Sometimes, when living in the capital, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of globalization. Of course there are neon kanji signs flashing wherever you look, but you are never far away from a Starbucks, a McDonalds, an Italian restaurant or an Irish bar. In fact, despite living in Japan’s heartland, daily life can lack that, well, Japaneseness.
With this in mind, if you want to experience the real, traditional Japan, it can be quite difficult to do so. And still, in this most cosmopolitan of cities, there lies a haven of the old world: the Japanese guesthouse, or ‘ryokan’. These traditional Japanese inns generally include features such as tatami floors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local cuisine, where guests absorb the tranquility of the location, relax in ‘yukata’ summer kimonos, and soak their bodies in ‘sento’ or ‘onsen’ spa baths.
While many of these ryokan tend to be in rural tourist destinations, there are still some amazing places in the capital at which you can spend the night and enjoy that little slice of traditional Japan. Below are a few of the more interesting ones.
From its wood and glass-fronted exterior to the ornamental garden, when it comes to traditional, you really can’t go far wrong with Homeikan. Deisgnated as an ‘important cultural property’, it boasts two large communal baths in each of the three buildings, including a mineral bath, and a private ‘family bath’ is an option. The rooms themselves are all wood and paper as you might expect, but closer inspection shows beautiful detail in the carpentry. To enhance the relaxation of your stay a massage service is available, however be aware there is no entertainment in the local area, such as restaurants or bars, and you would have to trek 2outs to Ueno or Ochanomizu if you want a more lively evening.
Another Ryokan well known for its tranquil atmosphere, Sadachiyo (to give it its shortened title) has just 20 rooms of varying size. While from the outside with its stained wood and rickshaw it looks like a classic old guesthouse, however it is slightly more modern than Homeikan as each room has its own private bath. With that said there are also two communal baths to choose from, one made of stone and one of wood and the rooms retain their Edo-period charm as they are decorated with wood block prints and antiques. A traditional Japanese breakfast and dinner is available but comes at an additional cost.
Just three minutes from the famous Senso-ji temple in Asakusa, Kamogawa ryokan is hidden away from the hustle and bustle along the cobbled streets and old stores. However, this is a guesthouse with all mod-cons such as en-suite baths, free wifi access, and TVs. The communal baths are open 24 hours a day, and may be reserved for privacy if you are not keen on sharing with other guests. The rooms are light and airy, which is great for those who find the dark stained wood of some hotels a little oppressive, and in a nice touch breakfast comes with a choice of Western or Japanese cuisine which is perfect for those who can’t quite face rice and fish in the morning.
If you wish to forego tradition for unusual, Andon Ryokan is, well, quite something else. Claiming to be Tokyo’s first designer ryokan, the concept was developed by artist and architect Masayuki Irie, and the result is a phenomenal combination of classic Japanese facilitates – the communal baths, tatami floors, the yukata kimonos – with modern Japan – the pop art on the walls, the western breakfasts, the cosplay photoshoots on the building’s roof (and yes, that is a thing).
Image via http://www.sadachiyo.co.jp/en/ – Screengrab
Image via http://www.f-kamogawa.jp/english/index.html – Screengrab
Image via http://www.andon.co.jp/eng/bath.html – Screengrab