Traditional ryokan in Kyoto

November 27, 2019

By Taiga Fukushima, Kana Kobashi, Masakazu Terasaki

A lot of foreign visitors come to Japan recently. Most of them want to experience Japanese-ness, like traditional culture or history so they come to Kyoto. There are old traditional buildings, the beautiful views with changing four seasons, washoku (traditional cuisine) and a chance to experience Japanese culture in Kyoto. It means you can enjoy all of them in Kyoto. That’s why people come to Kyoto. However, you can experience all of them in just one place. That is a ryokan (Japanese-style hotel). Ryokan is a uniquely Japanese hotel tradition that can only be experienced her.

Explain about Ryokan

First of all, the Japanese hotel busiess act has rules for what a ryokan is. For example, a ryokan must have at least 5 rooms. Each room must be more than 7 square meters. If a ryokan is within 100 meters from a school site, they have to have something to obstruct passersby from seeing inside the hotel, for example, a hall which can be used for dancing or some games. Managers or owners have to apply to the prefectural governor for permission to name and establish a ryokan. However, managers can choose the name of accommodation freely no matter the size of their business.

A feature of ryokan is that you can feel WA –Japanese elegant culture- there. This feature can be seen in many parts of services. All rooms are basically Japanese style and estimate guests to be two per one room. In fact, some ryokan don’t allow guests to stay alone. You can enjoy green tea and teacakes for free. In addition, people usually wear a yukata (informal summer kimono), provided by the ryokan, while they stay in ryokan or go for a walk around a hot spring resort. In winter, ryokan provide a short Japanese overgarment or a thickly padded oversize kimono as protection against cold. There are many good points in ryokan However, the biggest sales point is hot spring. Hot springs have many effects for health. It is not too much to say that people stay at ryokan for hot springs. Hot springs have several medical benefits such as relief for neurological pain or to promote healing of wounds so they are popular not only with foreign visitors, but also Japanese travelers.

Tawaraya Ryokan

We would like to introduce three ryokan which have a long history. The first one is Tawaraya, which was built three hundred years ago. Some famous people, such as Hirobumi Ito, who was the first Japanese prime minister. and Steve Jobs have stayed there. It has fans both domestically and abroad, and it is a luxury inn which is representative of Japan. It doesn’t have an official web site, and only people who has visited know the whole picture of the inn. The information of the inn itself is surrounded by a veil. However most people become repeat customers as they are so impressed by the inn. Service, facilities, atmosphere, food, which is a suitable Japanese inn for a very first name. It has an appearance that makes you feel it is old, but it has been properly maintained. Not only the appearance but also the application of professional craftsmanship, maintenance and management are carried out. From the general gardener to the cleaning staff, staff specialized in bathing, changing sliding doors, changing tatami mats and glass wiping, no detail is neglected. The building is old, because it is an established inn, but the comfort of customers is seen to at all times, and this is an inn that matches traditional space with modern comfort. Decorated with Western and Oriental decorations, museum quality art decorates the hall, and the main furniture for fine furnishings.

Sumiya Ryokan

Another ryokan, Sumiya Ryokan was established in the Taisho Period (1912). Masters of the tea ceremony use the facility for meeting. In there, tea ceremony is held on the 7th and 17th days of each month. You can join the tea ceremony if you stay at the ryokan on these days. They serve Kyo-kaiseki which is a traditional Kyoto style course. This is prepared to bring out the natural flavors of fresh seasonable Kyoto vegetables. The rooms are basically Japanese style. Every room has an alcove that is a tea ceremony style room. And you can enjoy seasonable atmosphere with the five senses.

