Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kyoto Sleep: Sakura Ryokan - A Very Modern Ryokan

Kyoto, the Ancient Capital of Japan, is one of the MUST-GO cities in Japan. Packed with countless world heritage temples, shrines and castles, I was determined to experience a real ryokan stay during our trip in November 2009, never realising how incredibly expensive it was going to be to stay in a traditional ryokan (see my previous post on the subject) in Kyoto during peak Koyo (Autumn Leaves) season. In the end, in order not to bust our budget to smithereens, I found ourselves a quaint little place which professed to be a "modern ryokan" - The Kyomachiya Ryokan Sakura or Sakura Ryokan.

228 Butsuguyacho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 600-8347, Japan
15 minutes walk from Kyoto JR Station (20 minutes if you are dragging luggage)
Opposite Nishi Honganji Temple, which also has the nearest busstop to connect to other parts of Kyoto.
http://www.kyoto-ryokan-sakura.com/index_en.html

Sakura Ryokan has been recently featured in Japan Hour, as one of the "good deal" stays in Kyoto (unfortunately the offer was only extended to locals). Opened only in early 2009, it is a brand new inn infused with some traditional ryokan features. (Note: Sakura is combined with another inn under the name Kaede, basically they meld into one long building and are by the same owners, so if you cannot find a room at Sakura, Kaede is the same.)

A 10-15 minute walk from the massive JR Kyoto Station (depending on how fast you walk), the Sakura Ryokan is located along a very quiet street lined with traditional low rise buildings. Directly across the main road a short street away is the World Heritage Nishi Honganji Temple. It is an immensely sedate area away from the hustle and bustle of the main train station and areas like Gion. Admittedly, it was a pain in the beginning for us to locate the ryokan despite a printed map because we were dragging our luggage in the cold. (Tip: Take a cab, it does not cost a lot.) However, once we orientate ourselves, we had easy access to the Kyoto bus system (nearest bus stop at Nishi Honganji) and also the trains.

Sakura Ryokan has both Western and Japanese rooms, and of course yours truly had to experience the Japanese room, and the most expensive one at that: the Sukiya-style tea ceremony room with its own "garden" at 17,500 yen (SGD275) per night (high season rate). Having read some not-so-flattering reviews on Tripadvisor, my expectations were not too high. Our room, situated on the ground floor at the very end of the hall was quite small. But it was very new and clean, and it had separate toilet and bath areas. The garden, as opposed to what we have seen on their website, was pathetically small (see pic below). One grouse by some patrons were the thin walls of the rooms - although we were buffered by a long corridor at our entryway, we could still hear the comings and goings of our neighbour, so if you want to engage in any hanky-panky, keep the noise level down. ;)




Unlike in the real traditional ryokan, we have to lay the futons every night ourselves (housekeeping will keep them for us in the mornings though). We were given a file of English instructions and it was certainly an experience to literally MAKE our beds. :) The futons were relatively fluffy so I did not really feel the hard tatami flooring but then again, the first few nights we were so exhausted by our endless Kyoto exploration in the day that I could probably have fallen asleep in a zen rock garden. However, having done the futon at both Kyoto and Arima Onsen, I think I can safely say I prefer our Western beds. During autumn, the nights were frequently cold and rainy, but in our cosy room, we were warm and toasty. No English channel though, not even CNN, so we entertained ourselves silly on Japanese TV.

Sakura Ryokan has a very nice lobby area where breakfast is served (at additional costs) and there are computers with free Internet access (I even played Restaurant City there), English newspapers and even books. The ryokan is popular with Westerners because the staff and owners are extremely proficient in English and helpful in giving directions and making recommendations. The ryokan also sells the ALL IMPORTANT one day bus pass at 500 yen, since in Kyoto, travelling around is best done by bus and NOT trains. (To be discussed in detail in a future post).



On a last note: I must truly commend the staff for their incredible honesty. I left my beloved Insight Japan guide in my room when we left for Osaka, and I did not realise until we returned home. Coincidentally, one of Samurai T's colleague was also going to stay at Sakura, and he was tasked to help us ask about the book and pick it up for us if it was still around. And it was! The book was safely returned to me almost a month after my stay. Amazing! Arigato, Sakura Ryokan!

You can check out on other Kyoto accommodation at this website: http://www.holidaycityjapan.com/kyotohotels/.

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