Hostessing is an art, and it is an art that the Japanese have refined over many generations.
If you are visiting Japan I highly recommend staying at a Ryokan. A Ryokan is a Japanese style inn. Ryokan are a way to rest and relax while experiencing Japanese culture. Ryokan always have Japanese architecture, which means Tatami(straw mat) flooring, Fusuma (paper sliding doors), and a Genkan (entryway ledge) where you will leave your shoes. This will give you a traditional experience, and an asthetic that dates back to the edo period.
Ryokan can be a remarkable experience, but westerners who are unprepared for their experience may become confused, or disappointed.
Here are my tips.
When reserving your room, please keep in mind that the price is per person not per room.
Take the meal options when reserving the meals, they are more expensive then the average Japanese restaurant, but they are also a much more amazing experience. Japanese people often judge the quality of the Ryokan based on the quality of the meals they provide, I have seen some people pay for the rooms, so that they could have the breakfast and dinner, but go home for the night. One of the most beautiful and delicious meals I have had in Japan was at a Ryokan. The meal will consist of many small dishes, including rice, some sort of fish, and a soup (both at breakfast and lunch).
Japanese are punctual, check into your ryokan by 5:30, meals are usually at around 6:30. If you are at a small ryokan they will most likely tell you when you will take your meal, sometimes at larger one you can pick a time within a certain time frame (usually 6ish to 8ish). Breakfast will be early, ryokan are not a place to sleep in, most ryokan seem to serve breakfast at 7:30 (inhumanly early for a person of my age), but the food will be good enough to merit this sacrifice, so wake up and enjoy the labors of someone who woke up early enough to make your lovely meal.
You will most likely sleep on a futon on the floor. I now think that they are quite comfortable, but I have been sleeping on a futon on the floor for seven months. It took me about a month to get used to them, and I still miss western beds. I recommend stacking up futons if you have extra futons in your room to get double the cushion.
You will have a private room, but that may be the only private zone for you. You will most likely have a shared toilet, shared dinning, and there is usually a communal bath. I no longer mind getting naked infront of strangers for public bathing, but I do understand if this is an impasse for some people. Japanese people wont gawk or comment, but in any quality Ryokan bathing suits will be forbidden in any community bathing area. You may however carry a clean hand towel which you can hang infront of your front half while walking around, and then wrap around your hair when you are in the bathing water. If you have a tattoo, check with the ryokan's policy before you go, many ryokan do not allow any tattoos, and you will not be able to go to the public bathing areas. I will do a post about how to use Japanese onsen/public bathing at a later date, the number one thing to remember is to keep the communal bath waters clean.
Ryokan are a great place to experience Japanese culture. They are vastly different from western hotels. Take a moment to reset your mind if you enjoy the western hotel experience. The community feel is a feature, and part of the charm. The meals are a treat. A ryokan should be on the checklist of anyone making a trip to Japan.