Tawaraya, Kyoto, Japan
This famous historic inn, over 300 years old, is commonly regarded as simply the best ryokan in Japan. The word 'simply' has particular relevance here, as the charm lies in its understated elegance and straightforward approach to hospitality. From the moment you arrive, you are immediately eased in to the relaxing atmosphere by always attentive but never over-bearing staff. It is unlikely that you will come across other guests, as the pampering really does appear purely for you and you alone. Each guest room, it must be said, is sparse, and therein lies the elegance. The clear lines and void spaces demand peace, but when you begin to explore your room more deeply, you will find a fridge, a flat screen TV and most other amenities discreetly stowed away behind delicate shoji paper screens or sliding cupboards so as not to spoil the esthetic of the room.
Much is made outside of Japan about the art of feng shui (Chinese by birth but embraced by the Japanese) and the Tawaraya is a perfect example of how the esthetics and planning of a room or indeed entire building can affect the atmosphere within. Integral to ryokan's architecture is the central Japanese garden, which changes in character along with the changing seasons. Rooms look out over or open directly on to the garden and it is quite serene at dusk. There is a prevailing sense of calm and quiet at the Tawaraya and a stay here should leave you rested and revived, aided not least by the solid hinoki wood baths in each room which are ideal for soaking away the hectic sightseeing that Kyoto often demands.
Dinner is as important as your sleeping arrangements here, with perfect kaiseki cuisine served nightly in your room by your personal kimono-clad attendant. Each course (usually 5-6 savory and one sweet) uses local ingredients or seasonal delicacies and the flavors and textures are carefully balanced so as not to overwhelm the palate. Your meal will usually consist of a sashimi appetizer, a main fish course, a smaller meat course, a main meat dish, tofu, vegetables and a sweet of bean paste cake or seasonal fruit. There will likely be items that are unrecognizable or unusual in taste or texture but each will have been carefully prepared in-house for you that day, so it is worth trying everything at least once!
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Alternative places to stay nearby
Where possible, we like to offer a range of accommodation for each stop of your trip, chosen by our specialists as some of their favorite places to stay. To help you make the right choice, we give each property a rating based on its facilities and service, but we also look for hotels with distinct character or a location that can’t be bettered.
Experiences while staying here
The following activities are designed to give you the most authentic experiences of the area where you’re staying. We work with local guides, who use their knowledge and often a resident’s eye to show you the main sights and more out-of-the-way attractions. Our specialists can also suggest outdoor pursuits and activities, such as cooking classes, that will introduce you to the traditions of the area’s inhabitants.
Maiko are trainee Geisha (Geiko in Kyoto dialect) who train for six years before becoming fully fledged Geisha. They learn skills such as dance, singing, instrument playing as well as how to entertain guests with conversation.
Explore around the Gion district and other parts of Kyoto to help shed some light on the exclusive and mysterious world of the Geisha and other aspects of Japanese culture.
Take the opportunity to learn more about a traditional Japanese pastime of your choice. These courses are instigated and run by the Women's Association of Kyoto and you will visit the home of one of the members.
Like nearby Kyoto, Nara was once the Japanese capital and a source of enormous cultural and religious outpourings. Unlike its more celebrated neighbor, however, Nara has survived relatively untouched by modern advances and remains a relaxed town dotted with temples, shrines and parkland.
Enjoy a day of culinary delights with trips to Kyoto's Nishiki Market, Horino Sake Museum to learn all about sake production and then a traditional machiya (tea house) for a Japanese cooking class.