Those are the essential characteristics of the ryokan experience. Our stay at the Nissho-besso ryokan (http://homepage3.nifty.com/nissho-besso/) in Kyoto hit the mark on all of them. The façade is basically all that remains of the original building, constructed over 220 years ago as the home and shop of a wealthy thread merchant. The remodeled public spaces are organized around a long path to the entrance, a central garden and an atrium, bright and modern, but still cozy. Since we booked the special Rosanjin kaiseki meal – about which, more later – we were lodged in an enormous 15-tatami-mat room (almost the size of our entire apartment). Our room was named “Aoi,” or “hollyhock”- ryokan rooms are generally named after plants or animals. The garden was delightful, compact but strollable, though a bit marred by the blue tarps of a construction site next door.
If you go there, treat yourself to the “chartered bath” which costs an extra 840 yen per person per dip. This buys you 45 minutes of privacy for at least 2 people (not sure if more are allowed) in a bathroom with a view of a small garden and three different tubs of varying temperatures. There’s a traditional hinoki or Japanese cypress bath at one end that two people can stretch out in, then two big ceramic bowl-shaped baths, each big enough for one. Of course, as with all Japanese baths, you scrub yourself well before soaking. The dressing area offers a selection of creams and lotions, razors, q-tips, sprucing supplies and cans of cold tea.
And then to bed. At just the right time, the futon team shows up to lay out the bedding. A bottom mat is overlaid with a softer upper layer which is then topped off with a thick feather comforter. At the Nissho-besso, they also laid out a bedtime wish on our pillows, accompanied by tiny origami horses. Here’s the wish:
“Welcome to the Nissho-besso. The origami or folding paper of “HORSE” means physical and mental energy in Japanease oneiromancy or dream-fortunetelling. We hope that you will feel rested well tonight for tomorrow. Have a good dream and thank you very much for staying here with us. by Manager.”
Beats a mint.
VS (Origami horse photo by NV)