A ryokan (旅館) is a type of traditional Japanese inn that has existed since the eighth century A.D. during the Keiun period: built to welcome weary travelers who needed to rest before continuing on their long journey and seeking to preserve its special atmosphere and appearance instead of providing the latest modern conveniences, a ryokan is for travelers who wish to experience Japanese culture and enjoy the comforts of Japanese hospitality and service.
Ryokans have been a part of Japanese culture for centuries: some of the earliest Ryokans were (and some still are) located on the Tokaido Highway which connected the capital city of Edo (current day Tokyo) and the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. It was a bustling highway as samurai, traders, and others made their way between the two popular destinations in the country: the owners worked hard to make their guests feel as welcome as possible as they still do today.
Most Ryokan offer dinner and breakfast, which are often included in the price of the room; most visitors take their meals at the ryokan, which usually promote themselves on the quality of their food. Meals consist of traditional Japanese cuisine known as Kaiseki, which features seasonal and regional specialties. (Kaiseki originally referred to light meals served during a tea ceremony, and today refers to a meal consisting of some small, varied dishes.) For each dish to be enjoyed at the proper temperature, Ryokan stress that guests should be punctual for their meals, that's the reason why most Ryokan ask guests to confirm the time they want to take their meals. Some Ryokan have a communal dining area, but most serve meals in the guests' rooms.
While extremes exist, the average cost of a Ryokan stay is between 15,000 and 25,000 yen per person, per night (yes, they charge you per person, not per room): while it might be expensive to stay at every day, it is well worth indulging on one special night during your travels. Minshuku (民宿) is a budget version of ryokan, roughly equivalent to a bed and breakfast; the facilities are similar to a hotel or may simply consist of spare rooms in a family home. Minshuku often serves as the only type of accommodation in towns or villages too small to warrant a dedicated hotel or Ryokan. The overall experience is much the same, but the food is simpler, dining may be optional and is often communal, rooms do not usually have a private toilet, and guests may have to lay out their own bedding. For their importance on traditional style and atmosphere, Ryokan may appear rigid and intimidating for the first timer unfamiliar with the procedures and their etiquette: they are actually an exceptional and relaxing experience that everyone should take the opportunity to try. If you wish to see, taste, touch, and feel traditional Japanese culture, then a night at a typical ryokan is just the thing for you.