run a vegan bed and breakfast in Kyoto and are always being asked by our guests for recommendations for other vegan friendly accommodation. Thanks for the info. Very nicely presented too. It’s great that more traditional Ryokan are realising the opportunity to cater to plant based travellers. Might have to get away to this one ourselves for a special occasion! Cheers

  20. Sue on August 24, 2019 at 8:35 pm

    Just reading this was Zen, like a little mini-vacation! Amazing and beautiful place.

  21. Heather A Purcell on August 25, 2019 at 4:45 am

    I lived in Korea for six years and took several trips to Japan. Going to an onsen or jimjilbang (the Korean bathhouses) was one of my favorite things to do. I so miss going for a soak followed by a full body scrub. I had the opportunity to do temple stays in both countries. I loved the temple stays for many reasons, but the food was high on the list. It’s generally all vegan.

  22. Julia W on August 25, 2019 at 6:44 am

    Wow, just wow. When you see what all was included the price seems reasonable.

    • Luanne Teoh on August 25, 2019 at 1:55 pm

      That’s what I thought too especially when we had no idea it included an 11 course meal!! We just thought it was a room, a hot spring, dinner and breakfast. The dinner alone was worth $250 in any decent restaurant. After we experienced that, we thought the price was super fair.

  23. Rose on August 25, 2019 at 8:51 am

    Exquisite! Simply exquisite…I could use a stay at a Ryokan in the worst way right about now. The closest I will get is a spa over on Vancouver Island…solo, just to unwind for a day or two. (My husband has had two surgeries back to back and I the care giver). Thanks for sharing this. ???

  24. Ellen on August 25, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Thank you for bringing back wonderful memories, of ryokkans and nonsense, on a trip to Japan more than 30 years ago. I remember the delicacy and beauty of the food and the tofu and the breakfasts, and the experience of wonder and peace,
    Domo arigato,
    PS Could you share the name and location of the ryokan? Does anyone know in Hokkaido to recommemd?

    • Luanne Teoh on August 25, 2019 at 1:56 pm

      The link to the Ryokan is above in the post at the top 🙂

  25. Bonnie on August 25, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    Loved hearing the comment about the peeled grapes!
    Ages ago, my Dad told me I would know a man loved me, if he was willing to peel my grapes for me!!
    So they must love you two there!!

  26. Kathy on August 26, 2019 at 9:25 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your lovely adventure – the pictures are stunning!

  27. Kirstie Misquez on August 27, 2019 at 11:29 pm


  28. Go Jules go on August 29, 2019 at 10:11 am

    I cannot get over this food, let alone the entire experience! Absolutely stunning from start to finish. Thanks so much for sharing; I love adding new things to my bucket list!

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