A Japanese Ryokan Experience

No Japan bucket list would be complete without a stay in a ryokan, so here is my guide to a Japanese ryokan experience.

What is a ryokan?

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. You may have seen them on tv or in books, they’re the ones with paper screens, low tables and futons instead of beds.

Japanese Ryokan Experience

How do I choose which ryokan?

Ryokan aren’t cheap and the ones that are cheap are most probably not that authentic. We started by looking on Tripadvisor at some of the best ryokan in Kyoto but found many were fully booked for the time of year we were looking at (April – Cherry Blossom season). One of the most famous and historic ryokans is the Hiiragiya which was slightly out of our budget, so in the end we opted for Hiiragiya Bekkan (annex) an authentic but more wallet-friendly option.

Hiiragiya Bekkan Japanese Ryokan in Kyoto
Outside Hiiragiya Bekkan

Other things to note when choosing your ryokan, is whether it includes a private bathroom or any meals, as of course this will affect the price. Our room at the Hiiragiya Bekkan included a private toilet and sink but shared bathing facilities (more on that later) and it also included a kaiseki meal (Japanese haute cuisine) in the evening and breakfast the following day.

Japanese garden view at our ryokan
Japanese garden surrounding our room

The initial experience

When we arrived at Hiiragiya Bekkan we were greeted by friendly and enthusiastic staff and as is custom in Japan, we were asked to remove our shoes at the door and wear the slippers provided.

We were shown to our room which overlooked a pretty Japanese garden and then we had to remove our slippers. I can’t quite remember how many different pairs of slippers we had, but if you’ve been to Japan you’ll know how much they love their slippers!

Matcha and sakura teas
Matcha and sakura teas
Japanese tea served at a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn)
Japanese tea

We were shortly served three different types of tea – matcha, sakura and Japanese. The Japanese tea was nice but the matcha and sakura are a bit of an acquired taste.

After tea we changed into the yukata (cotton robes) provided and spent some time relaxing and soaking up our surroundings!

Wearing yukata (cotton robes) at a ryokan
Looking dashing in our yukata

Kaiseki dinner

Upon arrival at the ryokan we chose a time we would like to have dinner and promptly at this time we received a knock on the door from our maid (for lack of a better word) bringing us the first course of our meal.

The April menu at Hiiragiya Bekkan
Menu

Some ryokan have communal dining areas, but the other thing that attracted us to the Hiiragiya Bekkan was being able to dine in the privacy of our own room.

Dinner at the ryokan was a seasonal menu and brought to us course by course. I didn’t really know what much of it was so I took a photo of the menu. It started off ok and I enjoyed the first few courses but I’m so glad we had this meal as part of a ryokan experience rather than at a kaiseki restaurant as I really struggled with a few of the courses. Sadly the bamboo shoots and the deep-fried bean curd with sea urchin weren’t to my taste.

Slideshow below.

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Bathtime

In Japan, bathtime is a bit of a ritual. So after dinner we were ushered off to the communal bathrooms. Similarly to pre-booking a dinner time slot, we also had a bathroom time slot too. A friendly old man had prepared our steaming hot bath for us and then gave us our privacy and left us to it. Basically in Japan, bathing etiquette dictates that you perch on a little stool and then soap and rinse yourself with a handheld shower before getting into the tub. The tubs are then for soaking once you are squeaky clean. Our tub was wooden and square, which was different but we had already had previous experience with onsen (hot springs) bathing which I will write about another time.

After our hot, relaxing baths we toddled off back to our room where our maid (who may or may not have been a ninja) had switched our room around from a dining room with low table to a bedroom with futons! The futons themselves were fairly comfortable, however the Japanese pillows, which I believe are filled with buckwheat, weren’t the most comfortable pillows I’ve ever slept on, but they certainly weren’t the worst!

Room at the ryokan set up for bedtime
All set for bed!

In the morning

The morning routine was almost like a reverse of the night before. We awoke early and went for our shower/bath and while we were soaking ourselves, our room was being whipped up from a bedroom back into a dining room, ready for breakfast.