Hiiragiya

The last ryokan is Hiiragiya. Hiiragiya was established in 1818 in Kyoto. It has a long history, so internationally famous men and women-writers, artists, politicians, scientists, and members of the imperial family have stayed there. Nobel Prize winning novelist, Yasunari Kawabata said, “There is no inn with more memories than the Hiiragiya.” The name is taken from Hiiragi Shrine in Shimogamo shrine. Hiiragi is the name of leaf. In the past, it is said that Hiiragi can protect worshipers from evil. You can find the symbol of Hiiragi throughout the inn. It is the staff’s wish that it will bring you the good luck it has brought us over the years.
Hiiragiya are preparing two types of rooms. First is the main building. Rooms are preserved in the tea-ceremony arbor in the Edo (1603 – 1868) to Showa Period (!926 – 1989). You can feel utmost atmosphere of the ancient in Kyoto through them. Another building is new wings. Rooms have new facilities and amenities but with the sophisticated style of traditional Japanese architecture. These rooms inherit Hiiragiya’s traditional and hospitality spirit. You can get there from JR Kyoto Station by taxi or subway. If you use the taxi, please tell the driver “Hiiragiya”. It takes 15 minutes. If you use the subway, you have to take a subway Karasuma line. Get off the subway at Karasuma-Oike station and walk for 7 minutes.

Conckusion

These three ryokan have a long history, so you can feel Japanese-ness very much. Although the style of ryokan may be different from a modern, western style hotel, a stay can allow a visitor to experience a Japanese traditional lifestyle. Sleep on a futon rather than a bed in a tatami mat room with sliding paper covered doors and get the feeling of old Japan. Please try to stay in a ryokan and experience wonderful Japanese traditional cultural until you sleep.

Accommodation in Kyoto

by Miyabi Saeki, Natsumi Awa and Saki Hirobayashi

When you go abroad, how do you decide which hotel to stay in? In Kyoto, there are three main types of hotels, such as western hotels, ryokan (traditional Japanese style inns), and the cheaper, but more casual guest houses. Do you know the differences between the three of them? Of course the styles are different, but the price, service, food and location are all also different. You should know the differences so that you can find the kind of hotel that will work best for you.

In this article, we will explain in detail the three types of accommodation in Kyoto, and give you an example of each one that we recommend.

Western Hotels

Foreigners who aren’t used to sleeping on futon or don’t want to stay at a Japanese style hotel should stay at a Western style hotel. They are familiar to almost all foreigners and they are the most common style of hotel in the world. You can relax as if you were in your home country.

Many of the Western hotels in Kyoto have a certain style. For example, the interior design, food, and overall atmosphere may be inspired by Kyoto’s culture. In addition, there are many attractive places scattered across Kyoto City, so you can often find a hotel that is near some of the tourist sites that you want to visit during your stay. There are a range of expensive to cheap Western hotels, so you need to find one that fits your price range.

Hotel Monterey Kyoto

Hotel Monterey Kyoto is located on Karasuma Street, which runs north to south in central Kyoto. It is a highly recommended hotel, with a 4.5 out of 5 star evaluation on Rakuten Travel’s website. It takes about 2 minutes to arrive from Karasuma Oike Station on foot, and it takes about 8 minutes from Kyoto Station by car.  Around the hotel there are many shrines, temples, and famous sightseeing spots. For example, if you plan to go to Higashi Honganji Temple, it takes less than 20 minutes by bus. In addition, there are some bus and train stations very near, so the location is very convenient for tourists.

       

The hotel is not only reasonably priced, but also has luxurious interior decorations. The rooms offer a chic and gorgeous design. It is popular with people from different age groups. You can enjoy either a Japanese or Western style breakfast, or Obanzai, which is a traditional style of Japanese cuisine native to Kyoto. It is made of simply prepared local vegetables and seafood. Rooms cost from 7,990 to 19,200 yen per night. The hotel is not so expensive, and it is in a good location. It is also equipped with free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a restaurant, a bathtub in each room, a paid parking area, laundry room, spa, and a bar.

Ryokan

When you want to experience traditional Japanese culture, you should stay at a ryokan. While there are many ryokan in other prefectures, Kyoto is well known for its own ryokan. Many ryokan have tatami, which is a traditional Japanese straw mat flooring; futon, which are Japanese style bedding; and public hot spring baths. The price is different at each ryokan, so you can go cheap or expensive depending on what you want.

