When you're planning a trip to Japan you'll encounter lots of ryokans. There are googled them already, a ryokan is a traditional Japanese BnB with a few offering additional D (dinner) and every one of them offering plenty of T (tradition). We used our JR PASS (a must for just about any stay in Japan) to take us from Kanazawa to our first of four nights in Kyoto, the house of Japanese tradition, where we stayed in our first and only ryokan of the trip, Yuzuya Ryokan.
Yuzuya Ryokan: The Setting
Yuzuya Ryokan is within an incredible location. Situated at the end of the Kyoto, equivalent of Oxford Street, and next to the famous Yasaka Shrine (among the best parks for cherry blossom incidentally), is really a small wooden door that you might never notice. Slide that door open and you are immediately in an immaculate garden, almost eerily silent and peaceful. Step within the reception and you are greeted by a softly spoken host – and Oxford Street suddenly seems an extended long distance away. Yuzuya could not be more like how I imagined a ryokan to be; a carefully raked interior garden, sliding wooden doors, hushed voices and not a single shoe in site.
Yuzuya Ryokan: The Rooms
We were taken to our room that was minimal, however with a contemporary traveller in mind. The primary room were built with a table we could sit (cross-legged around) there was a little room for reflection, a modern-style bathroom (with a giant wooden bathtub) and even a small lounge with a TV. You do not get these mod cons in most ryokans but Yuzuya still felt totally authentic, if a little more comfortable.
We spent all of those other day in Kyoto (I'll leave you to the guidebook with that one), before returning for the primary event: the dinner ceremony. I am not sure if it's is a 'ceremony', however it felt like one. Something which ryokans aren't lacking is rules; be it taking our shoes off in the right areas, walking up the correct stairs or wearing the right clothes, we found ourselves frantically googling the etiquette regarding dinner inside a ryokan. In order to save you some time here are a few key learnings:
- It's normal to take off your shoes and go bare feet in your room (also called a Tatami).
- Wear your Yukata during your staying in a ryokan. You can put on it inside and you may go for dinner inside it, etc.
- When wearing a Yukata the left side covers the best.
- Even should you dislike the food it's polite to test it at least once.
Yuzuya Ryokan: The Food
Needless to say we'd no sooner put our on Yakuta and proudly walked into the dining area that we were immediately sent back, informed i was wearing the wrong gender outer coat (Chabaori). It was a common theme of our stay, not knowing quite what we should be doing and even in certain cases what, exactly, we were eating. A ryokan dinner is not for the unadventurous; there's no menu and the dishes continue coming. Over two hours we'd a combination of probably the most well presented, most delicious, and many unusual dishes I've ever experienced.
Let's start with the best. The beef lightly smoked while dining was soft, succulent and also the closest That i have ever come to crying over a piece of meat. I could've eaten another fifty slices and attended bed a happy, if indigested, man. The sashimi was some of the best I'd in the whole two weeks in Japan, immaculately given to a point where the raw mini-octopus looked appealing.
On the flip side a gloopy soup dish having a miscellaneous animal floating inside it was a difficult sight, as well as an even harder eat. There were a few more unidentifiable areas of your food that, even for an adventurous eater like myself, were a little too intense. This isn't to critise the cooking – every dish i was served would be a thing of beauty – it’s just to state that some were just a little too far away from what us Brits are used to eating (it’s not your fault, it’s mine). I personally hate wasting food and that i know it's disrespectful to not eat what you're given in Japan, so part of this meal felt fairly uncomfortable as our tastebuds and manners battled it out.
It's worth noting the 'set meal' is by no means obligatory and despite being full, only one other set of guests were participating alongside us. However difficult sometimes the meal was, the great far outweighs the bad. In the end, you cannot visit Japan and never experience this sort of thing at least once. Going back to our room we found that the centre table choose to go replaced with traditional 'futon' style bedding. We had an excellent night's sleep and awoke to make use of their amazing private onsen, an experience that’s worth the cost of the room alone.
Yuzuya Ryokan: The Verdict
Accommodation is really a minefield in Japan and we were really lucky using the Airbnbs we stayed set for most the trip. There are plenty of ryokans all over the country, but for me one evening is sufficient to experience them and find out the content. If you are a fussy eater it's probably best to stay away from any set dinners to avoid embarrassment. Finally, it looks like if you would like a geniune ryokan experience of an incredible location then there's surely no better place than Yuzuya.