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One of the things I knew I wanted to do as soon as I started planning my trip to Japan was was to stay in a Ryokan. A ryokan offers a unique experience into what it feels like to stay in a traditional Japanese inn. After searching for the best Ryokans in Kyoto, I decided to stay at the Yuzuya Ryokan, located in the Southern Higashiyama district. This ryokan was recommended by numerous websites which immediately piqued my interest. I thought it only appropriate to provide this quick roundup of my time spent in the Yuzuya Ryokan.
Review Disclosure: This is not a sponsored review. No money or service was exchanged in order for me to write this review. All the views and opinions remain my own and were gathered from my personal experience of this ryokan.
The location of the Yuzuya Ryokan was one of the first things that got me excited about staying here. Located just a stone’s throw from the Yasaka Shrine, the ryokan is also just seconds away from Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, Gion, making it the perfect epicentre for your time in Kyoto. This location in Southern Higashiyama makes it one of the best locations in Kyoto.
Access to the rail networks in Kyoto is only a few minutes walk making it easy to arrive and depart from the ryokan with only a small walk with your luggage/bags.
The entrance is hidden right next to the Yasaka Shrine. There is no English sign directly outside the entrance making it easy to overlook. The only entrance is a somewhat unassuming sliding wooden door with a sign with Japanese writing above it. If you can read Japanese, then you may fair a little better than I did.
Once you step foot through the main gate, you are transported into another world. The stunning staircase leading up to the building’s entrance immediately transforms you back in time, leaving the busy city behind.
Before you even place your foot on the first step, you are welcomed by staff and your bags are immediately handed over and taken up the stairs for you. So don’t be alarmed when this happens.
Once you reach the top of the small staircase, you immediately realise where the name of the Yuzuya Ryokan comes from. This ryokan has a yuzu theme. Upon entry into the ryokan, the aroma of yuzu surrounds you. Yuzu is a type of Japanese citrus fruit that is somewhere between an orange and a grapefruit but resembles more of a lemon (if that makes sense).
Inside there is a small reception desk and not too much else, which is typical of a small ryokan. Here was where is where you are checked-in by the most softly spoken person you shall ever have the pleasure to meet. After being handed my room key, I was shown to my room.
To access the 8 rooms from reception, you first must pass through a small but well maintained Japanese garden in the centre of the ryokan. After the short trip through the garden, you must enter through the sliding wooden door and you must depart with your outdoor footwear. From now on, only the supplied indoor slippers are used.
You must place your footwear in the locker by finding the matching locker to your room (the symbol on the key) and then slip on a pair of comfortable slippers. This is a typical procedure in ryokan as you are not allowed to wear shoes inside. A small staircase will lead you up to the living quarters of the ryokan.
As soon as I opened the door I knew this was going to be a different experience for any other accommodation I had stayed in previously.
If your idea of luxury is a large, embroidered sofa and bed, heavy curtains with gold trim, and marble surfaces, this is most definitely not the place for you. This ryokan is understated elegance – traditional yet refined for modern times.
As the main room is lined with tatami mats, slip off your slippers when you enter the room. In the centre of the main room, you will find a short-legged table – a Chabudai – where you can sit; crossed-legged of course. A small hand towel is present so you can freshen up. As they say, it’s the little things that make a big difference. The room I opted for had no television or other mod cons you can think of. Only a small wardrobe, a chest of drawers, the aforementioned seating area, and my luggage which had magically made it’s way to my room.
The ambience is truly special. I felt that I had stepped into a time machined into old Japan. After spending some time alone with my thoughts (and some green tea), I made my way over to the window. I was lucky enough to grab a room with a small waterfall flowing down into a pond right outside the window.
Room service is not available, however, there is green tea supplied in the room if you are feeling thirsty.
The chest of drawers contains a yukata. A yukata is a Japanese item of clothing which is effectively a casual kimono. You can wear this in the room, the restaurant or the shared bath area. However, I just threw mine on for a quick selfie!