Breakfast included an assortment of Japanese nibbles, the fish was delicious, however I struggled to stomach the rest of it. As I’m not much of a breakfast person anyway (yeah yeah I know it’s the most important meal of the day!) and by this point in our trip I just fancied something quite boring like toast. I know. I am a terrible travel blogger for saying that.

We checked out fairly early as we were due to travel on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo and upon check out we were presented with a gift – a neat box with chopsticks inside! Very sweet and thoughtful!

Japanese breakfast at a ryokan
The bit that looks like a nice apricot yogurt is actually raw egg >_<

Top tips

  • Advance booking is recommended as the ryokans are quite small and have limited availability.
  • In order to not have to worry about lugging our big suitcases with us for our one night stay in the ryokan we used a luggage forwarding service, quite a common thing to do in Japan and something that can be arranged at your hotel. We used this service a couple of times during our trip, so we had our luggage sent from our Kyoto hotel (where we stayed before our ryokan visit) to the hotel we would be staying at after departing the ryokan. Very efficient and helpful!
  • Follow ryokan etiquette regarding the removal of shoes, showering before bathing etc. And be sure not to place anything in the sacred alcove (pictured below with the wall hanging and flower arrangement).

Inside a Japanese ryokan

If you enjoyed this then you might like 10 foods to try in Japan or some of my other Japan adventures!

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Our Japanese Ryokan Experience in Kyoto - what to expect.

3 responses to “A Japanese Ryokan Experience”

  1. I spent one night in a Ryokan in Kyoto and it was a lovely experience! So relaxed and the staff were so friendly.

    I actually got brought some cake and tea when I arrived which was so kind and I wasn’t expecting!

    I was also really lucky because the ryokan had hired a maiko to perform that night, so it was a really amazing evening!

  2. Sounds like a really interesting and cultured experience. I love the food descriptions. Food in a bowl. Ha ha! So what happens if you put things in the alcove. Is it bad luck?

    Sally @ Life Loving
    #LifeLovingLinkie

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Fun Photo Challenge

Ello peeps!

I feel like I’ve been out having too much fun to be sitting behind a laptop screen recently. Funnily enough, this weeks wordpress weekly photo challenge theme is actually fun. I mean that quite literally. So I thought, what could be more fun than a funfair? It’s in the name after all.

Waltzer ride lit up at a funfair

Fun photo challenge - Cage funfair ride lit up at night

Spinning carousel in Brighton, England - part of a fun photo challenge

I actually have a secret (or not so secret, depending on how well you know me) desire to photograph an abandoned theme park/fairground one day. I don’t know why but there’s something about abandoned places that intrigues me alot.

The images above were taken a while ago, me just experimenting with my camera, so I thought they deserved to be shared!

If this isn’t enough fun for you then why not read about my Alphabet Dating adventures, or check out my 10 ways to embrace your inner child.

If you enjoyed this fun photo challenge then follow me on twitter, pinterest or bloglovin (other social media channels are available).

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Alphabet dating - E is for Escape Plan. Can you escape the room in less than an hour?

Alphabet Dating – E is for Escape Plan

Escape Plan

I was mega excited about our ‘E’ date because I had a brilliant brainwave to do one of those Escape the Room type thingies. They seem to be popping up all over the place at the moment! I’ve seen it on The Big Bang Theory and 2 Broke Girls but ours was nowhere near as fancy as those ones. It was situated in a haunted 300 year old fort though, so there’s that.

Escape Plan at Fort Amherst in Kent, UK
Part of the fort we ‘escaped’ from

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Escape Plan is basically where you are locked in a room for an hour and have to solve puzzles in order to escape the room. Ours was a murder mystery theme where we were told we needed to figure out the name of the killer and then we had to find the key to the door to get out. The room held a maximum of 8 people and as we hadn’t booked the room out to ourselves, our group of 4 was teamed with another group of 4 who had booked the same time as us. They were a nice enough bunch of people but to be honest, 8 people was too many!

