Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Staying in Ryokan Sawanoya

My Visit to Japan - Part 2

I had decided to stay in a traditional inn, a ryokan, while in Tokyo as I don't see the point of being in a foreign country and staying in an international chain hotel.  After a lot of research on the internet (how did we manage without it?) I settled on the Ryokan Sawanoya as they specialise in welcoming guests from abroad and have received very good reviews in various guidebooks and on all the main websites for travellers.  Mr Isao Sawa has even written a book about his experiences as an innkeeper.  This picture and the extract are taken from the website:

" It was over 40 years ago that I became the master of Sawanoya, through marriage to my wife Yoneko, and a quarter of a century has passed since we began providing lodging to travelers from abroad. I’m reminded once again of how quickly time flies.

Throughout those years, my family and I have single-mindedly concentrated on providing comfortable, pleasant and reasonably priced accommodations for guests both from
Japan and abroad, to make their stay in Tokyo and in Japan enjoyable. Accordingly, I had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to tell guests about Sawanoya’s and my own history, due to my sincere belief that guests should be the “stars” and the innkeeper a “supporting actor.”
But the passage of time, and the fact that next year I will be 70, made me think that it might be time to tell the story of Sawanoya, particularly to guests from abroad who have been our mainstay customers over the past few decades."

I was delighted with my choice.  The Ryokan Sawanoya is in the Yanaka area of Tokyo, an area that retains a lot of traditional atmosphere and culture.  It was a pleasant walk to many attractions and it was possible to borrow a bicycle had I wanted to venture further afield (and if I could ride a bike!).  It was only a seven minute walk to Nezu metro station for travelling around the city.  

Our room had traditional tatami - straw mat flooring, mattresses on the floor, a low table for taking Japanese tea and shoji - paper sliding screens.  We were each provided with a yukata - robe and a tanzen - outer robe and sandals to wear in the ryokan, but never on the tatami.  We were welcomed by an origami crane on each pillow.  There is a useful and interesting guide to staying in a ryokan at the website of the Japanese Inn Group.
We were made very welcome by Mr Sawa and his family and given plenty of information to help us make the most of our stay.  Even though our room (21) had its own bath we were encouraged to use the Japanese baths on the ground floor of the ryokan.  Public bathing in the onsen is a Japanese tradition that encompasses people from all walks of life and has its own set of rules and rituals.  At the end of a day's sightseeing and travelling on the metro it was absolute bliss to soak in a hot bath looking out at a beautiful Japanese garden, even if we did come out like yude-dako (boiled octopus)!
Tea, coffee, chilled water, cookies and internet access were all provided free of charge at Sawanoya and there were several breakfast options for reasonable cost.  I was sorry that we were not there for one of the story-telling evenings or for a Tea Ceremony or a Lion Dance, we will have to stay longer next time and will be very happy to do so.  We paid 10 080 yen a night for our room, a bargain in my opinion.  
I noticed a very strange effect of the ryokan on me.  Even though I didn't do very well, I found myself trying to be elegant in the room, walking more carefully, with smaller steps and standing upright, doing things in a more gentle way than usual.  I did feel large and clumsy compared to the lovely Japanese ladies in their kimonos but I did catch the feeling of their style.  "Other ryokan are available" but I cannot recommend Ryokan Sawanoya strongly enough if you want a real taste of Japanese hospitality and culture at a very reasonable cost, we will definitely stay there again when we return to Japan.

1 comment:

  1. Great piece. I am thinking of going in October and considering this place to stay. Can you please tell me what you did while you were there? What is good to do in the area? Any restaurants for lunch / dinner you might recommend?


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