Saturday, February 23, 2008

Japanease: One Night at the Nissho-besso Ryokan

The most wonderful thing about staying in a well-run ryokan is the pleasure of putting yourself completely in the hands of competent professionals who have been trained for generations to think about nothing else other than doing whatever it takes to make you, personally, happy. You give up your street shoes at the door of an ancient building and put on the slippers that have been waiting there for you maybe forever. The quiet is soft and enveloping except perhaps for the sound of a fountain somewhere. Hot tea and sweets are waiting in your room. The futon is hidden away for later but a couple of low chairs in the alcove next to the window afford a view of late afternoon sun on the garden. There’s cold beer and sake in the fridge. Before the kaiseki meal arrives, there is time to slip on your yukata and pad down the hall to take a nice hot bath.

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)

1 comment:

Roy Ong said...

Lovely writeup on the Nissho-besso ryokan.

My family and I are considering staying at Nissho-besso Ryokan this coming February 2009. Wondering if you stayed at the Main building or the Annex building? Pictures of the room and/or bathroom? Was it heated? :).

Thanks thanks.

kearoy@gmail.com