The room was very basic with just a chalk outline of a body on the floor, a few odds and ends scattered about the room and then a couple of padlocked boxes. We had to figure out the codes, based on clues in the room, in order to get into the boxes. Unfortunately photography is not permitted so I have nothing to show you how it looked inside and I don’t want to tell you too much detail as I think it would spoil it.

The door to the room which we needed to escape from
The door to the room which we needed to escape from

So… did we get out in time? YES! We got out of the room with literally a minute or two left on the clock. In fairness, the guy running Escape Plan did pop in halfway through and gave us a few hints which I don’t think we would have got without him (or more time) but we did it!

I was really proud of myself for getting a bit of a cryptic clue and unlocking one of the padlocks that no one else really figured out and I would definitely like to try some other versions of this game some time!

Have you ever been to Escape Plan or something similar? What would you do for an E date? Stay tuned for F but in the mean time, hit me up with any ideas for G!

Escape Plan - An alphabet dating idea for E

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12 things I have learnt about British summers

It’s true what they say, us Brits are OBSESSED with the weather. So while I’ve been enjoying a slice of British summertime I got to thinking of all the things I have learnt about British summers.

1. Make the most of every sunny day
…because you never know how long it’s going to last!

2. Spontaneous barbecues are a thing
Planned barbecues will inevitably summon the grey clouds, so spontaneity is the key here. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve hot-footed it to my local Morrisons for burgers and corn on the cob as soon as the sun gets his hat on.

Camping in England

3. Spontaneous anything, really
Beach, park, camping – go, go, GO! Of course, the rest of the country will most likely be there with you crowding up the place, but that’s a small price to pay for some vitamin D.

4. Make full use of all barbecue opportunities
Yes dessert could be toasted marshmallows but how about alcoholic bananas? Seriously, slice the banana in half down the middle, soak it in vodka or rum, sprinkle with brown sugar, wrap it in foil, bung it on the barbie! That’s my dad’s recipe. Get creative, doesn’t all have to be burgers and sausages.

Toasting marshmallows over a barbecue
Toasting marshmallows 🙂

5. Summer clothes are cute
Pretty dresses, cute skirts – makes a pleasant change from living in jeans and jumpers! Plus I always get told I look nice when I’m wearing my summer wardrobe. A girl loves a compliment, amiright?!

6. Pimm’s and pub lunches are necessary
Ooh I love a Pimm’s with bits of citrus fruit, mint, cucumber and strawberries floating in it, it’s the ultimate summer drink. Team it with a ploughman’s lunch while sitting in a pub garden and you’re onto a winner!

Anyone for Pimm's?
Anyone for Pimm’s?

7. Hay fever is why we can’t have nice things 
We can’t enjoy anything can we? When the winter cold season is over, the sneezing isn’t and it brings along its irritating cousins – itchy nose, throat and eyes.

8. Approximately 76% of all picnics will be spoiled by wasps or unexpected rain
Ok I made that stat up but it’s probably true.

Hot and bothered cat tries to chill in some shade
Hot and bothered!

9. Sleeping is difficult when it’s hot
Alright so it only happens about one night a year, probably mid-July, but that one night (ok maybe two nights) when it’s too hot with the bedroom windows closed but too noisy/bug infested to leave them open is tough!

10. Air conditioning is a blessing and a curse
So our houses here in Blighty don’t come equipped with air con as we rarely have the need for it. However, most workplaces these days have it, which is great when it’s a glorious 25 degrees outside and you’ve just arrived feeling a bit hot and bothered. Not so great an hour in and you’re sat there dressed for the outside when it’s about -5 in the office and your goosebumps have goosebumps!

Hands forming a heart shape at sunset

11. Nothing beats a cold shandy on a warm day
I don’t even really like beer/lager/whatever – it all tastes the same to me! But top it up with some lemonade and you have the second best summer refreshment right there (after Pimm’s of course).