Nishiyama Ryokan

Nishiyama ryokan is located in Nakagyo Ward, which is in central Kyoto. It takes 15 minutes from Kawaramachi Station on foot, and it takes 15 minutes from Kyoto Station by taxi. The hotel’s average evaluation is 4.5 out of 5 stars on Rakuten Travel’s website, and it is easy for people to book rooms from the hotel’s website in English. Around the hotel there are a lot of places of interest. For example, Heian Zingu and Nijo Castle are both only about 1.7 km away, and the Kyoto International Museum is about 0.6 km away. In addition, Sanjo Station and Karasuma Oike Station are nearby.

     

The ryokan’s rooms are all non-smoking. The price is about 22,000 to 42,000 yen. It is more expensive than many hotels or guest houses, but you can experience true Japanese atmosphere at a ryokan because there are tatami rooms and Japanese-style banquets. You can choose from 2 styles of room, Japanese style or Western style. Nishiyama Ryokan is equipped with free Wi-Fi, free laundry, air conditioning, deposit baggage, and ironing services are also free. Moreover, you can rent bicycles. Staff provide kind and welcoming service, so you can relax every day during your stay.

Guest Houses

If you want to save as much money as possible, you should stay at a guest house. These are the cheapest kind of accommodation in Kyoto. They usually cost less than 5,000 yen per night. They are more casual, but the rooms are just as clean as the others. The guest houses in Kyoto are affordable for tourists and allow them to interact with the local people and other tourists.

Len Guest House

Len Guest House is a very good guest house at a great location. It is located in Kawaramachi, which is in central Kyoto. This hostel looks like a mountain hut, and has the appearance of old Kyoto. It overlooks the mountains of Kyoto. You can get there from Kawaramachi Station in 8 minutes on foot, so you can go to the downtown shopping and eating area easily. There are also many famous temples and shrines near this guest house. Therefore, you can enjoy sightseeing, shopping, and the atmosphere of Kyoto. This guesthouse has a hostel, bar, cafe, and dining.

A lot of different people stay at the Len Guest House. On the one hand, it is for tourists, but locals also visit for the café and bar. The concept of this guest house is “a place where people can gather, crossing every boundary.” There are two kinds of rooms in the hostel: dormitories and private rooms. As for the dormitories, there are two types; mixed rooms and women-only rooms. The room rates are about 2,600 yen to 3,000 yen. It is very reasonable. The rooms are very clean, and they have many kinds of amenities. The common space has a kitchen, a library, and a bathroom. You can cook in the kitchen, as there are a lot of cooking tools. Also, many events are held every month such as jazz concerts. If you are interested in this hostel, please check the website.

Conclusion

Now you should know a little more about accommodation in Kyoto. Which type of accommodation do you like the best? Having good accommodations while in Japan will make your trip much better. Have a nice trip!

Access

Hotel Monterey Kyoto

From the Hankyu Train, get off at Karasuma Station and go North up Karasuma Street. 5 minutes on foot from Exit 22 of Karasuma Station on the Hankyu Kyoto line or from Shijo Station on the Karasuma Subway line.

Website: https://www.hotelmonterey.co.jp/kyoto/

Nishiyama Ryokan

From the Hankyu Train, get off at Kawaramachi Station and go North up Kawaramachi Street. It is near the Kyoto city hall.

Website: http://www.kyoto-nishiyama.com/

Len Guest House

From the Hankyu Train, get off at Kawaramachi Station and go south down Kawaramachi Street. It is near the Kawaramachi Matsubara bus stop.

Website: https://backpackersjapan.co.jp/kyotohostel/

Ryokan in Kyoto

by Sakura Hatsuta, Risa Hasegawa, and Kensuke Nagai

Nowadays, tourists who come to Kyoto are increasing. They are not only Japanese, but also foreign people. Therefore, Kyoto needs to have hotels as much as possible, although there are a lot of hotels now. Most of the hotels in Kyoto are Western style. However, there are also places to stay in which foreign tourists can experience Japanese life style. That is Ryokan. They can know about Japan from many Japanese style buildings, World Heritages sites, temples, Japanese foods and many kinds of Japanese souvenirs. However, if foreign tourists want to know and experience more traditional Japanese way of life, it is better to stay in a Ryokan. The most important difference between Ryokan and the regular hotel is that guests sleep on the floor on the sleeping mats which for some people are very convenient and comfortable, and the floor is usually Tatami. Tatami is the floor covering of traditional Japanese houses and temples. Similar to a straw mat, it is made of several rice straw layers, interlaced and compressed, and covered with a thin layer of a rush called igusa(Juncus effusus) which is also laced. In addition, you cannot walk in your shoes in the Ryokan, but slippers are provided. That way the place is cleaner, and it actually feels like you are in somebody’s house rather than in a hotel. In your room you will find yukata, which is a Japanese robe similar to kimono, which you can put on while you are in the Ryokan.

