One thing that I’ve always wanted to do is to stay in a traditional Japanese inn, also known as a Ryokan. A Ryokan is a bit like a private guesthouse where you sleep on tatami mats and are served a traditional multicourse meal in your room. Ryokans usually have a bathhouse where you can bathe privately with your guests or communally. We spent one night at Hiiragiya Bekkan Ryokan in Kyoto to have an authentic Japanese inn experience.
I booked this hotel through Japanican.com where you can choose from a selection of Ryokans. I normally stay at hotels where I can use my points, but I decided to splurge this one time for a night. However, in reality I was able to use about 38,000 Barclaycard Arrival points to get the one night for free as I outlined in this post.
After spending 2 nights at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto, we took a taxi ($15) to Hiiragiya Bekkan Ryokan. This Ryokan is the annex of the original Hiiragiya. Based on tripadvisor reviews, the annex is just as good at about half the price! Ryokans can be very expensive because they provide you dinner and breakfast served in your room. These are not cheap meals because most Japanese ryokans use fresh seasonal ingredients.
We arrived at 2PM and check-in was at 4PM. In Japan, I’ve noticed that rules and policies are strongly enforced. We could not check in any earlier than 4PM, so we went out exploring Kyoto, which was fine. When we arrived back around 5PM, our bags were placed in our room already and we were escorted to our room. Our host came to introduce herself and serve matcha tea along with candy. She then asked for our preferred dinner and shower time. Her English skills were quite limited and my Japanese skills are quite limited as well, but we were able to communicate fine. We picked a 7PM dinner and 9PM shower/spa.
Here are some pictures of the room. The room was quite small, but it was adequate for us. Note that there is no shower because you take a shower in the hot spring spa privately with the members of your room.
After resting for an hour or so, meal service started exactly on time (like all things in Japan). We sat on the tatami mat in our little chairs to have dinner traditional Japanese style! We were given English menus to let us know what we were eating. Dinner was like a 10-course meal! Let the show begin!
The food was great and tasted very fresh! Japan prides itself in using fresh ingredients and you can really taste the difference. Presentation is very important and you can tell everything is neatly prepared. Every dish tasted great, but I couldn’t get used to the mochi dessert with some kind of soy sauce.
After stuffing our faces, it was time to take a shower. I don’t have pictures of the spa area but it was basically a shower area to clean yourself first then a nice jacuzzi to relax in. You were given up to an hour to take a shower and bath, but we only took about 40 minutes. We changed into our traditional yukatas afterwards and went to sleep.
The next morning, we were woken up to have breakfast at 8:30am. We were already stuffed from last night! Since it was close to New Years, we had a new years breakfast and another breakfast. Japanese people eat the New Years breakfast for good luck for the new year. Each food represents a different fortune. Most of the food tasted bad, but I just ate most of it because the host was watching us eat it. Japan is a very polite culture and I didn’t want to offend anyone :(.
The normal breakfast consisted of some rice, egg, and more fish. It was quite delicious, but I was still stuffed from last night.
I definitely recommend trying a traditional Japanese Ryokan at least once in your lifetime. It lets you have an authentic Japanese cultural experience instead of staying at a western hotel. One night is enough because of the cost and I can’t possibly imagine eating so elaborately everyday. This is more food than your typical Hilton or Hyatt lounge. Some Ryokans can be $600+ a night! However, I would say Hiiragiya Bekkan Ryokan for $380 a night was a pretty decent deal because of all the food and amenities that come with it. Consider building up your Barclaycard Arrival points to stay at some unique hotels once in a while!