12. We Brits will always moan about the weather
Everyone: “It’s too cold/rainy/grey, typical crappy British weather!”
cue day 1 of hot weather and sunshine
Everyone: “Yay! Summer’s finally here!”
cue day 4 of hot weather and sunshine
Everyone: “It’s too hot”

View from the London Eye on a dreary day in June
View from the London Eye on a dreary day in June

So come on tell me, what have you learnt about British summers? Or summers abroad? Leave me a comment below!

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Life lately… Summer edition!

I can’t believe we’re over halfway through the year already! It’s also that time of year where I feel like throwing in the towel on this blog, I’ve done it once already and oddly enough I said the same thing last July, but I think all that’s needed sometimes is a bit of sunshine, a dose of the real world and a something of a digital detox to get the blogging mojo back.

Speaking of digital detox, I got some of that when I visited Cuba back in May. Cuba nicely fitted itself in as the letter ‘C’ for the alphabet dating that hubby and I have been doing each month. I also wrote a post for how to spend 24 hours in Havana so if you’re thinking of visiting Cuba “before it all changes” then check it out!

Posing in a 1952 pink Chevrolet at Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba
I’m a Barbie Girl in a Barbie World

I have also been making friends with lots of animals. My sister in law bought herself, me and hubby a ‘Meet the Meerkat’ experience which we did back in May, along with her boyfriend. It was cute and fun although I suspect the meerkats had a soft spot for the guys rather than us girls. Boo.

But I did manage to get this less than flattering selfie.

Meerkat selfie at Hoppers Animal World
meerkat selfie!

I’m the sort of kid who has a new favourite animal every week, so I’ve been to a few different zoos and wildlife parks over the past 3 months and I’m fortunate that I live relatively close to some really great ones here in the South East that do alot for conservation and wildlife charities. If you follow me on instagram you may have spied a few animal pics in between all the blue skies and black cats.

Tiger at Howletts Zoo, Kent

A group of lemurs at Wingham Wildlife Park in Kent

A yellow headed day gecko at Bristol Zoo

I was also lucky enough to win tickets to one of the Wildlife Heritage Foundation open days this year – so thanks to Sam over at Yoko Meshi for the prize!

WHF is a big cat sanctuary which has the mission statement “To be recognised and respected as being a centre of excellence for endangered big cats”. It was a nice day out in the sunshine, although alot busier than I expected! I would love to go back and stay in one of the lodges they have there but they’re sooooo expensive!

Handsome white lion at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation in Kent

The WHF also offer photography courses which I might have to look into. I’m kicking myself that I forgot to take my SLR camera along with me, although alot of the cats were hiding away sheltering from the heat.

It’s actually been pretty hot here in England lately and anyone who knows what the typical British summer is like will know that if the sun is shining then you make the most of it! So for my hubby’s birthday back in June we took a trip down to the coast and got ourselves a sweet little Travelzoo deal at a boutique hotel (or rather a restaurant with rooms as they call themselves), The Marquis at Alkham. I didn’t actually realise it at the time but Conde Nast Traveller even named it as one of their best restaurants in Kent!

I must admit having somewhat of a past with social anxiety, I’m much more comfortable in my local Nandos than fine dining establishments, so although the whole dining experience was total instagram food-porn I didn’t actually take any pictures of it as I really didn’t want to be that person. Plus it’s quite nice to not obsess over posting things on social media and just enjoy the moment – something I think we’re all starting to lose touch with.

I did, however, take a photo of our room’s ‘guard dog’. You just pop the cuddly toy outside the door to your room if you don’t wish to be disturbed by housekeeping – a cute and quirky take on the traditional ‘Do not disturb’ signs that you hang on the door!

Our hotel room 'guard dog'

Even stuffed animals can’t escape my mobile/camera lens!

Oh and hey, in other news, turns out my cat is better at twitter than me!

Happy Caturday!

Also, there has also been some more alphabet dating antics but as I’ve rambled on enough for one post I will save that for another time!

Oh and I promise when the weather turns crap again to start posting more!

Peace, Love and Sunshine!

Peace, Love and Sunshine!

All images © me. Last image via unsplash.

2 responses to “Life lately… Summer edition!”

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