On my trip to Kyoto, one of the things I was looking forward to was staying in an authentic Japanese traditional house, known as the ryokan. The city has one of the best selections of ryokan in Japan, from budget ryokan to the high-class luxury ones. During my visit, I chose to stay in Izuyasu, a mid-range inn close to the bustling Kyoto Station.
What’s a Ryokan?
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn built in the Japanese wooden-based style, and is a great way to experience Japanese culture. A stay in a ryokan is simple, traditional, old-fashioned and without the modern amenities a hotel would provide; but I believe it is more of the authenticity, atmosphere and service provided in a ryokan that makes a stay truly memorable.
Everything in a ryokan has traditional Japanese features — guest rooms with futons spread out on tatami floors, sliding doors made of wood and paper, gardens in the center of the house, communal baths (some with water from local hot springs – onsen); and I got to walk around in a Japanese bathrobe (yukata) as if the entire place was my home. I also chose to have all my meals (it’s optional) in the ryokan to really experience the Japanese hospitality of days gone by.
While doing my research on what ryokan to stay at in Kyoto, I noticed that many places have websites available only in Japanese. However, I managed to find and book Izuyasu on agoda.com. I chose to stay in this ryokan because of its location close to Kyoto Station and the Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple, the prices (despite being pretty expensive at about JP¥ 45k ~ US$400 for 2 persons) was considered within the mid-range budget, and kaiseki breakfast and dinner was included in the package.
Izuyasu is nestled in a quiet lane in central Kyoto, and is pretty hard to miss with its wooden grills and bamboo blinds. The inn has two stories with eight bedrooms, single and couple communal baths complete with onsen, and an open-concept kitchen.
The Izuyasu Experience
I have to say the hospitality and services at a ryokan is really hard to beat — at least for the case of my experience at Izuyasu. My mum and I arrived at the ryokan at about 3pm, and was immediately ushered in with lots of bows and ‘welcomes’. We left our shoes at the front area, and were served with a delicious cuppa green tea and some sesame cakes in the living room. It didn’t take long for the staff member to check us in after filling up some forms; and by the time we were escorted to our room, our bags were already waiting for us inside.
We were also given a tour around the ryokan — with instructions on how to use the onsen, wear our yukata, and (a reminder) to be on time for our kaiseki meal at the dinner table. The staff member who served us spoke excellent English, so communication was easy.
The Japanese Room
We stayed in the 2-person ‘Yuki’ room — and I enjoyed the whole experience. The futons on the floor were already spread out for us when we arrived, and it was extremely thick and comfortable. There was also a set of green tea making facilities on the tiny low wooden table; and I loved the balcony with its sliding paper doors and bamboo shaded windows (with glass too of course, as the room is air-conditioned).
The yukata and bathroom facilities were nicely stacked in one corner of the room; and despite having to bathe in the communal baths, we did have our own toilet (albeit extremely cramped) complete with heated toilet seats and sink. For the high price that we paid, the room was a little let down as it looked quite dated and is slightly small — but on the bright side, it gave us that authentic, old Japanese feel. I got into my yukata right away!
I was really impressed with the communal baths at Izuyasu as they were private, bright, clean and huge! Each bathroom comes with a pool of hot-spring water (onsen) for a refreshing and relaxing soak — and my mum absolutely loved it. I don’t particularly enjoy the onsen as it gets too hot and stuffy for me, but I made a quick dip in the hot tub anyway to get a little ‘feel’ of it.
There are three communal baths in the inn — 2 single baths (one with a huge window overlooking a small garden, and another with a smaller window); and a couple bath for those who want to have company in the onsen, as it is traditional Japanese culture to enjoy it together with friends and family.
The Kaiseki Dinner and Breakfast
My favourite part of the day — food! One of the reasons I chose to stay at Izuyasu is because of its kaiseki meal, which is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner that is popular in Kyoto. We booked a counter seat in front of the chef to see him prepare our dinner, and it was a fun (and long) eating experience. We had an 8-course dinner — the chef made our meal with local fresh seasonal ingredients, and had a member of the staff explaining each and every one of the beautifully plated dishes to us. Most of the dishes were fish; from raw yellow jack, red snapper and grouper; to boiled, steamed and baked pike fish, cutlass fish and trout — and ingredients like burdock roots, mushrooms and tempura ginger. It was really delicious, though for the price we paid for food and board — I expected it to be much more phenomenal.
Breakfast was not as fancy as dinner. We chose to have it in a private room instead, and were served a satisfying traditional Japanese set meal of rice, eggs, tofu, seaweed soup, and green tea.
At the End of the Day
I had a lovely time at Izuyasu, and it was a great decision to book a one day stay in the ryokan while visiting Kyoto. To truly immerse ourselves in the ryokan experience, mum and I spent most of the evening and morning in the ryokan — for some rest and relaxation amidst our busy Kyoto touring schedule. We walked around in our yukata, flipped through books in the reading area (though I couldn’t read a word of Japanese so I just looked at the pictures), soaked in the onsen, and sipped green tea on the tatami floor.
A stay in a ryokan is a must while in Kyoto — and with luxury ryokan in the city ranging from JP¥30k-90k (US$300-800) per person, and some budget places not living up to expectations; I felt that Izuyasu was a good choice to experience Japanese-living without completely breaking the bank.
Where: 272 Sasayacho Higashinotoin Shimojuzuyamachi Agaru,
Shimokyo-ku, Kyoto 600-8156, Kyoto Prefecture.
Book on AGODA
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This sounds like a special experience. I feel the same way about the baths – too hot.