Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You Gotta Yukata!

Kyoto, Japan -- We knew when we first started planning our time in Japan nearly a year ago that we wanted to try and achieve as many authentic Japanese experiences as possible. One way we are doing so is by staying in Japanese-style hotels called "ryokan," which largely means sleeping on futons on tatami mat floors, going shoeless or wearing special sandals in certain areas, and enjoying "onsen" (a sort of combination shower and spa with an area for washing with soap and a deep tub for soaking). It also means donning "yukata," cotton robes tied at the waist that are worn around your room, ryokan, and even short distances around the ryokan (though we haven't done that much!). In Kyoto we checked into our fourth ryokan, and though they have varied in terms of luxury, our we haven't had a bad experience yet.

At the top of the spectrum was our stay at Hakone, a sort of resort town in the mountains of Fuji-Hakone National Park. After enjoying an afternoon on various forms of transportation around the mountain with stops at the beautiful Hakone Open Air Museum and Owakudani (where we ate eggs boiled in the sulfuric waters of the volcanic hot springs, turning their shells black!) we checked into Ryokan Senkei, and were eventually introduced to Kimiko, our attendant. A slight, middle aged Japanese woman in a traditional kimono who flitted around enthusiastically spouting Japanese instructions and the occasional staccato English word in her tiny voice, grinning and giggling as she bowed repeatedly. She showed us around our enormous private pavilion and then shooed us away  nearby private onsen, so that she could prepare for our "kaiseki" dinner.

Kaiseki is another important part of a traditional ryokan, though it is so elaborate that in modern times it seems to be reserved for only higher-end places. [We should note that this was one experience we had planned on having with Ben's parents, and though it was a great evening, we missed them a lot! Ben says, "Arigato, Moop and Shmoop."] We returned from the onsen to dine like wealthy shoguns in our yukata, a parade of small plates with colorful foreign delicacies, each component masterfully presented with attention to the most minute detail. Highlights were an aji (horse makerel) and eggplant stew and a fig coated in ginger sesame paste; the one low light was a watery fish broth(?) with gel-coated leaves of some kind...haha.
Tiny whitebait for kaiseki breakfast

Our attendant at the Seikoro Inn in Kyoto is young and speaks a bit more English than Kimiko, and graciously makes up our futons each day and serves us tea when we arrive back from our daily activities (We have been going full force here, taking in temples and gardens like Ginkakuji, Nanzenji, Kinkakuji, Ryoanji, Pontocho, and Gion).The system has it's upsides, but I have to admit, having a personal attendant is not our style. It was good to experience once, but it feels very strange to have someone waiting on us to this extent. No problem, our next stay will be in the capsule hotel, where I'm not even sure there's a desk attendant!

Ginkakuji, Silver Pavilion -- Kyoto


  1. Wow! We are enjoying reading about all your adventures. We--almost--feel like we're there with you! Love from Sh.and J.

  2. Great stuff! Good for you to be so daring; how different it all is! Meanwhile, back home, the Bucs sweep a doubleheader from the Cards and move back into 1st place!

  3. This is awesome Ben! Keep posting bro. Japan sounds like the place to be...