October 17, 2016
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.
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.