The other two rooms are the bathroom and toilet which are separate. In Japan, there are many first-time experiences on offer. However, changing footwear to enter the toilet cubicle may be the most unexpected first of mine. The Japanese toilet itself is typical of what you find in Japan, with more buttons than you can think of.
The bathroom area has a small sink and bathtub. This area also has a handheld shower and complimentary yuzu-related toiletries for you to try.
And one final point about the rooms; if you are around 6ft tall like me, remember to always duck when manoeuvering around Japan…
My room rate was effectively dinner, bed and breakfast. The only difference being that my dinner would be a kaiseki meal. All meals are served in a common dining area. Dinner starts from 17:00-19:00. Breakfast starts from 7:00-8:30. Some other accommodations offer a service in which dinner shall be served in-room. However, that would not suit me as I was travelling with a friend in separate rooms, but we wanted to eat together.
For those of you wondering: Kaiseki means a multi-course menu, where each course is based on a classic schedule. Each course is flawlessly balanced and only uses seasonal ingredients. More than that – decoration, both in terms of dishware and edibles also follow the seasonal theme. “
The Kyoto-kaiseki food experience was just surreal. For many western people, with our stubborn palate, this may prove a bit too much. However, although you may not quite know what you are eating, every dish is served in an immaculate manner and the experience outweighs the unknown.
The whole experience lasts around 2 hours. In this time, multiple colourful small plates are served as you can see above. There was also miso soup served with dinner. However, I had worked up an appetite so that did not last long enough to make the photo album, unfortunately.
Upon returning to the room after dinner, you may notice a change has been made. The area where the main table has been situated has now been transformed into a futon style bed. While you are enjoying a delightful kaiseki meal, someone has discretely and conveniently pushed the table to the side and laid out the bed accompanied by the essentials; a small lantern, a torch, and an alarm clock. Again, all nice little touches.
Amenities and Services
There are small communal yuzu baths in-house. I believe these are split by genders, so make sure you pay attention at this point to avoid any embarrassing encounters. The fragrance of yuzu is found to have calming effects making this the perfect place to relax during a busier trip around Japan.
It is worth noting that there is no lift access around this ryokan. There are some steep steps to enter the property, and then stairs which lead to rooms on the 1st floor of the ryokan. Although this had no effect on my stay, this may be something you want to consider if this may be an issue.
The Next Morning
The breakfast in the morning, like most things here, is a pristine work of art. Yuzu juice is served before the arrival of a tapas-resembling tray of food. In true Japan style, I am not quite sure what everything was, but the experience was enjoyable nonetheless. Tea and coffee are also offered if you need a little extra pick-me-up.
When leaving, the same treatment is received. The same men who carried our luggage up the staircase had the joy of carrying it back down. When making our way to the train station, we noticed the two men bowing until we had crossed the road and disappeared around the corner. The only slight awkwardness came when it felt like it took a lifetime for the traffic lights to change!
Yuzuya Ryokan – Overall Score
- Location: 10
- Food: 10
- Rooms: 10
- Service: 10
- Amenities: 9
- Overall Score: 10/10
Overall, Yuzuya ryokan provided exactly the experience I had hoped for during my time in a ryokan. The service, cleanliness, food, and pretty much everything else was perfect.
Just as a quick note: If you are not familiar with Japanese culture or if you are not the type for quiet contemplation and prefer a busier nightlife, then a stay in a ryokan might be the right choice for you. You probably will never regret staying there, but you might not be able to appreciate it in full.
Also, if you are a fussy eater it’s probably best to avoid any set dinners as anything can be delivered to you.
Otherwise, the Yuzuya ryokan is perfect for anyone looking to experience a ryokan stay. Whether you are staying one night or longer, this is the perfect accommodation to just unwind and relax.
Have you ever had the pleasure of a ryokan experience? Let me know how you got on in the comments! Or check out my top tips for planning a trip to Japan!