(1758-1831) One of the pre-eminent Zen poets of Japan, Ryokan grew up in the village of Izumozaki in Echigo province on the west coast of Japan. As a young man named Yamamoto Eizo, he got down with the geisha, drank, danced and generally acted like a wild thing. But high living wasn't all it was cracked up to be. in 1777, he gave up the post of village headman he'd inherited from his father and became a monk. Given the name Ryokan (ryo = good, kan = bighearted, generous) he trained at various monasteries until 1795, when he learned of the suicide of his father. Coming back to the village of his birth, he found an old hermitage on a nearby mountain and remained there until his death almost forty years later.

In this hermitage, which he named Gogo-an (a gogo is half of a sho, the amount of rice needed to sustain someone for a day, an means monastery or temple.) he wrote a large collection of haiku and waka poetry. In between, he begged for food in the nearby town, played with kids, drank with farmers, went hungry, got wet.

Today's begging is finished; at the crossroads
I wander by the side of Hachiman Shrine
Talking with some children.
Last year, a foolish monk;
This year, no change!

Also, the name for the japanese equivalent of a bed and breakfast. A small inn with traditional accomodations. (tatami floor mats for bed etc.)

My family went to japan around new year's day in 1990. My sister and I were about the same size and both white, and everyone thought we were twins, and the combination of twins, my sister's blonde hair, and it being new year's meant everyone everywhere gave us little gifts. anyhow, the man and wife who owned the ryokan where we stayed were particularly taken with us, and gave us beautiful cloths and little carved boxes for the new years, and made bacon and eggs every morning for my homesick sister, which amused my parents to no end, who had decided to take us to a ryokan so we could experience authentic japanese food and customs. I think my sister's smiling face as she expertly ate her scrambled eggs with chopsticks in her tiny hands made the proprieters' day, though.

Tips for staying in a ryokan.

• Don't treat the establishment like a regular hotel. Staying in a ryokan can be a transcendental experience if you wish it to be so. Check in early (before 6pm)

• Take you shoes off! Slippers will be provided at the door. Use the toilet slippers when visiting the toilet.

• Be sure to understand the bathing ettiquette. Men and women will often have seperate facilities, but where they don't, differing timeslots will be provided.

• Roll your futon (mattress) in the morning and store it in the nook provided. Take the futon out again in the evening.

• Above all, enjoy the experience! The Japanese are amongst the most hospitable people in the world, and love to be asked questions about their ancient and respectful culture. And if you can't afford a ryokan, consider a cheaper minshuku. Staying in Japan doesn't have to be in stale business hotels.

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