Leave your shoes in the genkan and put on some slippers.

Leave your shoes in the genkan and put on some slippers.

Ryokan offer delicious traditional Japanese meals.

Ryokan offer delicious traditional Japanese meals.

A futon bed on tatami in a ryokan.

A futon bed on tatami in a ryokan.

First, there is a long history of Ryokan. As I said before Ryokan is traditional Japanese style inn. It is now everywhere in Japan but especially Kyoto has a lot. Ryokan has been part of Japanese culture since the Edo period, which is 1603 to 1868. The Edo period was the first long period of domestic peace in Japan. It made domestic travel safe for the first time in Japanese history. People began to travel around Japan so Ryokan welcome these tired travelers who needed to rest and eat something before continuing their long travels. That is one main reason that Ryokan was born. As time went on, there came to be many Ryokan at various areas in Japan. However these were only for wealthy people at that time because it was pretty expensive to stay in them and not many people had money for travel around Japan. Some Ryokan were very simple – just people with extra rooms in their homes for travelers. In any situation those owners worked hard for making their guests feel as welcome as possible. They can still do the same today. When the Meiji period began, there came to be hotels, which were western style inns. These were imported from western countries to Japan. Therefore hotels became more common than Ryokan but even if Japan has many more hotels than Ryokan, these old style accomodations still play an important role in the tourism industry. Also Ryokan has not really changed their traditional style from Edo period. It sometimes depends on which Ryokan but most of them are have almost the same style. As an example, they usually have Futon (sleeping quilts), Shoji (sliding Japanese doors), Zabuton (sitting cushions), Tokonoma (an ornamental alcove built into the wall used for placing flower vases and hanging scrolls), Oshiire (a closet for futon sleeping quilts), Engawa (enclosed sitting area separated from the room Shoji) and agari-kamachi (after opening the door guests step into this small area and take off their shoes). These styles have not changed for a long time and even now a lot of people, especially people from overseas, enjoy staying Ryokan because they can experience Japanese culture. We should more take care of such traditional Japanese style inns and pass on this enjoyment to next generations.

What do you have in your imagination about Kyoto? Many foreign touists expect to see Kinkakuji temple or Ginkakuji temple, of course those are very famous in the world. However, Kyoto has more wonderful places in many ways. So we recommend the most Japanese-style hotel in Kyoto that is kadensyo in Arashiyama. The dish in this hotel uses local produce, therefore we can experience delicious local foods. There is a good onsen and it is near Arashiyama station, so the place is popular with many temples, especially Tenryuji temple, Seiryoji temple and so on. We can see those temples lighted up beautifully in the winter season, many foreign travellers come to see them with their family or partner. Of course, Japanese visitors come to look at them, too. Any other romantic place is togetsukyo bridge, that is just a bridge, but it is beautiful at night , especially when it may be lighted up in the winter season. However, in summer we can see cormorant fishing and in fall we can enjoy autumn colors. The cormorant is a bird which is trained to catch fish and bring it back to a boat. Tame cormorants often catch sweetfish, and they can be seen from Togetsukyo bridge with someone. And togetsukyo is famous place for wedding proposal, so many couple of boyfriend selects there for speaking special words.

Many old buildings or houses are being destroyed to make new hotels in Kyoto. However, we had better to keep those buildings or houses. That is because we can make Ryokan by using them and increase the number of them. If there are more Ryokan in Kyoto, foreign tourists can find those places easily and feel free to stay. In addition, to let foreign tourists who come to Japan know and understand more Japanese culture or Japanese life style, we should recommend them to stay Ryokan rather than stay in regular western style hotels.