One of the items in our non-existent list of things-to-do-in-Japan which R and I wanted to experience was staying at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. However, we knew that staying at one even for just a night could be costly, so we just ended up booking the cheapest one we could find in Kyoto at Agoda.com, which turned out to be Ryokan Harimaya.
There are different types of ryokan, apparently, and according to this website, Ryokan Harimaya seems to be the standard ryokan. It’s a two-storey house that was converted into an inn run by a family – at least, that’s what I understood from what the daughter of the family told me. They do not cook or serve any meals, but it seems like they’ll be happy to call delivery for you or at least point out where you can eat, haha (as related here when we wanted ramen).
The room we booked was a 2-person (obviously) smoking room, even though neither of us smoked. The bath room and rest room are outside, shared with the rest of the guests, though I’ve only encountered one or two other people while we were there so it wasn’t a problem. (Photo taken by R!)
TV (local channels only), aircon/heater, thermos, blow dryer, yukata, slippers…
And this! A kotatsu! I’ve only ever seen one vaguely in some anime or drama series, so I was very happy to have one in our room. 😀 A kotatsu is a table (obviously haha) with a heat source underneath to keep warm during the cold season. And here’s the heater under our kotatsu. I was curious about how it looked like so I took a peek underneath. And yes, I’ve actually bumped my knees several times against it, and yes it hurts a little, haha. I’m a very fidgety sitter, though. It’s very cozy sitting by the kotatsu with the blanket (it comes with the table) over your lap. It can even be a bit sweaty, haha. Also these… complimentary snacks and drinks on top of our kotatsu. Not being used to getting anything ‘free’ from hotels in the Philippines, I first went and asked if these snacks and drinks were indeed complimentary. I was assured that they were and was also told to feel free to ask for more if I want. This was R excitedly getting hot water for our tea. And in the picture is also the cabinet in our room, which had a lot of hangers inside. Also, that pink thing inside with a cord wrapped around it is another heater that you can put inside your futon for added warmth while sleeping. Aside from yukata, we were also provided with these thick robes. I don’t know what they’re called, though, haha. Photo taken by R! Cropping his face as always for (semi)privacy though he says I’m cropping his face like a criminal, haha!
I completely have no complaints about the cleanliness and neatness of the entire place. Whenever R and I would go out for the day, leaving our room totally messed up, but it would always be tidied up when we’d get back. I’ve never seen the bath or toilets dirty, either. I misplaced my hairbrush then and it was on our kotatsu when we next came back, haha.
Also, when we returned to get our luggage before leaving for Kyoto (yes, you can leave your luggage with them even after you’ve checked out), they gave R his toothbrush and toothpaste which he’d forgotten to pack. :p
As I’ve mentioned, use of toilets and the bath area is shared by the guests. As far as I know, there are no shower stalls or rooms, just the bath area where you have to sit while washing yourself. There are two toilets, one traditional and one Western, and the Western one is the one with the remote at the side where you just press buttons – I swear it looks cooler than how I describe it, haha. I have a picture of it, but I’m saving it for a Tokyo post. 🙂
Hot water (for drinking) is always available and there is an abundant supply of instant coffee and tea. Cold water is also available – funnily enough, I went outside to buy bottles of water from a nearby vending machine before I thought to ask where I can get drinking water. I was told the that their tap water is safe for drinking.
I also saw a washing machine and dryer, and though I didn’t ask, I’m pretty sure they’re for guests to use as well.
And because it’s a traditional inn, don’t expect Wi-Fi. 😀
I’m giving them a 5, mostly because of the thorough cleanliness and neatness of the whole house, but also maybe because of my own bias. We only stayed at Ryokan Harimaya for 3 days – and were out for most of those days – but I always remember my encounters with the family fondly.
We first met Kobayashi Ayumi, the daughter, who actually had her own family at the age of 21. (Totally unrelated, but she has the cutest baby ever in Japan, though I didn’t get to take a picture of them.) Ayumi was the one who checked us in and then insisted on carrying my very heavy bag to our room. When I asked if she was okay, her face lit up as if she was very happy that I’d thought to ask. I got to chit-chat with her a little while waiting for R before we went out for the day (if I remember correctly, R had gone back to our room to get something I had forgotten, haha). She said she can speak only a little English; I said I can speak only a little Japanese, and we giggled like schoolgirls.
Then there’s Hiroko-san, Ayumi’s mother. She can also speak only a little English, but believe me, somehow you won’t feel the language barrier. She’s very soft-spoken, polite and helpful. She saw us off during our second and third days in Kyoto, kneeling on the wooden floor and bowing her head as she bid us a cheery itterasshai! (have a good day; take care) to which I’d responded with ittekimasu! (I’m off; literally: I will go and come back). You can say ittekimasu when you’re leaving, even if no one tells you itterasshai 🙂 Even as I’m sliding the door shut, Hiroko-san would still have her body bent into a bow to see us off. I don’t know why, but the gesture touched me, even though I know it’s naturally part of their service to customers. I managed to convince Hiroko-san to let me take a picture of her even though she refused at first, saying she was ‘too old’. Here she is! 😀 Standing by the genkan of the ryokan. I also wanted Grandma, who was, yes, Hiroko-san’s mother, in the picture, but apparently Grandma’s knees are weak and she was already in bed then. R and I had an encounter with Grandma once at night when she poked me while we were brushing our teeth and said something to me in Japanese which I didn’t manage to catch but kind of understood that she meant we could use the bath if we wanted.
The ryokan is 5-10 minutes away from the nearest bus stops, as well as the nearest convenience stores. There is a vending machine nearby, though, and there are a lot of pharmacies on the way.
OVERALL RATING: 4 of 5
Dates of stay: November 7-9, 2012
Cost: roughly around 9500 yen per night
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